Shopping Cart -

Your cart is currently empty.
Continue Shopping
This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Does leadership matter?

Leaders shape history less than they think—with some exceptions

History’s People: Personalities and the Past

by Margaret MacMillan (Profile, £12.99)

Mistaken though he was in elevating his own hopes and expectations into inexorable laws of history, Karl Marx aptly wrote: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under selfselected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

Getting the balance right in historical and political analysis between the limiting conditions imposed by political, economic and social context and the part played in effecting change by particular individuals is never easy. Even to speak of getting it “right” is a simplification, for the relationship between context and personality will continue to be debated for as long as historians and social scientists thrive.

But, as Margaret MacMillan makes clear in her new book, bad history (generally in the form of inappropriate historical analogies) rationalises, and sometimes engenders, bad politics—from Balkan conflicts to turmoil in the Arab world. As if it were the only fragment of history they have ever learned, politicians mouth clichés about fascism and appeasement, invoking images of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Neville Chamberlain, even when the threats and their settings are very different from those posed in the late 1930s. From Anthony Eden and the 1956 invasion of Egypt, to Tony Blair as junior partner of President George W Bush in the 2003 occupation of Iraq, the “lessons of Munich” have been repeatedly disinterred to justify misguided, and profoundly ignorant, policies in the Middle East.

Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Prospect Magazine - March 2016
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - March 2016
Or 399 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 4.10 per issue
Or 4099 points

View Issues

About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Peter Pomerantsev describes the situation in Eastern Europe as the governments of Hungary and Poland turn right. Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform, questions the substance of David Cameron’s EU deal and Philip Collins argues that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit for purpose. Also in this issue: Peter Kellner shows us that we are feeling more optimistic than during the last stages of the last Labour government and Jessica Abrahams explores the sexism of Valentine’s Day. Plus Justice Malala on South Africa and the Prospect Duel asks: "Should all immigrants learn English?"