Who Is at the Helm? Leadership

Article excerpt

Since the end of the Cold War, policy makers and scholars alike have struggled to characterize an international system in transition. Their challenge is to describe the nature of the driving forces that have changed world affairs--on both state and interstate levels--since 1989. Much of the focus has been on structural approaches that stress the role of broad global forces--such as Samuel Huntington's "third wave" of democratization, or the recurring (and often obsessive) turn turn to concept of globalizaton as a catch-all explanation.

In these explanations of the new global order, the concept of individual or state leadership plays a relatively minor role. Sociologist Max Weber foreshadowed this analytical trend as early as the turn of the 20th century. The primary thread through Weber's work on leadership dynamics, politics, and social theory is the concept of rationalization and bureaucratization. In Weber's approach, personal political forms of traditional and charismatic domination are replaced by systematic, impersonal institutions, and bureaucracies--a change arising from the demands of modern mass society and the rationalization of capitalist economic systems. Even cases of "charismatic domination," as Weber terms movements based on cults of the individuals, represent temporary deviations from this trend; eventually, the logistical and economic requirements of mass society demand a return to the primacy of institutions and systematic forces over individual freedom.

Whether or not they acknowledge their intellectual debt, many commentors on globalization and democratization employ a similar framework in which the impact of individual leaders is dwarfed by the importance of capital investment, financial systems, and diffuse political movements. Scholars like Susan Strange have argued that even individual states are constrained by the same transnational forces of economic globalization. …