Leading a Nation of Devils: How to Get Things Done in a Democracy


Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


124 Mount Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

Nation of Devils coverStein Ringen, University of Oxford

Cosponsored by the Center for Public Leadership

About the Seminar
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.

Read the first chapter of Nation of Devils

Watch a Video Recording of the Event

Listen to an Audio Recording of the Event

About the Speaker

Stein Ringen is a professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Oxford focused on political science, sociology, and economics. His professional career includes work with various academic posts, broadcasting journalism, international agencies, and government. He has previous posts as assistant director general in the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and professor of welfare studies at the University of Stockholm. Ringen has had visiting professorships and fellowships in Paris, Berlin, Barbados, Prague, Sydney, Jerusalem, and Harvard University.

Reading List
Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience (Stein Ringen): “The first aim of the book, to explain how governments get things done, is pulled together in the first half of the final chapter. The basic lesson is elementary: Put no trust in power. Seek authority and apply leadership.”

What Democracy Is For: On Freedom and Moral Government (Stein Ringen): “The core value of democracy, he contends, is freedom, the freedom to live a good life according to one’s own choosing. Yet he shows that democracy’s freedom is on the decline. Citizens are increasingly distrustful of political systems weighted by money, and they don’t participate in political affairs as they once did.”

The Economist, The Maturing Of Democracy: Picking Up The Tab: “Wake up, says Mr Ringen. That age never ended. Governments still give orders. Citizens must still obey. Tea-partiers, right-wing libertarians and left-wing anarchists are deluded to think otherwise. Self-rule is a fantasy.”

Fast Company, The Leader of the Future (William Taylor): “It’s hard to imagine discussing “the leader of the future" without having a discussion with Ronald Heifetz -- one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership... What makes Heifetz’s approach to leadership so compelling is that he is so honest about what real leadership demands."

PBS, Essay on Ronald Reagan (Peggy Noonan): ”But you can’t buy courage and decency, you can’t rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him. If he does, they will give meaning and animation to the great practical requirement of the presidency: He must know why he’s there and what he wants to do. He has to have thought it through. He needs to have, in that much maligned word, but a good one nonetheless, a vision of the future he wishes to create.”

Harvard Business Review, What Every Leader Needs to Know About Followers (Barbara Kellerman): “Everyone wants to understand just what makes leaders tick – the charismatic ones, the retiring ones, and even the crooked ones. Good followership, by contrast, is the stuff of nearly nothing.”