James MacGregor Burns finds a connection between Maslow's hierarchy and the American Declaration of Independence. He then tries to make the case that the all true leadership is moral. Burns believes that the great public values are:
- the pursuit of happiness
Burns believes that these great public values should be the goal of all leaders. In Burns's view, these public values overshadow other moral systems in importance. He strikes a difference between virtue and ethics. Evidently, one can lack virtue while still being an ethically good leader. Burns is correct on this point, but not for the reasons he thinks. Virtue refers to a type of absolute standard. Ethics refers to a codified definition of the good. Now, there also seems to be a popular meaning of the word "ethics" to refer to a general cultural moral median. I assume that this is the definition that Burns is going with, except that he would probably call it an absolute.
(I won't go into the idea of equality and liberty. De Tocqueville deals with the difficulty of reconciling these two concepts)
Machiavelli talks about this kind of thing in The Prince, in the section "CONCERNING THOSE WHO HAVE OBTAINED A PRINCIPALITY BY WICKEDNESS". Here, Machiavelli tells about Agathocles, the Sicilian who was able to successfully save Syracuse from Carthaginian attack three times and thus prevent the enslavement of his people. The only problem? He got his position by killing everybody else in power. So Machiavelli notes: "his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity with infinite wickedness do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men. What he achieved cannot be attributed either to fortune or genius."
What Machiavelli says after a second example is very interesting:
Hence it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits. He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand; neither can he rely on his subjects, nor can they attach themselves to him, owing to their continued and repeated wrongs. For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.
And above all things, a prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way that no unexpected circumstances, whether of good or evil, shall make him change; because if the necessity for this comes in troubled times, you are too late for harsh measures; and mild ones will not help you, for they will be considered as forced from you, and no one will be under any obligation to you for them.
As much as Burns would like to deny it, he is suggesting the same system as Agathocles. So long as the people who follow a leader believe he is faithfully serving their desire for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, he can do anything. Because for Burns, ethics is a function of trust, and virtue is a personal option.