Just under a decade ago, Archie Brown highlighted several factors that he thought limited the explanatory power of comparative politics as an academic discipline. Such factors included undue emphasis on studying democracies at the expense of autocracies, a lack of methodological pluralism, inadequate attention given to understanding political leaders, its separation of domestic and international relations, and its increased isolation from the “real world of politics” that the discipline sought to explain. ‘The Myth of the Strong Leader’ is a book that addresses all of these criticisms demonstrating both erudition on behalf of Brown and a keen ability to practice what he preaches. This book may well be a significant point of reference to political scientists and the general public.
Brown’s thesis is a strong rebuttal to a commonly held point of view, arguing that a ‘strong’ leader – defined as someone who “concentrates a lot of power in [their] hands, dominates both a wide swath of public policy and the political party to which [they] belong, and takes the big decisions” (p. 1) – is ultimately an undesirable leader. In fact, Brown convincingly shows throughout the book that the more power is concentrated in one individual’s hands, the more likely they will make catastrophic policy errors. In some cases these errors could literally be measured in millions of wasted lives. What should be desired, Brown argues, is ‘collective leadership’ whereby political leaders show receptiveness to perspectives that could potentially conflict with their own both from colleagues and outside expertise before decisions are finally made (pp. 2, 19).