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Leadership in Modern Times

Reflections on Yves Cohen’s Le siècle des chefs

In: International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity
Author:
Moritz Föllmer
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This review article discusses Yves Cohen’s recent book Le siècle des chefs: Une histoire transnationale du commandement et de l’autorité (1890-1940). Cohen provides an extensive analysis of discourses on leadership in France, the Soviet Union, Germany and the United States. He also studies how leadership was practiced, by French and Soviet factory directors as well as by Stalin himself. While giving due credit to the scope and sophistication of his book, the review article asks whether Cohen’s focus on scientific discourses and highly structured organisations leaves sufficient room for contingency. It argues that interwar political leadership in interwar Europe was not least about seeing and seizing opportunities in unforeseeable circumstances, often thriving on a positive fascination with crises and states of emergency. It also points out that, contrary to what the combined title and subtitle suggest, “le siècle des chefs” hardly ended in 1939, and that the quest for leadership continues to preoccupy present-day societies, cultures and polities.

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