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Icons of Democracy: American Leaders As Heroes, Aristocrats, Dissenters and Democrats
     

Icons of Democracy: American Leaders As Heroes, Aristocrats, Dissenters and Democrats

by Bruce Miroff
 
A profound & disturbing examination of the dangers & possibilities of democratic leadership, this book traces a fundamental tension between leadership & popular democracy that has animated American life from the Revolution through the turbulent 1960s. Examines 9 emblematic political giants — Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Overview

A profound & disturbing examination of the dangers & possibilities of democratic leadership, this book traces a fundamental tension between leadership & popular democracy that has animated American life from the Revolution through the turbulent 1960s. Examines 9 emblematic political giants — Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, & Martin Luther King, Jr. — revealing differences in their passions for distinction, commitments to democratic education, & responses to class, racial, & sexual tensions.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A provocative meditation on the commitments and deceptions of leadership in the U.S., this incisive study focuses on nine political figures. Alexander Hamilton set out to control the democratic passions of the populace. John Adams punctured Hamilton's imperial fantasy, but his own version of aristocratic leadership failed. Abraham Lincoln achieved a ``masculine/feminine fusion,'' avoiding paternalism and remaining open to citizens' views. Theodore Roosevelt and John Kennedy projected heroic images that afforded the public the pleasures of vicarious participation, while pursuing ``a self-aggrandizing role that jeopardized'' democracy. Franklin Roosevelt revitalized traditions of community but also oversaw the restoration of corporate power. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eugene Debs and Martin Luther King, Jr. promoted the inclusion of women, blue-collar workers and blacks in the democratic process. Miroff is a political science professor at the State University of New York.
Library Journal
Leadership and the responsiveness of government are receiving much attention with the changing of presidential administrations. By examining the ideas, policies, and rhetoric of nine important leaders, Miroff provides an excellent starting point for understanding effective governance in the 1990s. He identifies four leadership styles: aristocratic, leaders who stand above and apart from the citizenry (Alexander Hamilton, John Adams); democratic, those who educate and nurture their followers (Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt); heroic, those who flatter and primarily promote themselves (Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy); and dissenting, those who operate outside the system to mobilize dispossessed masses by engendering a sense of esteem and empowerment (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King). Miroff advocates the democratic/dissenting styles as most appropriate because they effectively combine stereotypical masculine (dominating) with feminine (nurturing) leadership. By including dissenting leaders in his discussion, Miroff has expanded upon Richard Hofstader's seminal The American Political Tradition (Knopf, 1948). Strongly recommended.
Booknews
Blends history, biography, political theory, and political science to examine nine emblematic political giants (Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.), looking at their commitment to and impact on democracy. Miroff (political science, SUNY, Albany) delves into how even the best intentioned leaders can undermine the equality and participation of ordinary citizens.
Joe Collins
As an exploration of leadership, Icons of Democracy takes a rather unusual tack. The author isolates nine American leaders and focuses on their lives in the leadership spotlight, especially in terms of the psychological concept of masculinity and femininity. Thus, Theodore Roosevelt, the notoriously macho Rough Rider, also scores feminine points for his great concern for "the common people." Two early Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, despite their reputations as champions of one of the greatest of all grass roots movements, are blue bloods through and through, and it is painfully difficult for them to relate to the "little man" as anything but a ruffian. All the leaders discussed here, from Socialist Eugene Debs to New Dealer Franklin Roosevelt, seemingly contradict their own philosophies of leadership. Minorities are well represented by the fiery suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the now almost mythical Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, the obligatory discussions of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy are here, and these chapters vividly point out how each was savvy enough to score political points while actually accomplishing something good. A warning for the casual reader: this would make an excellent textbook for a college-level class on leadership in American politics, but get ready to wade through some deep and treacherous waters if all you want is a historical discussion of the personalities themselves.
Robert B. Westbrook
We have too few books of this sort today. . . . It merits the wide audience it seeks and alerts us to the virtues of sometimes taking that audience to be one of fellow citizens rather than fellow historians.
American Historical Review
Michael A. Genovese
A most impressive work [and] major contribution to the study of American politics.
American Political Science Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465087471
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
03/01/1993
Pages:
432

What People are Saying About This

James Miller
James Miller, New School for Social Research and author of Democracy Is in the Streets

Through a vivid and telling chronicle of nine emblematic public figures, Bruce Miroff has produced a challenging new picture of the American political tradition, warning us against our wish for heroes and showing us how our finest statesmen have helped to expand our democratic vistas. Every serious student of American politics will want to read this book.

James MacGregor Burns
James MacGregor Burns, author of Leadership

< Packed with telling anecdotes and insights, Icons of Democracy offers analyses of diamond-like brilliance.

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