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The Myth of the Strong Leader

Sunday 30 March 2014

1 Hour


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Ticket price

Politics expert Archie Brown, who first alerted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the existence and potential significance of a reform-minded future Soviet leader called Mikhail Gorbachev, challenges the widespread belief that strong leaders – those who dominate their colleagues and the policy-making process – are the most successful and admirable. Within democracies, although ‘strong leaders’ are seldom as strong or independent as they purport to be, the idea that one and the same person is entitled to take all the big decisions is, he argues, dangerous nonsense. A more collegial leadership is too often dismissed as weakness and its advantages overlooked. Within authoritarian regimes, a more collective leadership is a lesser evil compared with personal dictatorship, where cultivation of the myth of the strong leader is often a prelude to oppression and carnage.

In reality, Brown contends, only a minority of political leaders make a big difference, by challenging assumptions about the politically possible or setting in motion systemic change. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, Willy Brandt and Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xiaoping and Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair are among the leaders Brown has examined in his wide-ranging book.

Archie Brown is emeritus professor of politics at Oxford University. His previous books include The Gorbachev Factor and The Rise and Fall of Communism.