I have been reflecting over the last few days on the question of paternalism as a type of leadership. I talked this over with my next door neighbor from Burkina Faso with a PhD from Laval University (Quebec), as he has some experience in Africa with paternalistic leadership styles. His own country is a former colony of France and continues within a neocolonial, paternalistic relationship with France, and he also experiences paternalism in his church-missionary relationships. Here are the main points that he and I discussed (though I am entirely responsible for this write-up):
- A relationship of protection: In a paternal relationship, the superior party is more powerful than the inferior and is therefore able to provide protection, benefits or honors to the inferior party in exchange for obedience. However, in paternalism, the superior forces the inferior to accept this protection. The Canadian government forced the children of aboriginal people into residential schools. The inferior must accept this protection and usually has no choice in the matter, because with disobedience comes the withdrawal of protection, loss of privileges, or even violent punishment.
- Superiority/Inferority complex: In paternalism, the stronger party has a superiority complex, while the weaker party has an inferiority complex. In the relationship between Bayaka and their “tall black” overlords, the smaller, weaker Bayaka will often consider himself sub-human, and this makes it easier for his master to treat him as a pack animal or a slave to work his fields.
- Belittling. In a paternalistic relationship, the superior belittles the intellect, opinions and concerns of the inferior. The superiority complex in the paternalistic relationship often causes the stronger person to consider the opinions of the weaker to be nonsensical or foolish. The inferiors accept that they have a low level of competence and are in need of the greater intelligence of their superiors. The inferior will accept being treated as a child in need of guidance, unable to make decisions for himself. In the paternalistic relationship between slaves and masters, the master will often call a fully grown man, “Boy”. Also, the superior will often pretend to listen to the inferior only in an effort to trick the inferior into implementing the superior’s agenda. If the inferior party complains, the superior will begin to make accusations of disloyalty, ungratefulness, stupidity, lunacy or extremism. If that doesn’t work, the superior may use violent force to quell legitimate complaints.
- Divide in order to rule. In a paternalistic relationship, a portion of the inferior party will receive benefits and privileges that will make them willing enablers of the superiors. In colonial Rwanda and Burundi, for example, the Belgians divided the majority Hutus from the minority Tutsis who received privileges and power in order to rule over the Hutus.
- Control of the tools of communication. In paternalism, the superior will monopolize the tools of communication such as media, in order to control the flow of information. Furthermore, language competence is also a weapon. The paternalistic relationship may exist only in the language of the superior while the language of the inferior is ridiculed, punished and banned. Colonial governors in Africa never learned the local languages, but forced locals to learn their languages. Training is provided to bestow an adequate knowledge of the language of the superior so that the inferior will be able to understand and obey the orders of the superior. Meanwhile, any one person from the superior group can control large groups of inferiors through monopolizing the tools and the language of communication.
Conclusion: Eleanor Roosevelt apparently once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” The first step in any amelioration of a paternalistic relationship is that the members of the inferior party must become aware that they are not inferior at all, but that they have universal human rights and dignity. They must find a means to rise up against their overlords, or at very least, to understand that being in a position of weakness does not make them morally or intellectually inferior to their overlords.
A pygmie may look inferior, but he can find a meal in the bush and keep away from the dangerous animals, where the average Yankee would probably perish.
Control of the tools of communication: I often thought that the monolingualism of most Americans was due to insular ignorance, but in fact it may be intentional superiority complex. Von Hammelsmark in Inglorious Basturds “Can you Americans speak any language other than English?”… Aldo “Well, I can speak a liddle Eye-talian.” “Bonjuurnoo”
Jeff, the Bayaka do indeed suffer from an inferiority complex, while their taskmasters treat them as a beasts of burden. Deforestation means that the Bayaka have a much smaller habitat in which to practice their traditional hunting and gathering; as soon as they step out of the forest, the villagers have no trouble exploiting them.
Petros, this post is directed at what? I seemed to have missed it.
Here, the employment system is NOT at-will, as in the US, but paternalistic. The employer is considered to be the stronger party, and therefore has to “take care of” the employee. The government mandates lots of benefits for employees (vacation, extra money for kids, vacation bonus, and a lot of other stuff). If the boss doesn’t pay, the employee can sue, and will win. The boss is considered guilty until they have some very strong proof otherwise.
It’s not the best system IMO, but the wheel keeps on turning here. So this is my context of paternalism in the 21st century. The stuff you reference here refers to the colonial model that most European countries followed for several hundred years, especially France and Portugal.
You forgot exploitation. Even here, an employee can be given *everything and then some*, but there is the underlying culturally-based assumption that they are being exploited, even if they are not. In your historical context, I think that all of the colonies were milk-cows for the home countries.
Another keystone to the paternalistic system is “dumbing down” (I don’t know another word for it, maybe “information denial”). Printing presses were illegal in Brazil until the mid-late 19th century, 350 years after founding. All printed matter was illegal unless imported from Portugal.
So that’s the present-day and historical elements of paternalism here. Like I said, the wheels keep on turning. A couple of the aspects you mentioned, like belittling, doesn’t happen much anymore, or it may be indirect.
About Eleanor Roosevelt’s comments: most Americans jump to applaud such comments. But people fail to take into consideration WHAT possible changes can/will happen to the system. After all, the real tendency is for the poor and weak just to get poorer and weaker.
This is why I’m strongly against American meddling in affairs of other countries, and they do it a lot, even here through the US of foundations. Two big examples:
1- race studies
2- labour rules
#1 – They try to force the American model of race classification here, when they just can’t. The American model just divides people and causes too many problems. The US model doesn’t fit here because there is too much miscongeniation. To me, there is a sense of harmony here, but the US wants to destroy it. I have read articles from some Brazilians that work in this area, and they resent the US involvement.
#2 – There was a case soon after I got here, where the US media accused some ranchers of slave labour. But on the news here, the people were being paid double the minimum wage for cutting sugar cane (there could have still been some hanky panky going on like paying slowly). The international governments put pressure on the government here, and the government here in turn pressured the employers here. So guess what, all of those cane cutters lost their job and a machine does it now. The weak just got weaker.
@geeeez, really this post is about being able to spot Paternalism. People got on our case for making analogies to
GestapoOOPS–so I am trying in part to find a new way to describe the dynamic of the problem that would be less objectionable.
As the government of the US becomes more powerful, it begins to resemble a paternalistic authority vis-a-vis its own people and, as you point out with a couple of excellent examples, also in its attempts to manipulate other nations.
I am of the opinion that people must recognize this paternalism by the United States, and understand that it resembles colonialism, and that the overlords, lets say the typical FBI agent, Homeland Security, IRS, CIA, have a superiority complex and regularly belittle their “subjects”. They stop being “civil servants” who serve the people and they become tyrannical overlords. Then, those in the inferior position start having an inferiority complex. One commenter here likens it to Stockholm Syndrome. I think that one of our first tasks is to recognize the paternalistic relationship for what it is and to understand that those in the weaker position are not a subspecies of human being but have rights and dignity. We should not allow anyone to make us feel inferior because they are calling us rabid lunatics or imbeciles–tax cheats, traitors, or cowards, just because we may be in the position of weakness. The behavior of the overlord dehumanizes the overlord–they are the ones who have lost their humanity, not us.
A employer/employee relationship is in some respect paternalistic or at least can be such. But there are other leadership styles that can be implemented in business.
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This is incredibly insightful.
Thanks Mark Twain.
I wrote up these reflexions after being continually ridiculed on these pages for my opinions by a former IRS employee. He had taken the position of the superior and expected me to kowtow to his superior knowledge and wisdom, and his evident mastery of the gobbledygook which the IRS uses to enforce its reign of terror on expats.