Ruth Ben-Ghiat is the expert on the “strongman” playbook employed by authoritarian demagogues from Mussolini to Putin—enabling her to predict with uncanny accuracy the recent experience in America and Europe. In Strongmen, she lays bare the blueprint these leaders have followed over the past 100 years, and empowers us to recognize, resist, and prevent their disastrous rule in the future.
For ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of truth, treasure, and the protections of democracy. They promise law and order, then legitimize lawbreaking by financial, sexual, and other predators.
They use masculinity as a symbol of strength and a political weapon. Taking what you want, and getting away with it, becomes proof of male authority. They use propaganda, corruption, and violence to stay in power.
Vladimir Putin and Mobutu Sese Seko’s kleptocracies, Augusto Pinochet’s torture sites, Benito Mussolini and Muammar Gaddafi’s systems of sexual exploitation, and Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump’s relentless misinformation: all show how authoritarian rule, far from ensuring stability, is marked by destructive chaos.
No other type of leader is so transparent about prioritizing self-interest over the public good. As one country after another has discovered, the strongman is at his worst when true guidance is most needed by his country.
Recounting the acts of solidarity and dignity that have undone strongmen over the past 100 years, Ben-Ghiat makes vividly clear that only by seeing the strongman for what he is—and by valuing one another as he is unable to do—can we stop him, now and in the future.
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