Genghis Khan Be Damned
Numerous websites list “greatest leaders in history.” The names vary, but the following individuals can be found on one or another:
Genghis Khan – conquered much of the known world, killing 11% of the population
Mao Zedong – his Great Leap Forward resulting in some 45 million dead
Joseph Stalin – 20 million killed or starved to death under his reign
Tomas de Torquemada – burned at the stake over 2000 during the Spanish Inquisition
Pol Pot – killed 20% of the Cambodian population in 4 years
Adolf Hitler – no additional comment needed
These individuals were leaders that were followed by millions. The “greatness” of their leadership can be attributed to the power they wielded and the territory or numbers of people they controlled. Based on moral values, they were all monumental failures.
Moral values . . . what are they and from where do they come? Most philosophers tie values to cultural norms, the latter, of course, varying wildly. For the Tupi of Brazil, cannibalism was unquestionably normal. Human sacrifice was a standard practice of ancient Vikings. The Zulu in Africa think it’s a poor man who has only one wife.
Another source of value judgment is religion. For some, violence is God-motivated and God-ordained. For others absolute non-violence is divinely mandated. An inviolable tenet of some religions is abstinence from alcoholic beverages while others prescribe it for ceremonial gatherings.
Are values – good and bad, right and wrong – a relative thing or are there some which might be considered universal standards which edge toward the absolute? That is a huge subject which has occupied philosophy and theology from time immemorial. My proposition is that there are some which are applicable across the human spectrum.
If something is helpful, uplifting, constructive, and life-giving for an individual and society, that is good. If something is harmful, degrading, destructive, and death-giving for an individual and society, that is bad. Acknowledging that one could hypothesize an outer-limits situation which contradicts the last two statements, it is my contention that in the huge lion’s share of cases they stand true. If this is valid, Genghis Kahn and company were evildoers on a grand scale. It is incumbent for any moral citizen to reject the harmful and hold to the helpful . . . both on an individual level and the standard to which one’s leaders need to be held.