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

In Favor of “Leader Proofing”

Anthony King
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Although it is widely assumed that successful polities require strong leaders, something like the opposite is probably the case. A successful political system may well be one that has no need of strong leaders and may even eschew them. Strong leaders may occasionally be desirable in any polity, but those occasions are–or should be–rare. As often as not (possibly more often than not) strong leaders pose substantial risks. They are liable to do as much damage as good, possibly more. There is a lot to be said for any polity's political culture and institutions having built into them a fair amount of “leader proofing.”

ANTHONY KING, a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy since 1994, is the Millennium Professor of British Government at the University of Essex. His books on American politics and government include Running Scared: Why America's Politicians Campaign Too Much and Govern Too Little (1997) and The Founding Fathers v. the People: Paradoxes of American Democracy (2012). He has also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Princeton University as well as the University of Oxford.