Government Leaders, Military Rulers, and Political Activists

By David W. Del Testa | Go to book overview

Introduction

Qualities of Leadership

Scholars have only just begun to appreciate how the world's peoples, cultures, and ideas have influenced one another since the dawn of organized human civilizations some thousands of years ago. However, leadership, particularly political, military, and social leadership, has received comparatively little attention within the study of global interconnectivity because its impact has been seemingly obvious. Likewise, the idea of who and what qualities make a good leader has remained similarly unchallenged. Some scholars have recently begun to question the construction of leadership and its importance at various times in the past. In part, this questioning has reaffirmed or even improved the assessment of the leadership of many famous leaders, including Napoléon I, leader of France from 1799 to 1814-15, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served as president of the United States from 1933 to 1945.

This new examination has also illuminated the achievements of previously ignored historical figures who have had a powerful and enduring impact on human civilization and global interconnectivity. For example, 25 years ago, few scholars would have known about the accomplishments of the eighteenth-century French political writer Olympe de Gouges or the twentieth-century British human rights activist Peter Benenson; fewer still would have dared to compare them with the canonical “greats” of human history. This volume, which introduces 200 of the greatest leaders throughout history, makes a broader reexamination of leaders and leadership, enhancing the reputation of some and illuminating other men and women previously overlooked. This volume is also located at the crossroads of the debate on how the societies of different parts of the world influenced one another and what impact they had on world history.

Unlike more conservative and traditional efforts, we have striven to introduce the reader to the broader forces that influenced the personal development of the historical figures considered, and to show how their leadership has had an enduring and global impact. Every biography begins with a description of the life of the individual, followed by an analysis of the individual s legacy. In each entry, the leader s legacy carries equal or more weight than the actual life events. The long-term influence of a particular figures leadership on the progress and shape of world history and the impact of global forces on that figure formed the major criteria for inclusion in this volume; they were also the core issues examined in the biographies.

As a word and a concept, leadership has many meanings. It may indicate, sometimes simultaneously, the ability to lead, the ability to choose the individual who leads, or the validation by others of the right to lead. In this volume, the subjects of the 200 biographies must have at least embodied the first definition, although they may or may not have served as the sole leader of a group, organization, or movement and may not have even initially had the right to lead. Naturally, many of the figures possessed personalities and skills that their society considered to be important traits for a true leader. Equally important, however, is to remember that sometimes what their societies may have initially considered deficiencies made the various historical figures better leaders over time. These supposed deficiencies, or differences, often were excellent alternatives to what the preceding leaders had offered as leadership.

By considering individuals with unconventional leadership characteristics, we were able to include leaders who have had an important impact on history but who did not necessarily have favorable reputations during their lifetimes. For example, because she was a stage actress and served as the mistress to wealthy men during her life, many of the peers of Olympe de Gouges questioned her character. Yet her social vantage point, combined with her own progressive sensibilities and qualities as a writer, allowed de Gouges to write insightful political tracts and argue for women's rights in a way most men would not have dared to do at the time. Likewise, Booker Taliaferro Washington, an African-American activist of the late nineteenth century, had an approach to the social

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Government Leaders, Military Rulers, and Political Activists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Listing of Biographies iv
  • Introduction v
  • The Biographies 1
  • Appendices, Bibliography, and Index 203
  • Appendix One 205
  • Appendix Two 213
  • Appendix Three 219
  • Bibliography 225
  • Index 231
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