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Enlightened Rule

Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers

Paul Maylam

The twentieth century has been called an ‘age of catastrophe’, characterized by devastating wars and a general poverty of leadership at government level. This book, written in a more optimistic vein, offers biographical essays on six twentieth century heads of government – three from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe – who were exceptions to the norm. During their terms of office each displayed admirable qualities: moral authority, integrity, an egalitarian spirit, and a firm commitment to democracy, human rights, social justice and international peace. They shunned personality cults, grandiosity and conspicuous consumption. Their governance was shaped by high ideals, in the tradition of democratic socialism or social democracy, but also marked by pragmatism and an awareness that the realization of these ideals was not always practicable. Although some of the six became iconic, venerated figures, none of them are presented here as ‘heroes’ or ‘great leaders’. Each had failings and flaws, and each has been subject to critique. They are rather presented as government heads whose leadership has been worthy of deep respect and admiration. Had other premiers emulated their style of governance, twentieth century history would have taken a very different course.


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Preface vii


Preface This book arose out of a question that I used to ask colleagues and friends some years ago: can you name any current head of government anywhere in the world whom you greatly admire? It was a question that usually drew a blank response. Then the question would be put in another way: what about any head of government for the whole of the twentieth century? Again, few names were forthcoming. These questions prompted further thinking on my part, and a search for possible candidates. In this search I came across some figures who barely feature in mainstream western historiography, but who clearly deserved consideration. Chief among these was Batlle of Uruguay, in many ways the most impressive figure to be portrayed in this collection. Eventually I set- tled on three Latin American heads of government, each of whom deserved inclusion for the progressive, transformative roles that they played in their countries. The precarious political contexts in which they assumed of fice made their achievement even more impressive. My portrayals of these three are produced within limitations. I am not a Latin Americanist, nor could I read the Spanish sources. But I unearthed a suf ficient body of secondary material in English to be able to put together these biographical essays. The other three figures – Nehru, Palme and Mandela – are well-known names in the English-speaking world, but their selection and inclusion was far from straightforward. There are sure to be critics who will question their progressive credentials, especially when...

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