Leadership studies major Patrick Hughes, ’18, is exploring how context correlates with the emergence of illiberal leadership. The senior will present his honors research, “Mussolini, Hitler, and Perón: Economic Conditions and the Emergence of Illiberal Leadership,” at the 2018 Jepson Research Symposium in Jepson Hall on April 20.

“I focused on economic conditions in particular, and attempted to provide illumination to the contexts within which each of these leaders rose to power,” explains Hughes.

Hughes began thinking about leadership emergence during his 2016 Jepson summer research experience with Dr. Peter Kaufman, which looked at Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy. For his senior honors thesis, Hughes expanded his scope to include Hitler in Germany and Perón in Argentina.

“Jepson taught me the distinction between leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness. My interest has always been in understanding how and why particular leaders attract followers, and this is the interest that I have pursued with both of my Jepson research projects,” says Hughes.

Hughes says these projects began with an intuition that examining leadership personality and ideology alone paints an incomplete picture when it comes to leader emergence. Hughes believed that context was an essential part of that portrait.

His research supports the hunch. Hughes found that in the cases of Italy and Germany, instability, popular resentment, and nationalism correlated with Mussolini and Hitler’s emergence, but that the relationship between these variables in Argentina and Perón’s leader emergence was weaker.

“The complexity involved in these studies is shocking,” says Hughes. “There are a very significant number of variables that contribute to any particular case of leader emergence. My inability to control for specific variables within my historical inquiries is the reason why I do not propose causal relationships in my findings, and why I caution against applying the factors that I derived from these studies to contemporary examples.”

The complexity demonstrated by Hughes’ research helps shine a spotlight on the critical importance of context in leader emergence.

“I hope that a fundamental implication of my findings is that leader emergence occurs as some confluence of economic, social, and political conditions and leader persona and ideology. My procedure and findings provide a framework of how one might attempt to study and understand contemporary cases of illiberal leader emergence,” says Hughes.

Hughes, who will join a federal consulting firm in Washington, D.C., after graduation, says that he believes his leadership studies education makes him more interesting: “It’s an unknown quantity that is truly a conversation starter.”

Hughes adds, “But if the conversation runs dry, I can always take a colleague down the fascism rabbit hole — I have lots to say.”