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Democratic leadership as a political weapon: competition between fictions and practices

Rudolf Metz (Institute for Political Science, Centre for Social Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence, Budapest, Hungary) (Department for Political Science, Corvinus University of Budapest, Budapest, Hungary)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 1 March 2021

Issue publication date: 30 November 2021




This article aims to analyze possible interpretations of democratic leadership by revealing the implicit leadership theory (ILT) of a moral, a material and a political ideal of democracy, namely deliberative–participatory democracy (DPD), aggregative–pluralist democracy (APD) and leader democracy (LD). As special “filters,” ILT helps the author to organize and compare conflicting premises and assumptions democratic theories hold about exemplary leadership and followership.


In order to reconstruct the possible meanings of ideal leadership (challenges and political knowledge) and the ideal followership (power relations, interactions and roles) portrayed by theories, the article sets a specific template for conceptual analysis.


The author argues that there is a contest over the meaning of democratic leadership. Political leaders use leadership fictions as political weapons to mobilize possible followers, legitimize their actions and discredit opponents. The article creates a heuristic typology providing a “plural” or nonessentialist reading of actual political situations and democratic practices.


The literature usually aims to find an absolute moral understanding of leadership fitted in democracy or to reconcile the idea of leadership with democracy. Extending J. Thomas Wren's approach, this article examines competing fictions of democratic leadership by blending leadership and democracy theories.



The author would like to thank the author’s mentors, Zoltán Balázs and András Körösényi, the author’s colleagues at the Institute for Political Sciences, Illés Gábor, Gyulai Attila and David Wineroihter for their comments. The author also thanks the three anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions and guidance. This work was supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (PD 134685). The usual disclaimer applies.


Metz, R. (2021), "Democratic leadership as a political weapon: competition between fictions and practices", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 313-324.



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