Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis

by David Ronfeldt


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This essay introduces and defines the concept of the hubris-nemesis complex, illustrates it by drawing upon both mythic characters and real personalities, relates it to other psychological phenomena that have been described well in the past, and discusses some challenges that may be faced in recognizing and dealing with the complex in the course of international relations. The essay argues that the complex is relatively common, but often unappreciated, and that we can see it at work in current-day figures such as Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Slobodan Milosevic--leaders about whom the United States has made serious misjudgements over the years. Thus, while the essay is intended to be conceptual and scholarly, it may have direct significance for understanding and dealing with foreign leaders in future crises and conflicts.

The research described in this report was conducted in RAND's National Security Research Division.

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