- New Horizons in Public Policy series
Chapter 3: The Personalities and Environments of Political Leaders
THE VALUES AND WEAKNESSES OF POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY The writings of Machiavelli, Weber and Michels contain important pointers to the roles political leaders must play and the sources of their power, based on attempts to develop general lessons from studies of specific states or organizations and their leaders. So, too, do at least some other historical or biographical studies of political leaders, such as Thomas Carlyle’s Lectures on Heroes and Hero-worship (1841). The many biographies of modern political leaders that have been written by such scholars as Alan Bullock (1962, 1990) and A.J.P. Taylor (1955) focus mainly on individual leaders’ careers, the sources of their success and the reasons for their failures. Later, we shall be concerned with studies that have attempted to produce propositions of general salience about political leadership, rather than being confined to explaining the behaviour of a particular individual, such as Hitler, Stalin or Churchill. An overarching theme of this discussion is the extent to which leaders’ attributes and backgrounds influence their performance in office and the extent to which their performance is the result of the institutional context of their careers and the circumstances in which they came to power. The question of the extent to which leaders’ ability to succeed is formed by their upbringing and careers or whether their success or failure was constrained by constitutions and contemporary events will arise again and again. Leach and Wilson (2000: 9) suggest two sets of influences: the political and organizational culture, on the one hand, and...
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