In This Review

The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
By Archie Brown
480 pp, Basic Books, 2014

Brown warns of the dangers of leaders who, whether in a democracy or a tyranny, seek to dominate policy and all those around them. The reality or the delusion of unchallenged power often leads to faulty policy and misfortune for those governed. Better, Brown insists, that a leader possess “a questioning mind, willingness to seek disparate views,” flexibility, and courage, among other virtues. The argument is straightforward, but too rich and multidimensional to fit easily into conventional theory. Drawing on a long academic career spent studying leaders, principally in authoritarian communist regimes but sometimes in democracies as well, he explores a multitude of factors that influence leadership, including political culture, the institutions of leadership, forms of government, and the “psychological dimension.” He also presents three special categories of leaders: the “redefining” leader (who manages to effect “radical policy change”), the rarer “transformational” leader (who alters the domestic or international order itself), and the “revolutionary” leader (who, when in power, often becomes a distorted, high-cost version of the transformational leader). Brown concludes by judging success and failure among specific leaders in democratic, “hybrid,” and authoritarian systems.