What modern authoritarian leaders have in common (and how they can be stopped).
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. 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.
About the Author
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is an internationally acclaimed historian, speaker, and political commentator for the Atlantic, CNN, the Washington Post, and other publications. She is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University and lives in New York City.
With a steady gaze and an eye for the telling detail, Ruth Ben-Ghiat delivers a timely analysis of how a certain kind of charisma delivers political disaster — and some valuable hints about how it can be resisted, and the virtues we will need to rebuild democracy.
— Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny
Ben-Ghiat's portrayal of fascist-era tyrants, murderous Cold War dictators, and would-be tyrants in our own day gives us a gripping and illuminating picture of how strongmen have deployed violence, seduction, and corruption. History, she shows, offers clear lessons not only about how these regimes are built, but also how they must be opposed, and how they end.
— Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die
Simultaneously intimate and sweeping in scope, Strongmen brings us in close to dictators and would-be dictators across decades and continents. We are left with a disturbing look in the mirror. Throughout, Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s clear prose rings with a rhythm and cadence that today’s nonfiction too often lacks.
— Sarah Chayes, author of On Corruption in America and Thieves of State
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is an indispensable resource on authoritarianism, past and present. Everyone who cares about American democracy should read this book.
— Sarah Kendzior, author of Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America
A surpassingly brilliant public intellectual.
— Virginia Heffernan - Slate Trumpcast
Deep insight and a vigorous style…[A] brilliant contribution to the political psychology of democracy.
— Joy Connolly, president of the American Council of Learned Societies
Ruth Ben-Ghiat…specializes in male menace.
— Jon Blitzer - The New Yorker