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The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power Paperback – 23 Jul 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Politico's Publishing Ltd (23 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842752197
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842752197
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 833,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A unique and penetrating insight. Anyone who intends to vote at any election should read this book first. -- Dr Raj Persaud

This is psychobiography without the psychobabble. I found it absorbing, clear, lively and persuasive. I think David Owen is right. -- Matthew Parris

About the Author

Lord David Owen has been Foreign Secretary, leader of the Social Democratic party, and now a Crossbencher in the Lords. He was trained as a medical doctor, and has long been interested in the effect of ill health on heads of government. Among many books, he is the author of Balkan Odyssey, a powerful autobiography, Time to Declare, and a poetry anthology, Seven Ages.


Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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This little book is an absorbing and intelligent, first stab at suggesting a 'hubris syndrome' theory of political rulers. As Lord Owen fully appreciates, much work has already been done on the subject of personality and politics. Books such as Laswell's 'Psychopathology and Politics',Greenstein's 'Personality and Politics'are examples I remember. Also, the Brewster Smith map of personality and politics, embodying the 'actor dispensability' factor, is helpful in identifying those decisions which are down solely or mainly to a given president or prime minister.

His assessments of Margaret Thatcher, George W Bush and Blair in terms of the development of hubris in each case are utterly convincing. More worringly, is that he posits that even where there may not be a predisposition to hubris, the longer a person holds the reins of political power the greater its development potential.

Focussing on the foibles of political leaders is, of course, fascinating, but in the case of the three aforementioned political leaders the absence of effective checks and balances (in particular, of enough gutsy MPs or members of Congress) gave them free rein. In fairness, Lord Owen clearly recognises this.

The only reason for withholding one star from this review is that this book represents a start in what may emerge as a cogent psycho-political theory. Can't wait for his follow-up book.
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Sure, power can lead individuals to be overconfident, not listen to others and so on. No problem with calling this the hubris syndrome. But to call it a psychiatric syndrome simply calls into question what the definition of a psychiatric syndrome is. Scadding spoke of disease as causing biological disadvantage and the conventional psychiatric disorders do, but the hubris syndrome doesn't.

Also, a huge proportion of the book is about Iraq. Of course what went on in Iraq could be used to illustrate Blair's and Bush's hubris in waging war, but David Owen uses his knowledge as former foreign secretary to provide much too much detail for the reader, far more than is required in relation to hubris. The book actually has two subjects, hubris and Iraq. The latter will be covered by the Chilcott Inquiry.
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A useful first hand reference to some of the contemporaneous background. Naturally, I prefer Tom Bingham's learned and expert opinion on the legality of the war. Unger is also extremely instructive on the religious considerations (Christian) leading up to the invasion on the other side of the pond. As for the concept of whether there is a "hubris syndrome" or some other kind of mania, I leave that to the experts in that field. Clearly power has a tendency to corrupt, which is one reason why safeguards, such as the separation pf powers built into constitutional systems, should be protected by robust defences to prevent them from being circumvented. There should also be accountability for cases in which they have been circumvented. Unless I suppose there is a defence, for instance on medical reasons...
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I cannot imagine a more convincing indictment of Blair post 9/11. I was surprised to find myself utterly persuaded by the hypothesis and, in fact, even if I were not, the cool, clear analysis of events is as compelling and conclusive a critique of his failure as any I have read. Now I want the same criteria applied to every current PM, Cabinet Minister, MP...
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This is a well thought out and intuitively constructed book confirming what many people suspected: Bush and Blair were corrupted by the powers that they were given and because of their misguided actions the world is in a more difficult place.
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Excellent insight into the minds of great leaders (not !)
I wish Blair would follow Bush into simlar modest silence.
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This is a wonderful account of the political relationship between George W. Bush and Tony Blair..and not just politics, but a weird kinship.
I suppose, after all, the English Speaking peoples around the globe are destined to have this kind of bond, for better or worse.

By the way, this little book was not available in the United States, so I ordered it from Amazon UK..

It was an accurate if painful account of the relationship of the former President and former Prime Minister.
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Lord Owen is a former doctor and a former Foreign Secretary as well as being one of the founders of the Social Democrats, who later merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. Here he combines his experiences in the fields of politics and medicine into an exploration of hubris in political leaders who have held power for a long time.

The front cover of the book shows a photo of Blair and Bush striding side by side, edged by their national flags, perhaps moving towards podiums for a press conference. Above them looms the title of this book. To the Greeks, hubris was always paired with nemesis. During a Roman triumphal procession the triumphator rode in all his glory in a chariot, but behind him stood a slave who whispered in his ear "Remember, you are mortal". Perhaps this tradition should be re-instated.

The author considers that power does not necessarily lead to hubristic behaviour, and he gives examples of the many leaders who seem unaffected. As in many things, a combination of nature and nurture seems to be operating. In the case of Blair he detects it at the start of the Kosovo crisis; for Bush he sees it appearing after 9/11.

He uses the word syndrome rather than illness. These leaders are not medically sick and the syndromes can be difficult to define medically, but syndromes are real, pace post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is a short book of 137 pages. Originally it was planned to be part of a larger book on illness in political leaders, but was published as a separate book in 2007, after Blair had stepped-down and Brown was prime minister.
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