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

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The most profound and disturbing examination of the dangers and possibilities of democratic leadership since Richard Hofstadter's classic, The American Political Tradition, this book traces a fundamental tension between leadership and popular democracy that has animated American life from the Revolution through the turbulent 1960s.

Miroff examines nine emblematic political giants -- Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Theodore Roosevelt, ...

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Overview

The most profound and disturbing examination of the dangers and possibilities of democratic leadership since Richard Hofstadter's classic, The American Political Tradition, this book traces a fundamental tension between leadership and popular democracy that has animated American life from the Revolution through the turbulent 1960s.

Miroff examines nine emblematic political giants -- Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- revealing stunning differences in their passions for distinction, commitments to democratic education, uses of drama and even demagoguery, and responses to class, racial, and sexual tensions. Some show a deep commitment to nurturing the democratic dignity of the citizenry and empowering the excluded; others display elitist proclivities and pander to popular adulation.

Even the best intentioned leaders, argues Miroff, may undermine the equality and participation of ordinary citizens. Blending history, biography, political theory, and political science, the book uncovers disquieting implications in the careers of some familiar American heroes, and presents new insights into major American figures. We watch as Alexander Hamilton battles Aaron Burr, the demagogue who would destroy all the aristocratic statesman had labored to build. We observe Abraham Lincoln disciplining a youthful instinct for superiority while constructing the most haunting of all American images of democratic leadership. Teddy Roosevelt emerges as an amusing yet troubling figure whose artful spectacle of heroic leadership enervated citizens as much as itentertained them. And we are challenged by the presence of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a doomed prophet of democratic redemption. By reexamining and reinterpreting the leadership of these nine figures, Miroff plumbs our national heritage to determine what leadership has meant -- and can mean -- in America.

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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.
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.
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
From the Publisher

"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."—Robert B. Westbrook, American Historical Review.

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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465032617
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 3/20/1994
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.05 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
1 Alexander Hamilton: The Aristocratic Statesman and the Constitution of American Capitalism 11
2 John Adams: Merit, Fame, and Political Leadership 50
3 Abraham Lincoln: Democratic Leadership and the Tribe of the Eagle 83
4 Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Dissenting Leadership and Feminist Vision 125
5 Theodore Roosevelt: Heroic Leadership and Masculine Spectacle 158
6 Eugene V. Debs: Dissenting Leadership and Democratic Dignity 200
7 Franklin D. Roosevelt: Dernocratic Leadership and the Modern State 232
8 John F. Kennedy: Heroic Leadership for a Television Age 273
9 Martin Luther King, Jr.: Dissenting Leadership and Democratic Redemption 308
10 Democracy and Leadership in America 347
Notes 361
Index 411
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