Why do people follow leaders like Hitler, Stalin, or Obama?
By Hugh Akston
While this may seem like a loaded question it is really more complex than it seems at first. Why do people do what they do? Why do people talk like they do? What motivates people to take action or refrain from action?
These may seem like pointless questions but when you understand a person’s motivation then you can control them. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all answer. People are complex and see things in many different ways; that is a main problem with communications is different understandings.
So how do we learn about people? You can talk to them, listen to what they say and don’t say. Spend time with people watch what they do and what they enjoy. This will only teach you about one person; if it is your spouse or children this is time well spent. What if it is someone we only have occasional contact with, or a group of people we are trying to understand? Then we need to learn about people as a group. This is where good literature comes in handy, we can learn a lot about people from books, biographies, fiction, history, it does not matter as long as you read with the thought in mind about character motivations. The best book about people is the manufactures operating manual, called the Bible. Do you want to be a leader? Read Nehemiah or Ezra, want to be a fool study about Nabol or Ahab and Jezebel, want to be a discouragement or a follower read about Sanballat and Tobiah. All types of people, all motivations, are found in literature, if you look for it.
A few types of people and motivations follow as examples.
1. People like to feel important.
When people associate with high power or high visibility people like politicians, actors or businessmen the feel that the power reflects on them and makes them more important. That is why bands have Groupies and fans, the closer they can get to someone important; or who they feel is important, then they themselves are more important. “I have the Ear of the King.” This was parodied in Gulliver’s third Travels on the Island of Laputa with the Flappers to keep everyone listening and talking in proper order and to not be distracted. Technology was in control of communication, no one could speak without a flapper. The Kings flapper was the most important man as no one could talk to the King without permission. This is similar to today when you want to talk to a congressman you must first get his Aides attention (the Flapper) to get on the schedule to talk to the Congressman. Many want to be the Kings Flapper.
2. People are forced to like Doctor Zhivago. Here was an apolitical man, had his wife and mistress, no interest in politics just a plain country doctor. When he was caught in the war he was forced to help the Communists to work as a Doctor and soldier under threat of death to him and his family. Today in Africa many young men are forced to fight or watch their families be tortured, raped and killed. Some have their hands cut off so they cannot fight. In American politics this is a little more subtle; Social ostracism from the community. You are not “Authentically ____” if you do not support our Ideas. Fill in the Blank as You see fit, Christian, liberal, conservative, Black, Hispanic or other Group. In some communities there is a threat of violence, this is also what helps gangs survive in their areas.
3. People are evil and love the power. In many places you find this problem from the days of Aulus Persius Flaccus Stories to Adolf Hitler’ Mein Kampf; we find evil people come to power and they bring their henchmen along. People of Pure Evil who delight in inflicting pain on others; Vlad III of Romania, Ivan IV of Russia, Mao Tse-tung, Kim Il-sung, or Caligula are all examples of people in this category. The death chambers of prisons around the world are full of such men, some have archived power in the past, some were restrained from achieving power. Try to make a list of the ten most evil people in history, I would have a hard time to restrict it to only ten in each century, both men and women and it would cover all races. Many who follow these types of people are of the same mind, but they are too cowardly or weak to lead and take responsibility themselves. A perfect example of this principle is Chi Guevara, a follower of Castro, a murderer who enjoyed killing more than his leader.
4. People are stupid and easily led astray. While many are evil they like to pretend they are good; “I am not as bad as ____”; so while they are evil themselves they lie to themselves and try to do good things to cover their true nature. It is for the Children, as illustrated in Much of Charles Dickens works, is their battle cry. All their good intentions come to nothing because in truth their hearts are evil, and they can do no good thing. These people do not care of the outcome just the appearance of good, because they do not know what good is. This is often brought out in the Bible, people with no basis for a moral conviction falling prey to every smooth talker who comes along
2 Timothy 3:2-6 -  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,  Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,  Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;  Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.  For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
As in Citizen Kane the man is first led by an altruistic desire for a better society, his ambition and drive pushes him into a lust for power, causing his ultimate loss of happiness. But with all the best intentions.
5. People look to charismatic leaders for guidance. “He sure do talk Perty.” – Miz Beaver from POGO Possum cartoons.
Ephesians 4:14 That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Not having a firm foundation people follow leaders like Jim Jones, Joseph Smith, or David Koresh, people who do not read the Bible themselves to see what is true or right. We have the same problem in politics. People do not check to see what the politicians are saying or doing; just quote party talking points from the daily memo. This is how we see people like Hitler and Obama come to power. Not on their deeds or history, but by rhetoric and charisma not character.
If you want to know the motivation of men it is found in Literature, not Psychology books. We can learn a lot from reading, new books as well as old. Classic books from The Iliad, Inferno, to Huckleberry Finn, we find people of passion and life, power and failure, love and redemption, most of all we can learn about people.
Just my thoughts for today.