Pierre Trudeau

Justin Trudeau with his wife Sophie Gregoire at a film premiere in September 2012 (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Justin Trudeau with his wife Sophie Gregoire (Getty)

Historically, the legislative class has often liked to keep it in the family. And while hereditary titles have fallen out of fashion in most modern democracies, political dynasties appear to be thriving nonetheless.

The latest scion of a political leader to seek office is Justin Trudeau, 41-year-old son of Canada’s former prime minister, the swashbuckling Pierre Trudeau.

Justin was elected leader of Canada’s Liberal party on Sunday.

The ruling Conservative party greeted the news of Trudeau Junior’s victory somewhat sniffily, with Fred DeLorey, the Conservative party’s director of communications, saying:

“Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but in a time of global economic uncertainty, he doesn’t have the judgment or experience to be prime minister.”

Perhaps mindful of that kind of criticism, Justin Trudeau was careful in his acceptance speech to mix confidence – “More than one hundred thousand voters have sent a clear message: Canadians want better leadership” – with modesty: “I take nothing for granted. I understand that trust can only be earned. And my plan is to earn yours.

George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush in 2010 (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush in 2010 (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

The Trudeaus are of course part of a long tradition of North American political clans, from the Kennedys and the Clintons to presidents Bush I and II – despite America’s Founding Fathers’ concerns around the implications of power flowing through blood.

But it is in Asia where political dynasties have really flourished. In India, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has provided three prime ministers since the country’s Independence in 1947. Rahul Gandhi, 42-year-old great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, is tipped to be the Congress party’s candidate for India’s 2014 election. But the prospect of yet another Gandhi at the helm has met with criticism in some quarters.

“Essentially he has nothing besides his name,” Ramachandra Guha, a historian, said when Gandhi was promoted to the role of the Congress party’s vice president earlier this year. Read more