The History of Enlightened Leadership
March 6, 2017
What is an Enlightened Emperor; and why is history obsessed with Tyrants?
For the earliest known historical examples to Charlemagne, the worlds most enlightened political authorities laid out the foundation of what makes a good leader. This includes:
- Massive Public construction especially roads, aqueducts, libraries, gardens, etc.
- Religious Tolerance.
- Promotion of the Arts and Sciences.
- Cooperation with important local political, religious and intellectual authority
- Preservation of history and tradition.
Give or take, the best political leaders of the ancient world followed these basic guidelines to help secure the future of the cultures they influenced. It would serve as the framework behind later rulers such as Peter the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte. Yet, why does history seem to hone in on the atrocities of men like Napoleon and Adolf Hitler instead of the Renaissance invoked by rulers like Ur-Nammu or Cleopatra?
We have a tendency at looking at only the Tyrants who ruled the world: the Hitlers, the Stalin’s and the Henry the VIII’s . Or we admire the Warrior Kings who grew to celebrity status: the Alexander’s, the Peter’s and the Napoleon’s of the world. But what about the Ur-Nammu’s and the Marcus Aurelius’ of the World? These individuals took their positions of power as a serious responsibility and their titles as symbols of public service instead of personal gain.
We could blame this trend of Tyrant focus on the Greek obsession with democracy; or on the Roman disdain of kingship that dominates the focus of European historians and scholars into the present day. And yet, any true scholar of the Greek world would know that tyrants were in fact, competent men whose corruption lead to their notoriety as bad leaders. The actual statistics of good tyrants vs. bad tyrants in Greece is questionable due to the biased nature of the Greeks towards community political cohesion through civil participation vs. centralized rule by a supreme leader and his elite entourage.
From Warrior Kings to cultural Renaissance, the shifting states of the Ancient Worlds Greatest Empires
I want too look past the kingship vs. Democratic paradigm; and look at what makes a great political leader starting with our ancient roots. What we find in the ancient world are powerful kingdoms built on the expansion and charisma of warrior kings whose dynasties soon fall after death. The deaths of these powerful leaders divides these empires into factions that causes feudal warlords to fight among each other for their spot on the throne.
This feudal age often leads to a new stage of imperial development, a cultural Renaissance thanks in part, to cultural unification by enlightened leadership in politics. This Renaissance also usually takes place before or after a Civilization is occupied by foreign powers usually nomadic kings.
But Enlightened Leaders can be either democratic or imperial, the results are only disastrous if the major influences of any culture aren’t serving the common interest. The need for enlightened leaders is the same struggle all humanity faces. Without proper guidance, these periods of high cultural growth are not possible.
We see this time and time again throughout history. The Warrior Kings are celebrities by force who gain fame and fortune through their conquests and the wealth that it brings falls and only seldom does their cult of personality last which leads to a weak state conquered by exterior influences and/or dark ages before being revived and reinvented by future leaders. This article attempts to trace this trend from the roots forward.
By 3000 BC, the first dynasties were established after the unification of the Upper and Lower Nile Basin that lead to the rise of the Pharaohs. The ruler of the First dynasty, Narmer, known to unite Egypt peacefully would be followed by Menes who unified the country by conquest. Historians speculate that they are the same man but that is beside the point. These early warrior kings helped to establish their dominance over a large stretch of land.
The early Pharaoh’s were more than just kings but also holy men, gods in the living flesh who healed social crises, brought prosperity and constructed large buildings like the Great Pyramid of Giza (by the historical standards, although I speculate that the pyramids of this early period were an attempt to figure out the technology behind the building of the Great Pyramid, a remnant from a much older civilization, or maybe not, only time will tell).
Unfortunately, the Egyptians weren’t keen on writing, so the massive building projects with their hieroglyphics and imagery become a book in its own right. And with little written evidence surviving on the God Kings who built these great temples remains as much of a mystery as the Pyramid of Giza. But from Egypt’s rich history, one leader stands out among the rest whose reign caused a major shift in the future direction of Egypt.
Egypt’s first true Enlightened King came with Djorser who started massive construction projects almost immediately after acquiring the throne. He was also intelligent enough to give god like power to his Vizer Imhotep whose also histories first Renaissance man. In Egyptian myth, Djorser ended a seven year famine in Egypt after rebuilding a temple on the island of Elephante with the guidance of Imhotep.
What makes Djorser’s reign important is the God like power he gave to Imhotep that lead to the beginning of Egyptian Pyramid building. This power granted to Imhotep would have a lasting affect as power soon shifted from an all powerful king to that of local governors and wealthy high priests by the end of the Sixth Dynasty.
Regardless, the Egyptians left a legacy of leadership centered around massive construction projects seen in future kings, emperors and Democratic Leaders for future generations; and most great leaders world wide are remembered for their massive building projects that helped shape their worlds.
A great example of early wisdom from Ancient Egypt is a small guide called The Teaching of Ptahhotep: The Oldest Book in the world dated around the reigns of Menkauhor (2396 BC- 2388 BC and Assa Djed-Ka-Ra (2388 BC- 2356 BC) has this to say about leadership:
“If you are a man that leads, a man who controls the affairs of many, then seek the most perfect way of performing your responsibility so that your conduct will be blameless” excerpt found on article 5, page 18 of The Teachings of Ptahhotep.
This wisdom seems basic to us now but the Egyptians were never one to put their best stuff down on paper; instead hiding it behind key concepts like KA, or truth, justice and righteousness which Ptahhotep mentions as the foundation of leadership.
Sumer: The Cradle of Civilization
Sargon of Akkad, who became the first Emperor of Mesopotamia and first known Warrior King, ruling between 2334-2279 BC. And like most Warrior Kings since, his main interest was conquest and growth of his political dominance over neighboring city states. But his greatest success was making his daughter, the Ensi over the Moon Temple of Nanna in the City of Ur known as Enheduanna who became the mother of Literature and Musical Composition.
Enheduanna plays a pivotal role in the history of female leadership.
However Sargon‘s kingdom like most great Warrior King Empires, couldn’t hold up to his personality and revolt soon followed his death. It wouldn’t be until 2047 BC with the rise of King Ur-Nammu before Mesopotamia got its first true Enlightened Leader.
According to Ancient.eu, Ur-Nammu wrote the first code of law, credited as the builder of the great ziggurat of Ur, built gardens and orchards; and promoted the arts and culture. It would lead to what scholars call, The Sumerian Renaissance between 2047-1750 BC .
Ancient.eu/gilgamesh calls Gilgamesh as Semi Mythic King of Uruk famous for the Epic Poem Gilgamesh written between 2150-1400 BCE. Little is known about the real Gilgamesh; but the Epic story is about a Demi God comming to terms with his immortality and learning the wisdom for what it means to be a great leader which date of original publication seems to connect with the Sumerian Renaissance.
Qin Shi Huang: The first Emperor of China. www.travelchinaguide.com says the 259-210 BCE Leader reformed reformed politics, economy and culture and helped to unify the language.
But he also killed many intellectuals whose ideas he disagreed with, most notably the Confusion scholars who believed diligently that leaders should set the example for the people they lead. This is an early example of the importance of integrity that’s at the core modern leadership.
nationalviews.com, the National views among other sources like to spotlight the curelty of Ashoka, the Indian King of the Mauryan Empire between 268 to 232 BCE, who killed his brothers, lead some of the worst military death tolls in history and whose prisons were so bad, that they were remembered for hundreds of years after his death. But, he also was one of the first leaders to advocate religious tolerance and veterinary work.
Destruction of Pythagoras
Solon and Pericles
Alexander the Great and Aristotle
Beowulf and King Arthur
The Italian Renaissance
The British Renaissance
The European Enlightenment
The American Enlightenment
Two World Wars