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The problem with leaders

The problem with leaders is that we need them. Sometimes. The problem with leaders is that, with all of us humans having been born and bred into hierarchical, authoritarian structures, we monumentally fail to see when we don’t need them.

Leaders are useful. When specific tasks need to be performed. When a specific task needs driving from inception to completion, nothing beats a leader (except an excellent bunch of followers, sub-leaders, or inspired independent partners). The best leaders lead by persuasion, example, and inspiration. The worst lead by coercion and intimidation. But leaders of either sort get things done.

They get things done by getting people to do things. Which means they get other people to do things they, the leaders, want done. Or things consensus determines should be done.

When you need to design a new automobile, build an animal shelter, write a corporate policy manual, or have yourself a successful war, leadership is essential.

Leadership, on the other hand, is a hindrance to becoming a free individual.

The hardest lesson to get across to freedomista n00bs (and sometimes not-so-n00bs) is: nobody can lead you to freedom and if you expect that, you’re not truly ready to be free.

Think about it: leadership is everywhere about priorities other than those of the individuals involved. That’s not always a bad thing, of course. But it does send the message that our own thoughts, our own decision-making abilities, our own beliefs are (or should be) somehow subordinate to someone else’s. It also sends the message that meaningful action for change must always involve mass efforts — usually led by somebody else.

So we sit around and wait for some powerful leader to appear. And — heaven forbid — if one doesn’t appear, we tend to create them out of hopefulness and submission. And create mess after mess after mess.

And when it comes to winning freedom through the efforts of leaders, it’s “meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” Or worse, meet the new boss — Robespierre, Lenin, or Castro.


We are born into families. Even if we luck out and get parents who are paragons of both love and libertarian thinking, both the love and liberty-mindedness are delivered to us from a position of authority. Even if we’re gifted with parents or teachers who encourage independence, their encouragement is delivered through the human hierarchy — from above. Our parents and teachers make things happen while we’re too young, too passive, or too ignorant, to be the full humans we might one day hope to be. Even with the best of intentions, they condition us to subordinate ourselves to leaders, condition us to believe that somebody other than ourselves knows best and can do best for us.

Shrug. It’s unavoidable. If we were turtles, hatching out of eggs on a beach before lumbering our solitary way through life, unparented, we wouldn’t be so conditioned to authority. On the other hand … we have a lot fewer limits than turtles and our protective, if hierarchical, social structure helps us go beyond lives that are short, brutish and all that.

Nevertheless, one of our limitations is that nearly all of us look to (and for) leaders. Fine, if we want to build a tree-house or a government. But when it comes to freedom, that means we’re looking not only in the wrong direction, but in the diametrically opposite direction we should be.


I got to thinking about this (again) reading two of Kit Perez’s posts this week: the one I linked to over the weekend in which she announces her departure from the III% and a later one called, “What You Can Learn from Troy Hunt.”

This is a young woman who’s really getting it. From her III% post:

I don’t know about you; I cannot speak for you. But this is what I know:

  1. I do not need or want a king—“liberty minded” or otherwise, and I will not be part of a group of people that wants one.
  2. I do not need a leader to tell me how to live according to principles and self-discipline.
  3. I will not be party to violations of those principles, whether on a macro or micro basis; I will not affiliate with those who violate them.
  4. I will make a difference in my own neighborhood, my own community. I do not need a label or group affiliation to do so.
  5. I will continue to think for myself, to collect facts and make decisions based on those facts instead of my emotions.

In her Troy Hunt post, she goes on to talk about the largely leaderless nature of the open-source community and how the same principles can apply in neighborhoods, small groups, and individual lives.

I especially like her warning against trying to think too big. We admire hard-working geniuses who use “thinking big” to propel themselves into immortality. But for most of us, especially when it comes to thorny issues like how to free ourselves in an increasingly unfree world, thinking big is just an excuse for … you got it, sitting around waiting for a leader because we don’t feel up to solving problem x, y, or z on our own little scale.

To be free we must learn to think for ourselves and act for ourselves. These two habits — if we can make habits of them — feed off each other. Think … act … and discover new frontiers of thinking and action.

The frontiers may be limited and close to home. We may merely discover new power within ourselves to forge our own lives, more power to connect with our neighbors in creative ways, more power to accomplish small things in small ways.

Teach a friend to shoot. Form a prepper’s buying club with our neighbors. Resist a bad local law. Host a reading circle for discussing freedom ideas. Pool skills. Accomplish a myriad small, “unimportant” things — that together add up to more than was ever accomplished waiting for someone else, some leader, to tell you it’s time to shoot the bastards.


To some of us who’ve been around a while, this is just common sense and even common knowledge. To most of the world, it’s strange, new, crazy, nihilistic, revolutionary, irresponsible, selfish, pointless … and of course requires an uncomfortable degree of responsibility from ourselves and to ourselves.

Which is why there’s such resistance to the concept of being leaderless, even when it allows us to get off our mental and physical backsides and change the world.


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty September 20, 2016 4:37 am

    Oh yes. 🙂 As one who wound up in leadership positions in many different situations, I’ve understood this for a long time. I was often criticized for truly “hands off” type leadership and “excess” delegation. But it usually worked for me. I could write a book on just the hierarchy and convoluted roles of leaders and followers in the medical professions.

    So many “leaders,” like those in government, tend toward any action that will preserve their position and make their “followers” more dependent on them. The old “job security” deal – usually coupled with the growth in size and power of the organization as the goal, rather than whatever work or function got it started. In other words, everything that’s wrong about politicians and centralized, non-voluntary government.

    I would suggest that anyone who wants to lead their neighborhood or community to do something together like “prepping,” needs first to simply become acquainted with their neighbors – especially if they are relatively new to the area. Join some local clubs, participate in local affairs such as the county fair, shooting matches, 4H and scouts, the cafe’ “liar’s club” gathering of veterans, or seniors nearby. Let them get to know you well, as one who wants to be part of their community – not just make use of them for your goals.

  2. StarvinLarry
    StarvinLarry September 20, 2016 6:12 am

    Sparks also had a post about thinking for yourself and how the whole III% thing was going to end badly.
    Many of the people claiming to be III% are a long ways from Mike V.’s III% catchecism.
    Some are the exact opposite of what Mike V.’s idea was.
    Thinking for yourself is something that seems to be in short supply.
    People need to focus on themselves and their neighborhoods and stop with the idea of national groups-and the “leaders” of said groups.

  3. MichiganderJim
    MichiganderJim September 20, 2016 6:21 am

    Great stuff, both. Funny thing about propelling oneself into immorality…we’re already immortal, at least for today.

    “One day each of us will die.”

    “That’s true, but every other day we won’t.”

    Yet we wait. A leader who makes the task get done superlatively, is a great thing. One who wishes to have others act like him or her, not so much.

  4. Comrade X
    Comrade X September 20, 2016 2:16 pm

    Yep and a few comments;

    1.) Question authority!

    2.) You most likely live local and you most likely will die local so maybe local should be your focus!

  5. Desertrat
    Desertrat September 20, 2016 3:42 pm

    “The worst lead by coercion and intimidation.” Dunno a really good label, but that type is not a leader.

    “But leaders of either sort get things done.” There is commonly a difference in the quality of the output.

  6. E. Garrett Perry
    E. Garrett Perry September 21, 2016 10:49 am

    Stalin’s infamous letter to one of Sergei Ilyushin’s under-managers comes to mind.

    “…the Red Army requires IL-2s as much as they require air or bread. I demand more machines! This is my final warning.

  7. Brian Wilson
    Brian Wilson September 21, 2016 1:16 pm

    Happily re-posted at the Libertas Media Project and The Pragmatic Anarchist.

    Thx CW!

  8. Tyrone Shuelazes
    Tyrone Shuelazes September 23, 2016 8:42 am

    Since my youth, I have known that the rulers and the rules were not for me. They restricted me in ways that I refused to be limited. I simply try to avoid the law and the law enforcers, and to keep a low profile.
    However, this doesn’t work for many- even a majority. As evidenced by the last presidential election in 2012, a majority of voters, chose to re-elect the worst president in our lifetime, at least from an economic standpoint (we will ignore his other failures for now), and as illustrated by everyday incidents in real life, MOST people do not have the wisdom or the intelligence to make their own rules. Unfortunately for them, and unfortunately for us, they are the ones who elect our leaders.
    A free country can only remain free if the citizens and the government remain moral. I am talking about honesty and un-corruptability, not lifestyle.
    That is why I am voting for Pepe the Frog this November. (Code words)

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