Ours is the age of the strongman, of heads of state who damage or destroy democracy, use masculinity as a tool of political legitimacy, and promise law and order rule – and then legitimize lawless behavior by financial, sexual, and other predators.
Covering a century of tyranny, in her latest book Ruth Ben-Ghiat examines how authoritarians use propaganda, virility, corruption, and violence to stay in power, and how they can be defeated. She looks at larger autocratic patterns, like the toll of corruption on militaries and how late-stage autocrats behave, to help us contextualize current world events. The story of the strongman, rife with tragedy, also offers lessons in hope and resiliency. It urges us to invest in democracy and protect it rather than take our freedoms for granted. The cost of not doing so is far too great.
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 fives 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, coauthor of How Democracies Die
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a historian who writes about authoritarianism, democracy protection, and propaganda. She is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, and other fellowships, and Advisor to Protect Democracy. She is an MSNBC opinion columnist, a regular contributor to CNN and The Washington Post, and provides live commentary on CNN, MSNBC, and other networks. She publishes Lucid, a newsletter on threats to democracy. Her latest book is Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present (2020, paperback with new epilogue on Jan. 6, 2021).
Moderator Professor Kiran Patel holds the chair of European history at Ludwig Maximilian University Munich (LMU) and is Director of Project House Europe. Before joining LMU, he held chairs at Maastricht University in the Netherlands (2011-2019) and the European University Institute in Florence, Italy (2007-2011), and an assistant professorship at Humboldt University in Berlin (2002-2007). He has been (inter alia) a visiting fellow/professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales in Paris, the Free University of Berlin, Freiburg University, Harvard University, the London School of Economics, Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Oxford. His teaching and research focuses on issues of European and US American history. Comparative, transnational, and global approaches feature prominently in his work.
Photo © Erin Baiano