Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution
In his lucid and bracing history, [David] Bell helps us better understand how [a] charismatic grifter came to occupy the most powerful office in the world . . . Bell's description of our predicament makes for essential reading. --Robert Zaretsky, Los Angeles Review of Books
An immersive examination of why the age of democratic revolutions was also a time of hero worship and strongmen
In Men on Horseback, the Princeton University historian David A. Bell offers a dramatic new interpretation of modern politics, arguing that the history of democracy is inextricable from the history of charisma, its shadow self.
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[A] fluid and thought-provoking survey of political charisma . . . Bell skillfully explores the links between his subjects and draws insightful comparisons and contrasts between them . . . This erudite and entertaining "great man" history helps to explain the modern reemergence of autocratic leaders around the world. --Publishers Weekly
An examination of hero worship via thoughtful biographies of George Washington and four contemporary leaders who were all idolized at the time . . . A disturbing theme explored by a capable historian. --Kirkus Reviews
Using the concept of charisma to illuminate political leadership in the age of democratic revolutions, one of our great historians of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world has created a beautifully crafted book. --Gordon S. Wood, university professor emeritus at Brown University and author of Friends Divided and The Radicalism of the American Revolution, among other works
In this gripping and masterful study, David A. Bell uncovers and explains a mystery about 18th- and early 19th-century revolutions: how come uprisings undertaken in the name of the people so often celebrated and elevated one great man? Building on Max Weber's theory of charisma, Bell brilliantly explores how democracies crave a strong ruler. --Dan Edelstein, William H. Bonsall Professor of French at Stanford University and author of On the Spirit of Rights and The Enlightenment: A Genealogy
No one could have predicted before it happened that the rise of modern self-government would end up exalting mythic statesmen who lead the people and soar above them--for better and for worse. There is no era better suited to grappling with this paradox than the Age of Revolution, when demiurgic and sometimes demagogic political icons became folk heroes--and no better historian to explore how than David Bell, who, with his characteristic talent and fluent writing, proves the need to take charisma seriously in order to reckon with both the past and the present. --Samuel Moyn, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence and professor of history at Yale University
Men on Horseback is a thoughtful and provocative book, one that challenges our vision of the Enlightenment and the era of Atlantic revolutions. David Bell explores one of the greatest paradoxes of modern politics: why the rise of democratic ideals, at the end of the eighteenth century, was accompanied by the worship of great men and the appeal of authoritarian rulers. This book reminds us that democracy is not only a matter of reasoning and deliberation, but also one of emotions--a brilliant, lucid, and disturbing lesson of history worth meditating upon. --Antoine Lilti, professor of history at EHESS and author of The Invention of Celebrity
Charismatic leaders can destroy democracies. But as Men on Horseback shows, they were also needed to found them in the first place. With riveting stories and lucid prose, David A. Bell explores the promise and the perils of charisma from the time of George Washington until the present day. --Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy
Men on Horseback brilliantly recounts how ordinary people seeking political liberty routinely yoked themselves to patriotic saviors from George Washington to Simon Bolivar--a harbinger of our own paradoxical era of demagogues and democratic revolts. --James Miller, author of Can Democracy Work?
Men on Horseback is a vivid analysis of the emergence of a modern political phenomenon, brilliantly written with keen historical insight. --Keith Michael Baker, J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and author of Inventing the French Revolution