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The Return Of The Strongman

Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Chaired by Lydia Khalil
Sat 17 September 5:00pm
Sat 17 September 5:00pm
How authoritarian demagogues rise, why they succeed and how they fall.

Join expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat in examining the authoritarian playbook that illiberal leaders have used for a century to get to power, expand their influence, and stay in control, sometimes for decades. From Russia and China to America, Turkey, and beyond, how have corruption, leader cults, machismo, disinformation, and violence been deployed? How do strongmen think and what drives them? What to make of the claim that authoritarianism is a more efficient form of government than democracy? And how have autocratic leaders been resisted effectively at home and through international actions?

The cults that rose up around Mussolini and Hitler in the early 1920s answered anxieties about the decline of male status, the waning of traditional religious authority, and the loss of moral clarity.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat is an expert commentator on fascism, authoritarian leaders, and propaganda — and the threats these present to democracies today. Author of the #1 Amazon bestseller Strongmen and over 100 op-eds and essays in CNN, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, she brings historical perspective to her analyses of current events. Her insight into the authoritarian playbook has made her an expert source for television, radio, podcasts, and online events. Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and an advisor to Protect Democracy. A historical consultant for film and television productions, she was a featured commentator in the Netflix limited series How To Become a Tyrant (2021) and the PBS series The Dictators’ Playbook (2019). Her work has been supported by Fulbright, Guggenheim, and other prestigious fellowships. Her latest book, Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present (Norton, 2020), carefully assesses how illiberal leaders use corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power, and how resistance to them has unfolded over a century. Her books Fascist Modernities and Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema detail what happens to societies when authoritarian governments take hold and explore the appeal of strongmen to collaborators and followers.


Lydia Khalil

Lydia Khalil is a research fellow at the Lowy Institute and the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University. She has a broad range of policy, academic and private sector experience and has spent her career focusing on the intersection between governance, technology and security. Lydia has a particular issue focus on the future of democracy and leads the Digital Threats to Democracy project at the Lowy Institute. She is also a recognised expert on national security and international relations with a focus on terrorism and extremism, Lydia has held previous appointments at the White House Office of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense, the New York Police Department Counterterrorism Bureau and the Council on Foreign Relations. She has frequently advised government and has been widely published. Her most recent publication is her book “Rise of the Extreme Right: the new global extremism and the threat to democracy” published by Penguin.