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date: 08 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The discussion of leadership in Western political philosophy has been marked by a durable tension between the expertise and creative possibilities of leadership, on the one hand, and the dangers of leadership, the need to control the exercise of power, on the other. A parallel tension is expressed in the stark contrast between a ruler doing whatever he thinks he needs to do to retain his power and accomplish his goals, and the duties and obligations of political leaders. Some political theorists highlight the work of individual leaders; others emphasize the constitutional framework that circumscribes their authority. This chapter juxtaposes five pairs of theorists in whose work these tensions can be discerned: Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Machiavelli, Montesquieu and Rousseau, Michels and Arendt, Lenin and Weber. In recent decades, the development of representative democracy on a large scale has created new forms of popular participation. Nonetheless, governance by a small number of leaders continues to be a defining characteristic of our political associations. The works of the canonical authors of Western political thought can help us understand various forms of political leadership, and also suggest factors that make it more likely that leaders will be both effective and responsive to those who are governed.

Keywords: leadership, theory, expertise, governance, representation, power

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