Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan
Edited by Ludger Helms
Chapter 8: Leadership, Governance and Statecraft in Russia
Richard Sakwa Leadership is one of the most intangible and yet crucial issues in political studies. One does not have to adopt Carlyle’s view that history is little more than the story of ‘Great Men’ to accept that particular personalities are able to capture the spirit of an age and to wrench the trajectory of nations from their customary moorings. Yet there is always a tension between, on the one hand, ‘the routine aspects of social organization and the organized, continuous life of social institutions’, and, on the other hand, charismatic authority (Eisenstadt 1968: ix). The question of what makes a ‘good’ ruler has been at the centre of political philosophy since its inception. Several elements are crucial to the study of leadership, notably the role of ideas, the quality of policies, and the institutional and cultural context in which leadership is practiced. The question of leadership is an enduring feature of human development, and indeed much of history is concerned with analysing the strengths and weaknesses of particular leaders. However, while leadership is a trans-historical phenomenon, each leader is deeply rooted in ‘world time’ and the challenges, ideas and prejudices of a particular era. Russia and the Soviet Union appear to have been particularly cursed with poor leadership. Even his most ardent fans would be hard-pressed to argue that Tsar Nicolas II was an effective manager of the Russian Empire, blundering into wars and provoking revolution while alienating the most competent of his own officials. There is no doubt...
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