I was at UWI, Jamaica, last week where I still teach the occasional class. As I sometimes do, I sought to use my class to discuss issues that are on the real time agenda in Trinidad. In this case, the class was scheduled to discuss the issue of leadership in societies which were experiencing political crisis and which had a leadership which was beyond the boundary.
The class was discussing theories of governance in the Age of the Enlightenment, and it was in this context that I sought to use the work of the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel as my point of departure. I also sought to use the political behaviour of the Minister of National Security as the backdrop for the discourse.
Hegel is a very controversial political thinker, one whom students find difficult to understand. There are, however, aspects of his thought that were relevant to our discussion of "heroic leadership". I thought that some of these ideas would illustrate Hegel's views on "great" leaders and Jack Warner as history's instrument.
I hasten to add that I use the word "great" in a generic way. "Great" need not mean "good". Great in my usage means having a significant impact on major events.
The world is full of heroes who were considered dangerous rascals by their societies. Jesus, Napoleon and Hitler were all "great men" who changed the world forever.
This column was opposed to Jack Warner becoming a member of the PP Cabinet. I was and still am of the view that he should have been made to choose between FIFA and being a member of the Cabinet. Quite frankly, I thought that however critical he might have been to Kamla's ascent to power in 2010, he would be unsuitable as a cabinet minister. I stand vindicated.
That does not, however, prevent me from evaluating Warner in other dimensions.
One of Hegel's well-known sayings is that "One cannot cure gangrene with lavender water." He is also wont to say that meaningful change cannot be achieved by utopian wishes: one must be "realistic" about what one proposes to do.
Failure is certain if one misreads the trajectory of history. Hegel was also of the view that "blood and iron" were needed to achieve historically significant goals and that "force and conflict were the midwives of history". History was thus not about the lives of kings.
Great men become heroes if they become conscious instruments of powerful social forces and assist these ideas to come to fruition. Great men are invariably history's bullies.
Where does Laventille and Jack Warner fit in with all this? Jack talks and prevaricates a great deal and one does not always know when to take him seriously. He, however, projects himself as a "man of action", someone who has a destiny and a legacy to fulfill.
Others around him are seen to be "weak" or "soft". He sees himself as a "black man on a shiny black steed" whose historic destiny is to clean up and gentrify Laventille and other "hot spots" throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
Kamla also adopted him as her "man of action", the man who will help her achieve her goal of a second term. Jack and Kamla are both at war with the criminal element and have warned those whom he described as "urban guerillas" that in the coming cosmic battle, he was taking no prisoners. The gangs would either have to put down their guns or suffer early mortality.
"Dem born fi dead," as the Jamaicans would say.
Warner needs to succeed and is impatient to succeed. Time and international forces are not on his side. There is also a bounty on his head.
He is thus irritated by all the picayune obstacles being put in his way by the PNM and others in civil society who are opposed to the hard line which he sees as inevitable.
As he complains, "For too long, the voices of the minority who oppose the Government for personal reasons are getting their views across while the majority stood silent."
Jack seems to be genuinely of the view that those in opposition—the gang lords and their supporters—are bent on "staging massive disruptions across the country to bring down the PP government".
One is not clear who exactly is the enemy, but it would seem he believes a criminal element is combining to challenge the State and that he needs reinforcement and better intelligence. Who wants to prevent history from absolving him? The PNM? Hardly.
Warner's hubristic rhetoric suggests that he sees himself as a Hegelian "great man" who was not afraid to be the "martyr" who dies in the battle against the bad boys. He warned the latter that they will feel the effects of his crime plan when it is implemented. As he boasted, "It would be swift, it would be surgical, it will be clinical, and this country shall begin an era of safety."
He also promised Laventillians that he would bulldoze their hilltop houses to make room for new structures which will be built. As simple as that! One does not know whether this is his dream or Government policy.
The "Plan" involved recruiting up to 5,000 Special Reserve Police officers to fill the manpower needs of the security services. Presumably, he was also privy to the decision to create "soldier-police", eliminate juries and bail for certain heinous offences.
It may also be that the New Flying Squad was to be an integral part of this massive intake. The plan fell apart, in part because the gangsters were not the pushovers Warner assumed they would be.
The PNM's resistance to the "manoduro" (hard) approach was also stouter than Jack bargained for. So far Jack has failed. One should however not be surprised.
There are few anti-gang success stories to use as exemplars. They succeed for a while (up to two years in August Town, Jamaica) but invariably get tripped off again by a "land mine", some long suppressed act of vengeance. But Great Men in the Hegelian mode do not give up readily. They persevere until they succeed or fail monumentally, in which case, their audacious challenge to history would be deemed to have been "adventurous" or "utopian".
Lenin would say of them that "they died with their political swords in hand, but that they made a beautiful corpse". What will we say of Jack when he runs out of time?
Part of the problem is that unlike what obtains in much of Latin America, Trinidadians, like Jamaicans, are ambivalent about the use of extrajudicial executions by the police. They are not disposed to use the level of force which that option requires.
Hegel would probably snort that Trinidad is still trying to use lavender water to heal its gangrenous flesh.
The idea of a secretly and illegally recruited "ton ton macoute" such as one had in Grenada or Haiti is still abhorrent to a majority of Trinidadians. They want a respite from the criminal gangs, but they also want enduring social peace. Hegelians would say that this cannot happen. Only one order can prevail sustainably.