Just Finished Reading: The Myth of the Strong Leader – Political Leadership in the Modern Age by Archie Brown (FP: 2014)
Especially in difficult times we need a strong leader. One who can ‘get the job done’, override the criticism of weaker minds, stare down opposition at home and abroad and make the difficult life (or sometime epoch) changes decisions other weaker leaders simply don’t have the stomach for…. Right? Not so, says the author of this often fascinating book.
Looking at leadership across the globe in the last hundred years or so the author dissects the actions of leaders from democracies, authoritarian states, totalitarian regimes and those somewhere in between. Concentrating on four broad-brush themes – Redefining leadership, Transformational leadership, Revolutionary leadership and Authoritarian leadership – he shows how supposedly strong leaders, those who gathered ever increasing power and prestige to themselves believing that they, and only they, could ‘save the day’ repeatedly did more harm than good (most especially in foreign adventures) and ending up as colossal and sometimes catastrophic failures. The list of those examined is both impressive and honestly staggering:
Franklin D Roosevelt
Lyndon B Johnson
Frenando Henrique Cardoso
FW de Klerk
Charles De Gaulle
Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)
Ho Chi Minh
Kim Il Sung
…and that’s not an exhaustive list – just an exhausting one! The range of the book is very impressive as is the depth of discussion when required. Being that way inclined I did tend to get most from the British and European examples (most especially the Suez Crisis of 1956 and de Gaulle’s France – both of which I’ll be reading more about) but his discussions of the Russian Revolution, the fall of the Soviet Union and the troubled political history of China all kept my attention and those pages turning. Despite only running to just over 360 pages this was a very well argued narrative full of detailed examples and historical lessons. I did more than once wish that the publication date had post-dated rather than pre-dated the Age of Trump to see what the author made of him but I guess that will be covered in future editions. For those interested in the idea of political leadership this is definitely a must read. If, like me, you have developed a passion for political history and political biography (my latest and growing addiction) you’ll love this book. Highly recommended and needed now more than ever.