Political Leadership

Political Leadership

New Horizons in Public Policy series

Howard Elcock

Political leadership is a concept central to understanding political processes and outcomes, yet its definition is elusive. Many disciplines have contributed to the study of leadership, including political theory, history, psychology and management studies. Political Leadership reviews the contributions of these disciplines along with a discussion of the work of classic authors such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Max Weber and Robert Michels.

Chapter 2: Some Classic Analyses of Political Leadership

Howard Elcock

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


Classic writers on political leadership offer analyses of the related concepts of power, authority and influence. Modern examples demonstrate how the precepts of Niccolo Machiavelli, Lao-Tzu, Max Weber and Robert Michels are applicable to recent political events and phenomena. They also offer pointers towards both deepening our understanding of the problems of leadership and proposing means to improve leaders’ chances of success. MACHIAVELLI’S PRINCE Gaining and Maintaining Support Machiavelli’s The Prince (Il Principe) was completed in 1513, but its presentday relevance is quite extraordinary. He offers a view of the qualities required for political leadership which still rings true today because Machiavelli was concerned above all with the fundamental issue of how a ruler first acquires a coalition of support sufficient to gain office, then maintains it in order to sustain him in it. The nature of competition for political office has changed enormously since Machiavelli’s time. Then, the prince needed to gain the support of rival controllers of armies and wealth, whereas now political leaders need above all to gain and retain the support of electorates and legislators. Nonetheless, for both Machiavelli’s Prince and for a modern political leader the central condition for success is being able to build and thereafter maintain a coalition of support sufficient to maintain him or her in office. For Machiavelli this was an especially serious issue where the Prince had captured the state using a mercenary army and therefore lacks legitimacy: ‘it is necessary for him to be sufficiently prudent that he may...

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