In This Review

The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World
The Age of the Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy Around the World
By Gideon Rachman
Other Press, 2022, 288 pp.

Rachman provides one of the most vivid and incisive accounts yet of the new authoritarianism that has swept the world. In Brazil, China, Hungary, India, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Turkey, and the United States, a diverse cohort of would-be authoritarian leaders have emerged, each seeking to establish personalistic forms of one-man rule by serving up political cocktails of fear, grievance, nationalism, and reactionary populism. What Rachman finds most interesting is that the strongman model of rule has grown in both democratic and autocratic systems. From former U.S. President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, strongman leaders cement their hold on power through a cult of personality, contempt for the rule of law, and populist attacks on the elite establishment and the liberal consensus of the 1990s. In country after country, strongman leaders appeal to people “left behind” in rural areas and small towns, invoking nostalgia for a lost glorious past. Rachman argues that the strongman ethos is deeply rooted in global economic and technological changes and in the failures of and disillusionment with liberal democracy. But strongmen have their own weaknesses: personalistic rule cannot last forever, and dictators are rarely able to deliver what they promise.