Power, politics, and paranoia: An introduction

Jan Willem Van Prooijen*, Paul A.M. Van Lange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Being a powerful leader is not an easy task in our modern age. Political leaders have the major responsibility of making decisions in the collective interest in the context of economic and financial crises, climate change, poverty, immigration, the threat of terrorism, and war. Corporate leaders must navigate their organization’s interest through increasingly fluctuating markets, changing customer demands, and rapid technological developments. The decision-making that takes place in these situations typically has to be negotiated with multiple parties that have different interests, often leading to heated debates and difficult compromises. Many of the resulting decisions have complex moral and financial implications, can potentially have unpredictable consequences, and must be made under substantial time pressure. Moreover, the actions of societal leaders are under continuous public scrutiny. Political leaders are closely monitored by the media, while being praised and criticized by followers, opponents, opinion makers, and other citizens. Corporate leaders are accountable to stakeholders, policymakers, employees, and sometimes also the general public. Yet, the consequences of these powerful leaders’ decisions are immense, as they directly impact the life of many citizens in terms of jobs, income, well-being, and health. Citizens thus depend substantially on the quality of their leaders’ decisions, which are made in a challenging and error-prone environment. This raises the question of how citizens cope with the power that leaders within our society have over their lives, and to what extent they are willing to accord them the trust and legitimacy that is needed for them to function effectively as decision-makers (Tyler, 1997). One striking notion is that citizens often respond with suspicion of the morality of the actions and motives of their leaders. One indication for such suspicion is the volatility, polarization, and extremism that can be observed throughout the European Union (EU) and the USA. Due to recent scandals in the media pertaining to societal leaders (e.g., bonuses for managers; bank crashes), there is a substantial public awareness of the possibility of a failing political and economic system.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPower, Politics, and Paranoia
Subtitle of host publicationWhy People are Suspicious of their Leaders
EditorsJan-Willem van Prooijen, Paul A.M. van Langen
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139565417
ISBN (Print)9781107035805
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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