Sunday, April 11, 2010

Genghis Khan: He Was No Huey Long

I received quite a few interesting and insightful responses to last week’s question regarding the reasons why people do or do not seek advice from financial advisors.

It is clear that each person has his or her own reasons for doing what they do, and they are as varied as the people who hold them. I’d like to quote a few here, but unfortunately I can’t. The SEC has very strict regulations regarding the use of direct quotes from clients and even non-clients. Therefore, the numerous very thoughtful responses I received shall remain private.

On a completely different note, I recently listened to two biographical audiobooks: Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford and Kingfish: The Reign of Huey P. Long by Richard D. White, Jr.

Wow! What fascinating and extraordinary men. I didn’t deliberately choose these two books in succession, but having listened to them in order, it’s only natural to compare and contrast the two leaders.

Genghis Khan (pronounced “JEN-gis” as opposed to “GEN-jis” as I had previously thought) was a reluctant conqueror, not beginning to amass his empire until he was over fifty. By the time he died peacefully in 1227, he ruled an area as large as all of North America and half of South America. His influence extended from China through the Middle East and all the way to Eastern Europe. His sons extended the Mongol Empire into the largest contiguous empire in history.

He and his “Mongol hordes” have developed a reputation in recent centuries as primitive barbarians who conquered more-advanced cultures through terror and violence. Indeed, the Mongols were extremely limited in terms of education, they presented a frightful appearance to their intended victims, and like all conquerors, they gained territory through violence on the battlefield. But the standards of the Middle Ages, theirs was a remarkably egalitarian society, and the Khan was a remarkably magnanimous ruler. He allowed conquered societies to retain their own cultures, and wherever he found new and useful ideas or inventions, he spread them to other parts of his realm, so all could benefit from them.

The Khan (born with the name Temujin) was by no means a saint. He murdered his own half-brother when he was still a boy, an act that presaged a violent adult life. But, in a twist that may seem hard to accept in such a violent individual, he also was by nature a fair man. Whenever he needed to make a major decision, he would call a Kurultai, a mass assembly of his people. On the vast Mongolian plain where the population was widely dispersed, people often would have to travel many days to reach the site of the Kurultai. In fact, the very presence of a large assembly indicated their support for the idea at hand; if the people stayed away, the clear message was “no.”

In many ways, I found myself liking, admiring and respecting Genghis Khan, especially in comparison to other rulers of his era. I can’t say the same for Huey Long, the ruthless, power-hungry Governor of Louisiana during the Great Depression. I won’t take time this week to talk about Huey; maybe next time.

Have a great week!

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