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Listen: Headspace #14—”The Character Thing”

In this month's podcast, Tom Clark and guests ask what makes a political leader

By Tom Clark   October 2017

Just how much difference—or not—do the quirks of an individual make to the tide of history?

In this month’s episode we welcome historian-turned-Cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, who claims every election is won by the more talented leader.

We hear from Wittgenstein’s biographer, Ray Monk, who argues that one of the greatest philosophical minds of the lot—Gottlob Frege—lived in a husk of a man.

Finally, globe-trotting journalist Wendell Steavenson, who followed a refugee family from Syria to the US, describes the heartening signs that America’s open-armed tradition towards immigrants surviving the personality of Donald J Trump.


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Meet the Mastos

Wendell Steavenson meets a Syrian family now trying to find their way in middle America.

“After the prayers, there was coffee and donuts and then a barbecue. The kids jumped on the bouncy castle, Amal and Asmaa met up with other teenage girls. Ibtisam introduced me to her friends, a mix of Middle Eastern accents. “Faith brings people together,” said one woman, originally from Morocco. I got talking to an elderly African-American man. He had been dismayed at Trump’s anti-Muslim stance, but was heartened that so many officials and ordinary people had stood up against his ban. He waved his hand over the mingling throng, “this is what America should be,” he said.”

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The machine in the ghost

Ray Monk goes inside the brilliant mind, and boring life, of Gottlob Frege.

“Even to professional philosophers, Frege is a shadowy figure. Apart from the fact that he was a professor of mathematics at the University of Jena, and—as we shall see, held some decidedly unsavoury political views—almost everything known about him arises out of his connections with other philosophers, most notably Wittgenstein and Russell.”

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It’s all in the leader

Andrew Adonis says winning campaigns isn’t about ideas or politics—it’s about who’s in charge.

“Human beings have not evolved to think easily in abstractions, and it is human nature to view political plans and ideas through the prism of their advocates. Besides, the best leaders not only adopt ideas: they fashion them, combine them and tailor them to suit their needs and times. In the process, they also re-order, redefine and remake political parties in their own image—which is another huge reason why leadership is all-important.”

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