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Abstract

Political sociology suggests two inter-related leadership trends in advanced democracies: the increasing prominence of political leaders, and the waning influence of political parties, especially the ideological-programmatic ‘mass parties’ or Volksparteien. These trends intensified and reinforced each other over the last 30–40 years resulting in a rapidly changing physiognomy of contemporary democracy. Democratic politics becomes more elite driven, mass-mediated and populist in style than in the past. Moreover, the power and elite structures in advanced democracies, as well as the electoral competition, increasingly resemble what Weber labelled ‘leader democracy’. The shift towards ‘leader democracy’ has coincided with the processes of party-voter dealignment and decline of political parties, the rise of the electronic mass media, and the ascendancy of powerful leaders–reformers in the ‘core’ liberal democracies. The sociological argument about the shift is anchored in a theoretical framework derived from works of Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter. It depicts democratic political leaders as key political actors embedded in broader elites, motivated by determination and commitment, and empowered by the resources of modern states and the mass media.