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Kirsner, D. Richards, M. (2008). Special Issue on Psychoanalysis and Political Leadership I. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 5(3):149-152.

(2008). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 5(3):149-152


Special Issue on Psychoanalysis and Political Leadership I

Douglas Kirsner and Mike Richards, Ph.D.

The study of the nature of political leadership is crucial in the modern globalized post-industrial world and it forms the subject of two special issues of the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. This special issue and a forthcoming one, Psychoanalysis and Political Leadership I and II, comprise a collection of critical essays for today's conflict-ridden world, written by leading psychoanalytically oriented political scientists from different parts of the world. The essays examine vital issues connecting leaders and their publics, group psychology, strong and weak leaders, politics and personality, and leaders and followers. They feature detailed case studies of contemporary political leaders, including US president George W. Bush, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, and Northern Ireland leader John Alderdice. Contributors include leading scholars Jerrold M. Post, Fred I. Greenstein, James Walter, James M. Glass, Judith Brett, and the late Graham Little.

What does it take to be an effective political leader? Political leaders vary greatly in their personalities and qualities and there are no apparent shared or common characteristics that they possess. Instead of searching for such qualities, leadership can be best seen in terms of moving the group or organization forward in the direction of the mission or aims of the groups concerned. Whether this comes about through charismatic dynamism, intelligent restructuring, incentives, or other factors, the assessment has more to do with what they actually do. It can be plausibly argued that leadership may have more to do with effective outcomes than the alleged psychological qualities of the leader, which vary considerably. To produce great leadership is not a question of producing great and specific psychological qualities common to great leaders. However, whether or not great leaders share qualities with say Winston Churchill, it is helpful to understand how the vagaries of Churchill the person contributed to his singular achievements and failings. What happens when leaders fail, or succeed in producing distorted, irrational or inhuman results? Understanding what actually happens in politics is clearly related to who the political leaders are and what their personal history has been in political, social, ideological, biographical and psychological context.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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