Richard Overy

Strength by Numbers

The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age


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For years a favourite question in A-level history exams has been whether Hitler was a ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ dictator. It is an odd question since being a dictator suggests an exceptional degree of power, whether it is exercised effectively or not. Occupied Europe and the doomed Jews it contained might have found it a question bizarre in the extreme. Yet the obsession with ‘strong’ leadership has not gone away. The popular view is that we need more of it, while weak leaders are denigrated or pitied.

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