When I was a teenager, I took a bus to New York City by myself. My most vivid memory was being confronted by a mentally ill homeless person. He stated passionately that the government is out to get him and that the President is destroying the country and is personally responsible for his homeless predicament.
Everybody talks about the leaders of our country. But nobody seems to consider their perspective with empathy. Leaders are human beings like us, with jobs much harder than ours.
The breakout international hit drama “Vikings” presents the human side of leadership in an entertaining and intellectually stimulating way.
The main character is Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar has an aptitude and a passion for raiding. His innovative attacks on Wessex and Frankia earn him fame and plunder. And, tragically, an unwanted crown.
Ragnar’s arc goes from fun to fascinating when he accidentally becomes king of the Northmen. Ragnar tries earnestly to be a good peace-time ruler, but he isn’t great at it and he hates doing it. At raging drunken Viking festivals, we see the hesitant monarch hanging back, watching and waiting for the next betrayal.
The stress of joyless leadership robs Ragnar Lothbrok of his family, his friends, and his noble nature. When we meet him, Ragnar is a lovable father and husband. By the midway point of Season 4, he is an angry, lonely, drug-addled monster.
When the dreaded Northmen landed on the shores of southern England, what was King Eckbert of Wessex to do? The logical move was to curse the pagan barbarians and assemble an army of holy warriors to repel them.
King Eckbert did nothing of the sort. Instead, the ruler invited Ragnar into his palace, befriended him, and learned what he wanted. Then Eckbert hatched a far-sighted plan to use the Viking army to fight his battles and solidify his own authority. Oh, and he found time to sleep with the sexiest Viking woman to boot.
King Eckbert is sophisticated and pragmatic. He is smart enough to devise his own political schemes, and wise enough not to share them with anyone. He uses everyone around him as pawns in a chess game. And he knows that no one on earth is as good at chess as he is.
As a ruler, Eckbert has no weakness. But, as “Vikings” demonstrates, power is its own punishment. At the end of the day, Eckbert believes sincerely that he will pay the price of eternal damnation for his earthly achievements.
Have you ever wondered why most countries throughout history were ruled by hereditary monarchs? It’s because that system works most of the time.
Case in point is the character of Emperor Charles II of Frankia. Charles doesn’t have any of the remarkable attributes of Ragnar or Eckbert. Charles isn’t manly or brave or inspiring, and he isn’t particularly smart.
What the Emperor does have is the blissful belief that he alone should be ruling. He is the grandson of Charlemagne. No American leader can ever feel the total confidence of a man who was born and raised to be emperor and knows nothing else.
While the restless ambitions of Ragnar and Eckbert end up needlessly costing the lives of hundreds of their countrymen, Emperor Charles only wants to sit on his throne and make wise, sober decisions. And he usually succeeds.
Emperor Charles is nobody’s favorite character. But he’s a darn fine ruler.
In the 20th Century, blaming national leaders for everything was the act of a mentally ill person. Now, that mental illness has spread across the land.
I don’t think it is wise to love our rulers or even trust them. However, it important to remember that they are just people like us doing their best in a tough situation. And they obviously aren’t destroying the country.