Journal of Human Security | 2014 | Volume 10 | Issue 1 | Pages 1–3
DOI: 10.12924/johs2014.10010001
ISSN: 1835-3800
Editorial for Journal of Human Security Volume 10
Sabina W. Lautensach
1, 2, 3
of the Journal of Human Security, Librello, Basel, Switzerland
Human Security Institute, Canada
University of Northern British Columbia, Terrace, BC, V8G 4A2, Canada; E-Mail: [email protected]
Submitted: 16 December 2013 | Published: 8 January 2014
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's death on 5 December 2013
and his funeral ten days later were taken as an oc-
casion in the global media to discuss the merits of
political leadership for human security, with occasional
comments on its pitfalls. This particular leader is not
the most politically safe object of discussion, as, for a
long time, he openly advocated civil disobedience and
resistance, initially of the non-violent kind, but later
becoming violent. Predictably, the local hegemon
reacted with great brutality and sweeping measures
to the resistance of the ANC, policies that shocked
many in the western world. This reaction by the gov-
ernment and its supporters and the counterreaction it
incited amounted, in the long run, to little more than
a vast reduction in human security for most citizens of
South Africa, lasting until the ANC's victory and Mr
Mandela's ascendance to the presidency in 1994.
Mr Mandela's example illustrates how responsible
leaders of political resistance movements must assess
the centres of power without any illusions about the
innate legitimacy of sovereign governments. They
must navigate carefully among the institutions of
power, their directives, laws, and enforcement agen-
cies, always seeking maximum damage to the holders
of power and minimal harm to the rest of the citi-
zenry. If they lose sight of that balance, they cease to
be responsible moral leaders. This ethical principle
clashes vehemently with common conventions about
the inviolability of the rule of law, the taken-for-grant-
ed legitimacy of state authority, and the currently
fashionable glorification of the no-holds-barred 'war
against terrorism'. The convention holds that the state
is the only institution powerful enough—and morally
legitimised—to counter anarchic movements and the
threat to human security such movements supposedly
pose. Yet the ethics of civil resistance clearly holds the
moral high ground in cases where the hegemon has
abandoned procedural justice and widely violates
human rights in his (precedents are mostly male) in-
creasingly desperate efforts to preserve the power
imbalance on which his position depends.
In our recently published textbook on human secu-
rity [1] we enclosed a discussion section entitled
"What if the Law is Wrong?"—What course of action,
based on what ethical platform, can rescue human
security in such a situation? The examples of apart-
heid South Africa, Nazi Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union,
and numerous other horrific precedents remind us
that the moral stance of the law abiding citizen loses
its normative eminence under those conditions.
Instead, virtue is exemplified by the counter-hegem-
onic activist, from the common German citizens who
hid Jewish refugees in their attics all the way to
people like Nelson Mandela. In the ensuing struggle,
'terrorism' becomes an obligatory strategic instrument
on either side in the eyes of the other. And yet, if the
revolution is successful, the ultimate blame goes en-
tirely to the former hegemon, and the leadership
qualities evident in the victorious revolutionary are
elevated to the highest ideals of human endeavour.
Though his victory is not an essential requirement
(witness Che Guevara), as a martyr, his heroic rep-
utation tends to be less universal and less officially
shared. In contrast, the leaders of autocratic states,
© 2014 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
whether they were violently deposed or peacefully
died in office or retirement, end up being judged more
harshly by posterity. No-one, I hope, would think of
advertising a Pinochet or Battista as a model leader to
The upshot is that leadership is by no means an ab-
solute ideal, contrary to the many educational pro-
grams and mission statements that brandish its virtues
unconditionally. Likewise, respect for the dominant
authority—state-mediated, corporate, religious, or oth-
erwise organised—is not an unconditional virtue. I feel
this obvious truth requires restating because the
differences between 'good' and 'bad' leadership, mor-
ally legitimate laws and those that perpetuate
injustice, government by the people and government
by plutocrats, are blurred by the corporate media and
entertainment industries to the extent that raises
some concerns about the effects of their message in
the consciousness of future generations. This is why
the Mandelas of history are so eminently important:
they are the counterexamples; they show us what
true leadership should and could be, and that bad
leaders are worth fighting against. The absence of
good leadership gives rise to business-as-usual sce-
narios that range from the noxious (when highly
educated Saudi women rely on their chauffeurs and
do not think twice about injustice) to the horrific
(when entire communities lynch homosexual men in
Uganda). And its presence visibly elevates human
security from a descriptive parameter to a normative
criterion of moral excellence—the criterion that
distinguishes good leadership. Witness its status as a
popular ideal in present-day South Africa.
Counter-hegemonic leadership, of course, attracts
formidable risks. During the second week of February
2013 a mullah in Yemen spoke out publicly against Al
Qaida. A day later, when he and two other members
of his congregation were meeting with two Al Qaida
members to discuss the issue, all five were incinerated
by a US drone attack. Which side their families are
rooting for now seems predictable. The risks are
obvious with other numerous examples of counter-
hegemonic leadership—the wikileakers and whistle-
blowers, the FEMEN women in front of the Saudi
embassy in Davos, the Pussyriot activists in Moscow.
Not even the boycott of the mainstream media can
obfuscate the idealistic accomplishments, personal risks,
and excellent leadership shown in these examples.
In contrast, the primary reason for the absence of
leadership is its attractiveness to the multitudes of the
risk averse. This gives rise to the phenomenon of
immoral consensus, where ordinary people conform
with views and practices that clearly contradict their
own values. Immoral consensus sometimes goes as
far as making people refrain from showing support for
leaders who dare protest its injustice, even within the
private circles of friends and families, and even
making a show of disparaging and ridiculing those
leaders in public. The phenomenon was and is
particularly evident with examples of unconventional
moral leadership shown by abolitionists of slavery,
suffragettes demanding the vote for women, animal
welfare activists protesting abuses in the food and
cosmetics industry, and protectors of the last stands
of old growth forests. Who has not heard of the dis-
paraging labels of nigger lovers, tomboys, treehuggers,
and worse? The absence of good leadership and
immoral consensus is what preserves the conversa-
tional buoyancy of such despicable labels.
The examples of absent leadership that I find
personally most vexing are those that result in the
abject failure of governance. At the municipal level
such failure is evident in my home town in the lack of
any community-owned recycling operation. At the
regional level it is commonly evident in the sell-out of
precious natural resources to overseas corporate takers
at prices that reflect neither their cultural value nor the
ecological costs of their extraction. At the national level
it is evident, for example, in the failure of govern-
ments to enact adequate protection of consumers
against harmful food products and additives, against
the interests of their corporate suppliers. Early in 2010
the New Zealand Labour Party, egged on by the Green
Party, proposed a bill prohibiting the supply of junk
food at schools. The ruling Conservatives defeated
this bill stating that it would interfere with free choice
—an ideal they have little respect for when it comes
to choices of GE-free food, of recreational drugs or
the choice to end one's life. The government refused
to take the lead on proactive health care, an undis-
puted human security good.
At the global level the absence of responsible lead-
ership seems quite the rule. The global trafficking in
arms, drugs and people can be effectively combatted
only through initiatives based on counter-hegemonic
leadership. Restraining the emission of greenhouse
gases and other pollutants, fairly distributing scarce
resources, testing and restriction of drugs and house-
hold chemicals, preventing human rights violations all
represent examples of human security regimes that
would best be facilitated by responsible global lead-
ership. Such leadership is also counter-hegemonic
because it threatens powerful entrenched interests.
Its absence presents as the intuitive explanation why
those projects are not making adequate progress.
Counterexamples where such leadership makes a
wealth of difference, as in the case of Captain Paul
Watson and his Sea Shepherds fighting ecocide and
cruel exploitation of the world's oceans, occur rarely
but shine brightly as examples of how much better a
place this world could be if we had more responsible
The failure of responsible global governance some-
times takes grotesque proportions. Negotiations
continue among representatives of Norway, Denmark,
Canada, the US and Russia to align their maritime
boundaries according to the topology of continental
shelves in the Arctic ocean. At stake are vast deposits
of minerals and hydrocarbons. We are mystified by
the excitement about more fossil fuel deposits. They
cannot burn them, can they? Or rather, if they do get
burned it makes no difference who does the burning.
This example illustrates how the absence of respon-
sible leadership leads to a failure of governance, to
the detriment of all.
I salute all those of our colleagues around the world
and their students who are practising unflagging lead-
ership in the aforementioned positive ways, and I hope
with all my heart that ultimately their causes will carry
the day.
Have a peaceful and happy New Year 2014!
Best wishes,
Sabina W. Lautensach
1. Lautensach A, Lautensach S, editors. Human
Security in World Affairs: Problems and Opportunities.
Vienna, Austria: Caesarpress; 2013. Available from:
eds (accessed on 18 December 2013).