“My initial goal was to express myself in a way that would be more complex and more emotionally savvy than the written word would allow me…Because I’m in this world of very austere and analytical thinking in political science, I thought that the main way to express my empathy for my people–but at the same time be critical of my people in a way that was productive–would be through this medium [of documentary].”–Harris Mylonas 

Harris Mylonas, associate professor of political science at George Washington University and documentary filmmaker, talks with Norman Sandridge (classics professor at Howard University, fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies) about his new documentary of three-time Prime Minister of Greece, Andreas Papandreou (Searching for Andreas: Political Leadership in Times of Crisis). They explore the definition of charismatic leadership according to Max Weber and the degree to which recent American presidents like Barack Obama and Donald Trump qualify as charismatic leaders. They conclude by discussing how the genre of documentary film is a tool for both teaching and learning and how a documentary director is a leader who can bring out the best in an audience.

Questions

  • What does Harris consider to be the highlights of Andreas Papandreou’s political career? (00:01:30)
  • Would Harris describe Papandreou as a chameleon? (00:04:02)
  • What is the relevance of Papandreou’s legacy today? Is his impact felt more in terms of what he did or what he represented? (00:07:46)
  • What are the main criticisms of Papandreou )vis-à-vis the impact of the global financial in Greece in 2009-2010? (00:11:40)
  • What was Harris’ primary motivation for telling Papandreou’s story now? (00:15:10)
  • What is charismatic leadership (or charismatic followership)? (00:17:31)
  • Was Papandreou seen in divine terms? Was he worshipped? (00:22:38)
  • Is it fair to say that charismatic leaders take advantage of a polarized polity (rather than create it)? (00:23:42)
  • Would President Barack Obama or President Donald Trump (or President Ronald Reagan?) qualify as charismatic leaders? (00:25:25)
  • Was Papandreou a good leader? (00:26:53)
  • How does the divinity of a charismatic leader manifest itself in a secular society? (00:28:53)
  • Is the followers’ inability to detect moral ambiguity in a leader’s decisions a feature of charismatic leadership? (00:40:30)
  • What were the features of Papandreou’s grand vision or magnanimity (megalophrosunē)? (00:41:25)
  • How did Harris decide to make his documentary about Papandreou, which is itself a kind of leadership? Why make a documentary and not just write another book or article (as we might expect an academic to do)? (00:43:41)
  • What would Harris like the impact of his documentary to be? (00:51:09)
  • How does the format of the documentary compare to the ancient Athenian symposium, with collections of logoi (accounts) of praise or blame for a given figure? (00:52:34)
  • What did Harris do that would qualify as leadership in creating his documentary? (00:56:10)
  • How did Harris marshal all the resources necessary to produce a documentary? (01:04:03)
  • Would you like to see more academics create documentaries and attempt to reach a wider audience? What other media could he envision as teaching tools? (01:09:30)
  • Does a medium like a documentary also require other modes of engagement to be sustained? (01:12:15)
  • How is a documentary film a way of engaging with the same ideas and perspectives differently from other media? (01:15:55)
  • What is Harris’ understanding of megalopsychia (“large-souledness”) in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics? (01:21:34)

Key Leadership Insights

Charismatic leaders like Papandreou tend to be very polarizing by definition. They are gods to some and devils to others.

Charismatic leadership is beyond good and evil; it’s not a moral term (according to Max Weber). Charisma is one mode of legitimacy for a leader, along with brute force and rational, legal authority (cf. the American Founders’ view of leadership). There is some kind of divinity or inspiration seen in the charismatic leader, who inspires love and total devotion and gets followers to change their minds about certain political issues in unexpected ways. Followers tend to lack a healthy skepticism about the moral character of such a leader. They tend to excuse or rationalize anything the leader does that might be morally questionable.

Harris created the documentary to catalyze introspection among contemporary Greek people, to help them think about why they supported the leaders they did.

‘Know thyself’–that was the main motivation [for my documentary]–Harris Mylonas

“A documentary allows you to be more ambiguous–when you want to be ambiguous–than a written [scholarly] work.”

Watching an ambiguous documentary about a charismatic leader can help people realize their own biases.

“Once something is created, it takes a life of its own.”–Harris Mylonas

“I think I did allow each talking head [in the documentary]–each protagonist–to reach their full potential of defending their position, which in my view would fit with the Aristotelian definition of a leadership type…I tried to use their strongest arguments in the documentary”–Harris Mylonas 

A leader has to be able to discern who is a vain and a non-vain person.

“Anything that is ecumenical–art, music–are still spaces where I think you can have unambiguously heroic figures, heroic leaders, people who are helping people go to their full potential.”–Harris Mylonas

“The key question for me would be how do we put together modes of socialization and political socialization that inspire people to be heroic and to be leader-like in today’s world, where it appears to be harder and harder to be ecumenical on some fronts, especially the political front, where we see a lot of zero-sum logics emerging?”–Harris Mylonas

Works Referenced

Max Weber on charismatic leadership

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_authority

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Politics


Sophocles’ Antigone

Further Readings

Searching For Andreas: Political Leadership in Times of Crisis

Dr. Harris Mylonas at George Washington University: https://elliott.gwu.edu/harris-mylonas

Andreas Papandreou: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Papandreou

Konstantinos Karamanlis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantinos_Karamanlis