Summer 2016 Bulletin

Dædalus Offers Insight into the Character and Quality of Effective Political Leadership

“The yearning for a strong individual leader who will dominate all and sundry is the pursuit of a false god,” argues Archie Brown (University of Oxford), guest editor of the Summer 2016 issue of Dædalus “On Political Leadership.” Since no leader in a democracy was ever elected because he or she was believed to have a monopoly of wisdom, it defies both common sense and democratic values for other members of the leadership team to subordinate their independent judgment to the perceived preferences of the top leader. As Brown writes in his essay, “Against the Führerprinzip: For Collective Leadership,” “Wise decisions are less likely to be forthcoming when one person can predetermine the outcome of a meeting or foreclose the discussion by pulling rank.” Yet, notwithstanding ghastly experience with overweening leaders in many different countries, the craving for a “strong leader” still persists, and is a major factor in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

President Barack Obama meets with other government leaders during the G8 Summit at Camp David, May 19, 2012 (Photograph by Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza).
President Barack Obama meets with other government leaders during the G8 Summit at Camp David, May 19, 2012 (Photograph by Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza).

These and other issues concerning the character and quality of political authority are explored by the multinational and multidisciplinary group of authors convened in the latest issue of Dædalus.

In his introduction to the issue, Archie Brown highlights the major questions the contributors will explore: What is effective political leadership? Do we need “strong” individual leadership, or do we need to be protected from it? And what forms of leadership have best promoted democratic values: in the United States, in post-Soviet Eurasia, and following the Arab Spring?

In “Leadership, Equality & Democracy,” Nannerl O. Keohane (Princeton University) notes that though democracy is rooted in the idea of political equality, wealth inevitably makes some citizens “more equal” than others. She argues that profound and worsening socioeconomic inequalities, as found in the United States, pose a fundamental threat to democratic governance. Further, she maintains that only passionate and pragmatic leadership – found with presidents and heads of government but also with congressional committees, local politics, and education – can overcome the dangers of a polity in which the power of money so exceeds the will of the people as effectively to veto social change.

In “Rethinking the Psychology of Leadership: From Personal Identity to Social Identity,” S. Alexander Haslam (University of Queensland) and Stephen D. Reicher (University of St. Andrews) describe effective leadership as the capacity to mobilize a mass constituency to bring about shared goals. But the same qualities that make one leader effective may render another useless. Using a social identity approach, Haslam and Reicher explore leadership as an influence process built on an internalized sense of group membership shared between leaders and followers. Successful leaders not only represent and mirror their followers, but actively create, advance, and embed this identity in pursuit of their goals.

In “Presidential Leadership & the Separation of Powers,” Eric A. Posner (University of Chicago) argues that the U.S. presidents judged the “greatest” leaders by historians and pundits are also the most heavily criticized by legal scholars. These presidents overcame the barriers erected by Madison’s separation of powers and breached the constitutional norms they swore to uphold. But what then stops presidents from abusing their powers? Posner points to the multifaceted nature of presidential leadership: the president is at once leader of the country, a party, and the executive branch. The conflicts between these interests constrain his or her power.

In “Women & Legislative Leadership in the U.S. Congress: Representing Women’s Interests in Partisan Times,” Michele L. Swers (Georgetown University) directs her attention to the notable underrepresentation of women in American political institutions. Swers also highlights the policies espoused by women legislators: Do women legislators tend to prioritize different causes than do their male colleagues? And at a time when the partisan divide in Congress has grown wider and more acrimonious, do the approaches of female politicians present opportunities for consensus-building?

Robert Elgie (Dublin City University), in “Varieties of Presidentialism & of Leadership Outcomes,” reflects on the relationship between institutional power and political leadership and wonders about the effects of presidential institutions on political, economic, and social outcomes. He examines the protracted debate among political scientists about whether a parliamentary or presidential system is more conducive to the transition to democracy, and argues that any approach to studying institutional power must account for the quality and style of specific political leaderships and the interactions between institutions, leaders, and contexts.

Eugene Huskey (Stetson University), in “Authoritarian Leadership in the Post-Communist World,” explores the origins and development of personalistic rule in the successor states to the Soviet Union. Several of these states have seen the emergence of monstrous cults of personality; in a number of cases, their presidents wield even more individual power than that of party leaders in the post-Stalin Soviet era.

In “Leadership – It’s a System, Not a Person!” Barbara Kellerman (Harvard Kennedy School) is skeptical of the very notion that individual leaders are overwhelmingly important. Highlighting the absurdity of what she calls the “leadership industry,” Kellerman suggests that “we do not have much better an idea of how to grow good leaders, or of how to stop or at least slow bad leaders, than we did one hundred or even one thousand years ago.”

Alfred Stepan (Columbia University), in “Multiple but Complementary, Not Conflictual, Leaderships: The Tunisian Democratic Transition in Comparative Perspective,” points out that while democracy has spectacularly failed to take root in Egypt, Syria, and Libya, an impressive but still fragile democracy has emerged in post – Arab Spring Tunisia. He observes a commonality with the transitions that produced effective democratic leadership in Indonesia, Spain, and Chile; like those nations, Tunisia has had a multiplicity of cooperating leaders, rather than a single “strong leader” or multiple conflictual leaderships.

In the issue’s concluding essay, “In Favor of ‘Leader Proofing,’” Anthony King (University of Essex) notes the model of Swiss success in arguing that the best-governed liberal democracies have actually obviated the need for strong leaders, who are by definition high-risk individuals likely to do more harm than good. He acknowledges that while there may be crises necessitating the acquisition and wielding of power by a single leader, there is much to be said for a liberal democracy’s “political culture and institutions having built into them a fair amount of ‘leader proofing.’”

Academy members may access an electronic copy of this Dædalus issue by logging into the Academy’s website. For more information about Dædalus or to order copies of “On Political Leadership,” please visit