The rise of the Leviathans : Are Duterte, Putin and Erdogan the Leviathans?

Are we seeing the return of the Leviathans as defined by Thomas Hobbes? The Absolute Leader selected by the body politics to put order in society. Around the world we see the rise of Populist Leaders – The image they project and perceived is that of a strong devotion to Nationalism, the war against crime and delivering service to the country’s citizenry. In effect they have become strong men without implementing a putsch or a coup or even declare Martial Law.  Vladimir Putin was the anointed heir of Boris Yeltsin and ever since he rose to power he has virtually cemented his position in Russia by being a populist leader and wrapping around his regime electoral victory after electoral victory. In the Philippines we saw the election of Rodrigo Duterte the Populist Davao Mayor who ran on a campaign promise of fighting corruption and improving the life gf Filipinos. has now become the Populist President of the Philippine Republic.

(i) What are the circumstances that led to the rise of Populist leaders like Putin and Duterte?

Image by Nikolay Volnov via Flckr. Some rights reserved.

What are the factors that lead to the rise of such populists? Would it be the weakening of their predecessor ? Would it be a corrupt government of their predecessor? Would it be a time strife and emergency? Would it be the rising threat religious extremism? Would it be the fall of military government? Would it be inefficiency of their predecessor ? Would it be because of a worried citizenry being fed by news of killings and criminality by media focused on increasing profits and maintaining their viewership? Perhaps it could be one or a number of these factors that will ultimately lead to the rise of a populist  a leviathan- someone perceived to be strong enough who could get the job done.

Putin, Duterte and Erdogan’s power is cemented and established through electoral process. There may be questions as to how the election was won but the three enjoy political support from across the different classes of their society.


Image by Carsten S. via Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Image by Carsten S. via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

(ii) Will this last? What can undo these modern day leviathans?

China  has the concept called the Mandate of Heaven.  Simply put a ruler that can be replaced if and when they depart from serving the people and the gods. It is China’s Traditional Social Contract and the basis for changing leaders and dynasties. In a similar vein, governments past and present fall because of their failure to comply their social contract. These popular leviathans follow the same thread. Putin and Duterte’s popularity and political longevity depends upon their fulfilling and perception of fulfilling their social contract with the people  When they fail then they cease to become populists and eventually falkland replaced.

(iii) The Nature of Present Day Leviathans: Do they need to declare Martial Law

No. The Roman Republic were repulsed by the idea of Kings. The ancestor of Brutus gained famed for riding the Royal Family of Rome the Tarquins. So it was not surprising that when Julius Caesar was accumulating power, one of the issues against him was he wanted to be king and was assassinated at the halls of the Roman Senate before the statue of his dead political rival Pompey Magnus and Caesar’s friend Brutus was one of the assassins. Brutus, Cassius and company were eventually defeated and led to the rise of the Caesarian Triumvirate – Mark Anthony, Lepidus and the adopted son of Julius Caesar and grand nephew Octavian.  Now Caesar’s grand nephew took on the name Caesar, by virtue of being the adapted son, and proceeded to consolidate power. What is interesting though is that he never took the title of king and instead was called principeps or First Citizen – his other titles included imperator, pontifex, and they change his renamed Augustus. He was king in all but title. In fact the word imperator or commander survived and became the root word for Emperor and Caesar became the root for the Russian Emperor or Czars and the German Emperor or Kaiser.

So, no , these present day Leviathans need not to declare martial law, rather in order to protect society and fulfil their contract,  they can work within the constitution and push it to its limits and if that does not work the constitution can and will be changed.with support of the majority of society.

In these times where we see ISIS or ISIL at work; the borders of Europe and the United States are slowly closing to refugees; where the promise of Arab Spring has all but been broken and abandoned; and each country has a growing civil unrest I think we have seen the rise of leviathans not in a manner or perhaps concept Hobbes had in mind but something different. Leviathans now are placed and maintained in power through the popular vote and majority acceptance because of the state of our world. Electoral victory has become the new divine right of kings.


This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)