Last Updated 11 Mar 2020

Leadership and domestic politics

Category Leadership
Essay type Research
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Scholars in political sciences frequently argue on the power of separate groups and leaders in their strivings towards hegemony, as well as their role in creating politics in general (Jacobsen 1996; Hermann & Hagan, 1998). As a result, what we read in works on politics is often contradictory and sometimes arguable. When we speak about the striving of certain political leaders to hijack their domestic politics for the sake of creating an empire, we should first analyze whether any politics can be called domestic. Consequentially, the possibility of separate political groups breaking the power of leaders should be analyzed through the prism of the three major political theories: realist, constructivist, and liberal. As a result, we will acquire a set of clear unbiased notions on the basis of which we will be able to come to relevant conclusions as for the possibility of creating a political empire through hijacking domestic politics (if we prove these exist).

The discussion of the current subject should possible be started with the analysis of political domesticity, and the role of domestic politics (states, leaders) through the prism of political realism.

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“Realism relies for its explanatory power upon disproportionate enfranchisement of diplomatic elites. An enfranchised actor in two-level games is one who is privileged to participate in the ratification process of an agreement or whose consent is required to implement it.” (Jacobsen 1996, p. 97)

This statement can be interpreted from the two different viewpoints: on the one hand, realist theory supports the power of separate political groups in decision-making; on the other hand, realist theory seems to deny the power of separate political formation in their strivings towards creating political empire. Certainly, the politics which have the full right to participate in multifaceted political processes do not objectively have the need to hijack their strong positions within the political decision-making structures. However, when we suggest that domestic politics can be hijacked for the sake of creating an empire, can this statement be relevant? Objectively, it cannot as long as the fact of politics being domestic is irrelevant.

This can be assumed not merely on the basis of rapid globalization process within political environment. International forces currently appear stronger than those of separate states. “Brazil resisted American threats to its computer policies, while the European Union quickly capitulated to the U.S. in agricultural issues.” (Jacobsen 1996, p. 99) As a result, international issues often prevail over those which were traditionally supposed “domestic”. Of course, domesticity of politics is not totally lost, as inner-state decision-making agents still analyze the events at the international political arena and process them before these are delivered to the masses. Yet, not a single politics can longer separate it from being an international political player. The world political situation leads us to the thought that “states operate simultaneously at domestic and international levels and want to maximize benefits in one domain to enhance their positions in the other” (Jacobsen 1996, p. 101). Thus, not a single politics in the globalized political processes can characterized as being domestic.

Thus, we have come to conclusion that the first part of the discussed question is at least irrelevant. However, and probably surprisingly, this does not mean that the whole assumption is politically meaningful. Continuing the line of political realism we should also have a look at separate political players, who may have claims at creating political empire. In this sense, does leadership still matter or is there any chance that it will be neglected to create political hegemony of certain political groups?

While Jacobsen (1996) asserts that the domestic structure of states is extremely vague and depends solely on how political leaders interpret external events for the benefit of their position, this viewpoint also leads us to the thought that leadership should also be viewed through the international prism. Leadership as domestic political phenomenon loses its relevance as soon as we return to the discussion of domesticity as meaningless in the global political structure. In connection to political realism, leadership still matters.

“Leaders define states’ international and domestic constraints. Based on their perceptions and interpretations, they build expectations, plan strategies, and urge actions on their governments that conform with their judgments about what is possible and likely to maintain them in their positions” (Hermann & Hagan 1998, p. 126).

Thus, to follow the provisions of political realism, and to remain within the limits of leadership framework, it is rather difficult to assert whether separate groups will hijack various policies to create political empire. The fact is that their power in conquering hegemonic position will depend on the number of factors. First, the power of groups depends on the power of the leader: when groups seek to determine whose position in the foreign policy matter, they simultaneously determine the power of leader’s policy. Upon the leader’s inability to find consensus with the groups, these groups will in turn search for consensus between themselves; as a result, this cohesiveness will produce the so-called “groupthink”, and will cause “premature closure around options preferred by the more powerful policymakers” (Herman & Hagan 1998, p. 127).

Second, the opportunity of the certain political groups to hijack the leader’s policy for the sake of creating an empire will depend on the importance of question to be resolved as a result of this attack. Within the lack of domesticity, and the globalized political processes, an unlimited number of political groups can exist, which will have the power in foreign decision making due to their expertise or official position (Herman & Hagan 1998, p. 128).

Again, it will depend both on the power of these groups and the power of the higher political structures, whether those groups will be capable of breaking the existing political regime towards empire. However, when we speak about the lack of political domesticity and the growing globalization of political decision-making, we can also mean that the notion of political empire is far less meaningful than it could be in other political conditions. Yet, the meaning of leadership and the meaning of political groups vs. leadership has not lost its meaning.

The striving of separate political groups towards creating empire is rather vague and inconsistent within the notions of political constructivism. Traditionally, political constructivism was based on the importance of political norms and the importance of following these norms as based on public reason. When we accept the fact of existing political hierarchy, in which leaders and political groups may find themselves in political conflict, and in which the latter may hijack the former to create an empire, we have to accept the possibility that both will come to a reasonable consensus and would act according to the mutually agreed norms.

“Everything depends then for the constructivist on whether there is a rich enough level of consensus to arrive at a shared understanding of the reasonable to enable us to arrive at a shared understanding of the justice” (Stephan 2004, p. 207). It is expected, that in the environment of political consensus between the leader and the groups, the groups would have no stimuli to hijack the existing political stability for the sake of the unstable empire. The striving of political groups towards power in constructivist theory is weak and meaningless as long as political constructivism is connected with pluralism (Stephan 2004, p. 209). Surely, political scholars may interpret pluralism as causing possible risk to the power of leaders; however it is more possible that numerous norms and groups will compromisingly co-exist in the global political environment without breaking its balance.

Political liberalism as the tool of analyzing the political power of groups vs. leaders is even more interesting. As constructivism, liberalism is connected with pluralism, but its pluralism is different and seems to be more problematic in the striving of groups to power. First of all, liberalism initially treats governments as politically neutral powers. As a result, the power of social groups acquired additional meaning and literally turns into a threat for government in their political strivings. Moreover, the pluralism which political liberalism treats seems to be more negative than positive within the current discussion.

This means that liberal pluralism risks creating identity-wars within various political formations (Rawls 1995, p. 100). As a result, liberal thought is the closest to supporting the idea of political groups hijacking the power of political leaders. Simultaneously, even in this light the chance that political groups would strive to break the existing political regime, are vague due to the stable universalism of humanist ideas, to which liberal groups keep. In this sense the liberal view of the discussed question reminds that of political constructivism.

It is important to note that in the global political environment, liberal political cultures are frequently positioned as those opposed to non-liberal cultures. As a result, there are significant risks of political conflicts and the desire of either liberal or non-liberal groups to obtain the power by hijacking the opposed regime. in this aspect liberal thought can be closely connected with the realist provisions: this will depend on the power of leaders, the importance of the questions to be resolved, and the ability of the groups to come to political consensus, whether they will attack the existing political regimes. As a result, we return to the thought that we cannot definitely accept the viewpoint that groups will hijack the policy of their states or groups of states to create an empire.


We have thus come to conclusion that politics can hardly be domestic. In the light politics being closer to transnational, groups will hardly strive for hijacking narrower policies for the sake of creating an empire. This statement is justified by the realistic variety of factors (the power of state leadership, the importance of the question to be resolved, and the rivalry between groups). Political constructivism tends to observe groups as existing in consensus, and thus being deprived of motives to hijack their political stability. However, when liberal players are positioned against non-liberal players we return to the realist view of political groups, when their striving to break the existing political regime is very vague and can be determined only by a wide range of political stability factors.


Hermann, M.G. & Hagan, J.D. (1998). International decision making: Leadership matters.

Foreign Policy 110 (Special edition), 124-137.

Jacobsen, J.K. (1996). Review: Are all politics domestic? Perspectives on the integration of

comparative politics and international relations theories. Comparative Politics 29 (1), pp. 93-115.

Rawls, J. (1995). Political liberalism. Columbia University Press.

Stephan, H. (2004). Constructivism in international relations: The politics of reality. In M.

Zehfuss, Constructivism in international relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 202-218.

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