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date: 14 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Psychoanalytic theory occupies a paradoxical place both within psychology and as a theoretical framework with which to analyse political leaders and leadership. Within psychology, the theory has evolved and deepened considerably since it was first formulated by Freud and his immediate disciples and is now far more reflective of the diverse range of motivations that shape and give purpose to people’s lives. On the other hand, excesses committed by its more enthusiastic, and sometimes untrained adherents, have led to errors of reductionism especially when applied without theoretical nuance or evidentiary prudence to political leaders. This analysis takes the position that modern psychoanalytic theory, even when applied carefully by those trained in its use, is no panacea for explaining every aspect of political leaders and leadership. However, it is essential for analysing some of the central questions that have traditionally motivated this area of research. What motivates leaders to seek high political office? To what purposes do they wish to use the power they seek? What skills and traits are instrumental for successful leadership? When and how in a leader’s development do they arise and become part of his or her psychology? Finally, if leadership consists of the ‘fit’ between what a leader offers and what the public wants, then a theoretical framework that allows us to open a window into the public’s psychology, as modern psychoanalysis does, would seems to be not only necessary, but substantively instrumental. This chapter analyses these theoretical and substantive issues with the context of the comparative study and ‘at a distance’ assessment of leaders and leadership both in the presidential system of the United States and the parliamentary system of Australia.

Keywords: psychoanalysis, psychological assessment at a distance, leadership, leaders.

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