Europe’s Modern Machiavellis

Arrogance and Deception in 20 Political Leaders


Since 1945, European politics—free of much war or hardship—has been preoccupied first with consumer needs, then with curbing appetites in the name of global targets. But, as the Russia–Ukraine war starkly illustrates, personality still matters in power struggles—and has helped to push Europe into decline.

This book explores how self-interest has come to define European leadership, at the expense of restraint and moral purpose. After World War II, Machiavellian characters overrode party politics, as the retreat of religion, education and social solidarity blocked political renewal. Now, Europe has entered a new time of troubles.

Tom Gallagher profiles twenty modern leaders from across the continent and the political spectrum. His probing, incisive portraits of short-sighted and underhand decision-making range from slippery leaders like Berlusconi and Johnson, to icy icons like Merkel and Mitterrand, to addicts of runaway power like Orbán, Macron and Sturgeon. Gallagher’s caustic pen also reveals lesser-known personality cults everywhere from Greece and Finland to Belgium and Northern Ireland. Exposing a chasm in leadership which has fuelled growing volatility, polarisation and alienation, he ends by arguing that it is Ukraine, pulverised by war, which offers political hope, as its leaders affirm democracy rather than destabilise it.


Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. He has published one novel, Flight of Evil, and sixteen single-authored books on democracy and authoritarianism in post-1870 Europe, ranging from Britain to the Balkans, and including the acclaimed Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die.

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