Even as Dr Eric Eustace Williams approaches the centenary of his birth, he continues to be "good copy," as journalists say and may be the very stuff that local legends are made of. His strengths, weaknesses, frailties and idiosyncrasies are still fodder for those interested in the evolution of our politics since Williams's meteoric 1956 entrance on the scene. To be fair, whereas he arrived with seemingly impeccable credentials, there became a time that one got the uneasy feeling that he had "flattered, only to deceive." Truth be told, Williams was accepted by a wider society than his home base as "a messiah in the making, a victim of colonial malfeasance and a local champion who could match strides with the best of them."
Among his obvious gifts was that indefinable quality called "charisma," so it was not surprising that there was already a constituency awaiting such a figure, whatever his shortcomings. He attracted a degree of fanatic following that had to be seen to be believed. That, decades after his death, he still casts a larger than life shadow on the political landscape and, like "Banquo's ghost," simply won't go away, remains as much as a mystery as "the manner of man that he was" or "the manner of man that he was supposed to be."
Some years ago, a symposium mounted by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at UWI's St Augustine campus, brought together scholars, researchers, politicians, public servants, attorneys and businessmen who all had their tales to tell. By strange, ironical twist, the recognisable PNM defenders of the late Eric Williams and his legacy appeared to have been marginalised to the extent of being placed in the position of having to defend the faith, virtually outside the fort. A new PNM "elite" had apparently replaced the "old believers." It was suggested that "an understanding of our great men and women was indispensable to forging a sense of nationhood."
There was also reference to "interesting disclosures" made by Williams's advisers "which exposed how inadequate and at times downright inaccurate was much of the information which formed the basis for making many "profound" judgments about Eric Williams. For whatever it's worth, it is my own humble view that now is the time for all those who interfaced with Williams or have some special insights to have their firsthand knowledge or views documented for the possible benefit of others who come after. An authentic understanding of Williams would, in my view, require that before his generation goes to its final rest.
How many, for example, would be surprised to learn that as a schoolboy Eric did not always have his head buried in a book but was captain of his football team at Queen's Royal College, as well as a member of the school's cricket team. Besides this, he was voted as a model student or such like by both fellow students and teachers at QRC. That is not, of course, to suggest that a mere collection of anecdotal material, however irrelevant, would do. Neither is it suggested that the darker corners of the mind or shadier aspects of the personality should be off limits, if they throw some significant light on larger issues of "great pith and moment."
My own feeling is that any significant biographical effort should make allowance for political or personal axes to grind. In my view, Williams has to be located within the context of the maximum charismatic leader of the society which spawned him. It sometimes amazes me how little of substance is revealed by Williams watchers, supposed authorities on Williams and even some who were in quite personal contact with him. That, perhaps, should not be surprising as complex political ad charismatic personalities seem to have the facility to dissemble and dissimulate, to instinctively reveal or conceal aspects of their personality as they deem expedient for their particular purpose.
The dominant question, to my mind, is not whether Williams was "good, bad or ugly" but whether anyone was wise enough to be entrusted with the effective power that Williams wielded and the influence that he exercised for such a protracted period. Whenever there is such a concentration of unbridled power in a single pair of hands, one is reminded of Lord Acton's dictum that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In Williams's case, we may assume that constraints as his being mindful of his international image and his own academic and political legacy would come into play.
Now while a Prime Minister can't go do everything, there's no reason to doubt that he/she can set the tone, style and climate of the administration. Dr Williams's impact and influence were very strong indeed. They permeated the society (for good or ill) and may well be with us for some time yet. His mesmeric influence tended to undermine the wit and will of the society, including servile dependence on him.