In previous posts about aspects of the US executive presidency, which has been held up as a model for a Turkish executive presidency to be voted on Sunday, 16 April, I have presented information about aspects of the US executive presidency as it functions in relation in a federal governance structure with a strong legislature and independent judiciary. The reader must judge for him or hser self whether to US model, given its particular features, serves as a useful model for Turkey. There is another aspect of executive authority, whether exercised via a head of state (president) or head of government 9prime minister) that must be considered – length of time exercising executive authority and its impact on the office holder.
In a February 2009 scholarly paper, UK Lord David Owen and his US colleague J. Davidson asserted that Hubris Syndrome is an acquired psychological disorder. (The Hubris Syndrome is essentially an arrogance that blinds the affected person to realities he/she finds contrary to his/her preconceived notions and renders him/her less likely to listen to the wise counsel of advisors and political allies.) The authors stated that, “Being elected to high office for a democratic leader is a significant event. Subsequent election victories appear to increase the likelihood of hubristic behaviour becoming hubris syndrome.” In the article, they examine the impact of long tenure in office of British Prime Ministers and US Presidents, paying particular attention to 20th century office holders. Knowing full well that many factors influence the development of a syndrome, they do not declare that a certain number of years exercising executive authority will lead to the Hubris Syndrome, but note that the tendency to dismiss sound advice and rely only on one’s own opinions grows the longer the executive office holder remains in office.
What is most striking is that the tendency to Hubris Syndrome seemed to occur just as much to an executive in either a Parliamentary or a Presidential system of government. Most interesting from the US perspective is that Owen and Davidson concluded that eight to ten years seemed to be the limit for someone to exercise executive authority and not succumb to Hubris Syndrome. That is interesting from the US perspective as only one US president has exercised executive authority for more than eight years, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Subsequently, the US Constitution was amended to create a limit of eight years (or up to ten years in the case of a vice-president succeeding a deceased president) for anyone to exercise executive authority, thus codifying what had been a tradition of an eight year limit on presidential office holders honored by all but one president. Of course, in the UK, Margaret Thatcher remained in office for more than ten years (eleven years, seven months), and many political observers agree that she became more arrogant, even hubristic, in the last years of her time as PM. Later, Tony Blair stepped down after ten years (and 56 days) as PM. Did he perhaps realize, as Thatcher had not, that his ability to serve his nation well would diminish with more time in office? Winston Churchill, who many consider the greatest British PM of the 20th century, served eight years, eight months.
One-hundred-thirty years ago Lord Acton observed that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It seems that the modern research of Owen and Davidson ratifies those sentiments and that no person in a modern, democratic state should exercise executive authority for more than eight to ten years, whether as prime minister of a parliamentary system as in the UK or as president of a presidential system as in the US.