Press Release

New Dædalus Issue on “On Political Leadership”


Published during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, these essays offer expert insight into the character and quality of effective political leadership

CAMBRIDGE, MA | July 11, 2016 – “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. 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. “Wise decisions,” Brown writes in his essay, “Against the Führerprinzip,” 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.

These and other issues of great and topical significance 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, titled “On Political Leadership.”

In his 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. Moreover, 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.’”

For her part, 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 provocatively 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.”

In “Women & Legislative Leadership in the U.S. Congress: Representing Women’s Interests in Partisan Times,” Michele Swers (Georgetown University) directs her attention to the notable underrepresentation of women in the House and Senate. 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?

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 contrast, Alfred Stepan (Columbia University), in “The Tunisian Democratic Transition in Comparative Perspective,” looks toward the impressive but still fragile democracy in post-Arab Spring Tunisia. Stepan notes 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. This he contrasts with the notable failures of democracy to take root in Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

And in “Leadership, Equality & Democracy,” political theorist Nannerl Keohane (Princeton University) argues that the profound and worsening socioeconomic inequalities, as she observes are found in the United States, present a fundamental threat to democratic governance. She identifies leadership and equality as two essential constitutive factors of democratic politics, but notes that they are not always in tension: “If we are to emerge from our current malaise, we must recognize and draw upon the positive contributions of leadership to efficacious democratic governance.”

Essays in the Summer 2016 issue of Dædalus include:

  • Introduction by Archie Brown (University of Oxford)
  • Leadership, Equality & Democracy by Nannerl O. Keohane (Princeton University)
  • Rethinking the Psychology of Leadership: From Personal Identity to Social Identity by S. Alexander Haslam (University of Queensland) & Stephen D. Reicher (University of St. Andrews)
  • Presidential Leadership & the Separation of Powers by Eric A. Posner (University of Chicago)
  • Women & Legislative Leadership in the U.S. Congress: Representing Women’s Interests in Partisan Times by Michele L. Swers (Georgetown University)
  • Varieties of Presidentialism and of Leadership Outcomes by Robert Elgie (Dublin City University)
  • Authoritarian Leadership in the Post-Communist World by Eugene Huskey (Stetson University)
  • Leadership–It’s a System, Not a Person! by Barbara Kellerman (Harvard Kennedy School)
  • Multiple but Complementary, Not Conflictual, Leaderships: The Tunisian Democratic Transition in Comparative Perspective by Alfred Stepan (Columbia University)
  • Against the Führerprinzip: For Collective Leadership by Archie Brown
  • In Favor of “Leader Proofing” by Anthony King (University of Essex)