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America: Land of The Not-So-Free from Inauthenticity

An Introduction to Inauthentic Leadership

As scholarly journalists Marc Jones and Carla Millar puts it, the need for ethical global leadership is “not merely a desirable option, but rather – and quite literally – a matter of survival” (4). The recent events in China, where President Xi Jinping has continued to orchestrate human rights violations of its own native population, which has been extremely concerning amongst both international relations scholars and the United States. Such actions made by China defeat the sole premise of the liberal international order (LIO) – the invisible, yet immensely powerful, global structure that promotes liberal ideas, global cooperation, and peace. Considering the U.S. has been known as the democratic leader of the LIO, being it was also one of the order’s founders, why hasn’t the nation dared to stop China’s ruthless crimes against humanity? Why is the pillar of international diplomacy taking such a “laissez-faire” approach to resolve this foreign issue? While it might be easy to assume that China is rising solely because of such a “hands-off” diplomatic approach, we shouldn’t immediately conclude to such a false cause – that is, China’s rise in human rights abuses is directly due to LIO’s instability since they are related to each other. Hence, a more nuanced understanding of existentialists’ authenticity can be beneficial in seeing the United States’ situation with China more clearly.” In doing so, we can result in one potential conclusion to this situation – that, the United States is acting in bad faith due to their inauthentic leadership.

While allied countries have acknowledged the United States as the world’s diplomatic leader, this same thinking should not conclude that the country is leading their role as authentically as they could. Having the ability to authentically lead is a powerful trait amongst top international figures. Not only does it demonstrate qualities of effective leadership, but also proves a presence of self-awareness, humility and sincerity in leaders to face challenges “head-on” through means of politico-cultural authority. By assuming that the United States is the ultimate diplomatic leader of the LIO, allies and countries in desire for international stability are at risk for existential threats and harm, like China’s abusive government. Therefore, unpacking the existential concepts of bad faith and authenticity by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre can allow us to better understand and measure the effectiveness of the United States’ current leadership, and whether additional steps should be made to both strengthen the LIO and lessen China’s human rights abuses.

The Nuances of Existentialism: Bad Faith & Authenticity

For our purposes, we can simply describe existentialism as a philosophical attitude that refers to the human condition’s ambiguous state of purpose, where our thoughts and actions compile into our existence or “state of being” based on freely-chosen choices and decisions made in lived experiences. The nature of existentialism is comprised of two areas: one, the analysis of being and, two, the significance of human choice (Levi 233). Put it simply, our state of “being” takes precedence over our “knowledge and logistical processes,” since the premise of human existence based on making choices to become our most authentic selves – which, if you think about, does not necessarily require any knowledge (Sanderson 2). Let us take a simple, yet existential, example to further unpack this concept: imagine yourself as a second-year college student, who needs to choose on a major to pursue in their academic career. If, as the college student, you know for yourself that you wish to pursue International Relations as your major primarily because you want to develop into your most original self, without giving in to life’s other externalities of, let’s say, religious or social beliefs, then you have done it! You have chosen to begin living your best self. You don’t need any knowledge to know how to choose or how to live authentically, as it is a process that will occur naturally within yourself by making choices that will best achieve this goal of authenticity (or originality). Now you might see why the same goes with living to our most authentic selves, as this example has exactly led us the answer. By valuing and drawing attention towards the “inner-self,” we can understand why our internal beliefs, desires, and motives direct our action away from bad faith.  

While bad faith could also explain why human beings are always in a constant search for a specific self-motivating goal, such existential reasoning boils down to making sense of their own identity. It can be said, that while “rational clarity is desirable wherever possible […] the most important questions in life are not accessible to reason” (Sanderson 3). Bad faith, branching from existentialism, pertains to nothingness and freedom, and that possibilities are only possible should humans choose to accept them. In other words, bad faith is when a being, or human, misplaces themselves by focusing on irrelevant attributes that steer them away towards their true authenticity. Essentially, you choose to give in on the assumptions about yourself, rather than uncovering your self-worth and spiritual purpose. Considering the human condition’s highly dynamic nature, those who choose to break apart from bad faith can choose how to live their lives authentically, rather than falling under the impression that beings have particular obligations to live their life. Therefore, beings could live their lives as they desire through their day-to-day choices. Take, for example, the college student example again, except you are choosing whether to attend your morning writing class – you could attend class and learn new material, or, skip class and gain a few extra hours of sleep. While I do not advocate skipping class, it could be clearer that living authentically comes with the freedom of choice. Authenticity is the “truth” or “genuineness” that stems from an individual freely choosing to accept or to belief in something. By doing so, a being can truly evolve into their authentic selves (Authentic). Consequently, those in bad faith will be trapped in an incoherent loop by fixating on their untrue identity through obligated decision-making without utilizing their freedom of choice. 

Sure, you might not always be free of some choices, like responsibilities, but you are free to choose on the actions to make that will result in a different impact or consequence to the situation. Therefore, authenticity is nothing more than the act of being honest about our fluid nature, and not slapping an identity over our current existence. Considering human existence is ambiguous, it can be said that uncertainty lies in achieving authenticity, while authenticity lies in the hands of our own uncertainty or hesitancy to act in good faith.

Where Does the U.S. Go from Here?

Unpacking the existential concepts of bad faith and authenticity can allow us to better understand and measure the effectiveness of the United States’ current leadership, and whether additional steps could be made authentically to both strengthen the LIO and lessen China’s human rights abuses. At the heart of this modern contemporary issue, a new era of “geopolitical competition” is burdening the strength of democracy in the liberal international order, which has left scholars feeling puzzled over the role of democracy’s leadership in this heavy situation for the LIO. Sure, it is reasonable to set forth that democratic states are experiencing more domestic strain as liberalism has shown decline in regions, resulting in likely long-term “ineffective governance, economic inequality, and socio-cultural upheaval” (Jones, Bruce, and Torrey Taussig). While this may sound like a stretch, could such logical facts and knowledge be a red herring to the real issue at hand, which is addressing the United States’ inauthentic leadership? I believe so, as there is already a plethora of information and scholars discussing this matter, without tackling the source of this international issue.

If we agree that existentialism emphasizes individual choices, freedom, and responsibility, it can also be comparative to the consequences that international leaders tend to make. In this situation, therefore, the United States is freely choosing to avoid the sporadic uncertainty of moral responsibility through their political status. Upon making this realization, it makes sense to say that politics and international decisions cannot avoid such decisions, as with every situation comes a new action to freely make. It is to be mentioned, though, that choices can, and still are, made through our ethics, which some may argue simply as “values and principles.” However, such ethical ideologies are really just values expressed through actions, rather than being contextualized as this “stand-alone” philosophical conception. Given that ethical values also come from the fluidity in socio-political settings, which can be highly reactive depending on the situation, the United States’ accordance to bad faith and inauthenticity can possibly be explained to the reasoning based on their ethics to handling China’s human rights abuses (Levi 233-235). 

The contemporary LIO is acutely interesting, if you think about it, since its capacity and function to stabilize and promote world peace is solely based on countries’ government actions in relation to one another. More specifically, people in power have a direct effect on the LIO’s existence – it is those on top, who have the most freedom to choose on behalf on their entire nation, to live their most authentic selves for the sake of world order. Nevertheless, it does become tricky for leaders to make choices – they have the free will to lead themselves into a highly risky situation through bad faith, or into self-fulfillment and world order by living authentically. Being that the world is also currently mobilizing at an all-record high through global interconnection, some scholars have grown skeptical whether leaders have given in to the notion that they no longer have control of such events. Even so, it almost seems problematic to simply talk about how leaders should act authentically to take control of situations, considering the real world is truly complex and developed, yet all highly interconnected through our domestic counterparts (Sanderson). May discussing the state of being seems less favored for world leaders, considering existentialist opposers believe that achieving this majestic state of authenticity is actually less controllable and unrealistically obtainable than what the philosophers have informed us. However, even with this claim, it can still be argued that the United States is not acting authentically. Again, ethical ideologies are really just values expressed through actions – therefore, is the United States then authentically acting upon China’s abuses? Considering the U.S. is the world’s democratic leaders, allowing for human rights abuses by China, or any country, should still not be found accepting into the LIO, considering a primary ethical value of the U.S. is to promote and continue human rights for all individuals. 

To alleviate the burden of tons of choices and complex interactions in the LIO, the United States needs to embark on new ways of thinking to meet the demands of the globalizing world, especially when it comes to understanding country’s cultural and ethical values. While leaders, like the United States, may have been inauthentic with themselves, there could be a deeper sense of fearing a greater unknown in the world and unfamiliarity when facing such global and demanding pressures. Philosophers and international relation scholars could uncover this further should we accept that there is surely more to uncover about bad and inauthenticity in leadership.