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Nation of Devils


Professor Stein Ringen, University of Oxford

Are presidents and prime ministers—whether Thatcher, Blair, Reagan or Obama—responsible for the dysfunctions of democratic governance today? In this seminar, Stein Ringen argues that they are. The role of the chief executive in ensuring good governance is to “maintain order in a nation of devils,” a concept Ringen borrows from Immanuel Kant. They inevitably face opposition from those seeking to frustrate their plan—whether in moving a giant bureaucracy or in ensuring citizen compliance. “Hard libertarians and soft advocates of participatory democracy have in common that they believe people to be of sound and rational character and judgment,” Ringen writes. “But they are not, which is why leadership from above is the essence.” Yet too often they mistake power for authority as the key ingredient to successful governance. The author explores authority, leadership, trust, culture, and institutional reform in his search for solutions. 

17573010Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience by Stein Ringen

Oxford University political theorist Stein Ringen offers a thought-provoking meditation on the art of democratic rule: how does a government persuade the people to accept its authority? Every government must make unpopular demands of its citizens, from levying taxes to enforcing laws and monitoring compliance to regulations. The challenge, Ringen argues, is that power is not enough; the populace must also be willing to be led. Ringen addresses this political conundrum unabashedly, using the United States and Britain as his prime examples, providing sharp opinions and cogent analyses on how the culture of national obedience is created and nurtured. He explores the paths leaders must choose if they wish to govern by authority rather than power, or, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant put it, to “maintain order in a nation of devils.

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