Enthusiasm of young leaders is no substitute for wisdom of age

Enthusiasm of young leaders is no substitute for wisdom of age, by Philip Collins.

Sebastian Kurz, the new chancellor of Austria, is, at 31, already an old man by the standards of the ­really young leaders. William Pitt the Younger was just 24 when he was appointed British prime minister in 1783. The haphazard hereditary system of monarchy cata­pults kings into power in their infancy. …

This raises the question of whether it is possible to be a prodigy in politics, because Kurz is certainly not that. Apart from his obligatory military service, he has really done very little other than politics; he did not even complete his law degree at the University of Vienna. His life has been a short political parade with little interruption. He is already as practised and choreographed a politician as Bill Clinton ever was: every movement of his hands and inclination of his head is thought through; his clothes are studied and deliberate and he likes to portray himself as a young man of sporting prowess. …

The trend towards youthful politicians is creating a strange ­retirement home of people in their 50s and 60s whose political ­careers are already shot. Blair, Cameron, David Miliband, Nick Clegg and George Osborne have all come and gone, even though a sensible political realm would not pension them off so early. The same fate surely awaits Justin Trudeau in Canada and Macron. …

A consequence of people coming to power with no real sense of how change works … [is that] as soon as the leader learns how to pull the levers of power, he or she finds their political capital so depleted that they no longer have the capacity to act. You become good in politics just as everyone hates you. …

A long career in politics, starting early but coming to the top at a later age, might be the ideal trajectory.

hat-tip Stephen Neil