An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Summer 2016

Against the Führerprinzip: For Collective Leadership

Archie H. Brown
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The Führerprinzip has not been confined to Nazi Germany. The cult of the strong leader thrives in many authoritarian regimes and has its echoes even in contemporary democracies. The belief that the more power a president or prime minister wields the more we should be impressed by that politician is a dangerous fallacy. In authoritarian regimes, a more collective leadership is a lesser evil than personal dictatorship. In countries moving from authoritarian rule to democracy, collegial, inclusive, and collective leadership is more conducive to successful transition than great concentration of power in the hands of one individual at the top of the hierarchy. Democracies also benefit from a government led by a team in which there is no obsequiousness or hesitation in contradicting the top leader. 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.

ARCHIE BROWN (Archibald Haworth Brown), a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy since 2003, is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford, and an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1991. He is the author, most recently, of The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age (2014), The Rise and Fall of Communism (2009), and Seven Years that Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspective (2007). He has been a Visiting Professor of Political Science at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, Columbia University, and the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame.