THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY by Arthur M. Schlesinger


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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. will be read because he is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. That much is assured. But beyond the name and the campus fame, there is the fact that this is a perfectly satisfactory book on a rather -- by now -- shopworn subject. Nothing here, understand, to set you on your political ear, but rather what we have come to expect from Professor Schlesinger: a vivid historical review of the development -- no, alarming accretion -- of presidential power. Of course George Reedy (and Schlesinger acknowledges the debt) has deftly explored this trend (viz. Twilight of the Presidency, 1970; and The Presidency in Flux, KR, p. 549) -- Schlesinger even uses Reedy's operative adjective "monarchical" -- and Emmet John Hughes in his recent The Living Presidency (KR, p. 667) more cautiously but very ably addressed the same issue, arguing that we must resist the present impulse -- generated by the Nixonomical horrors of Watergate -- for "reforming zeal" and live with the "abiding paradoxes" of the modern office. Schlesinger's contribution is his talent for organizing history -- he conducts his inquiry with the surehandedness of a professional so at home with his material that we sometimes forget that a scholar is at work unscrambling the contradictory past. We saw it -- this genius for putting together the lineaments of the historical record -- in the Roosevelt volumes and here he is just as good. The overriding theme here concerns the presidency in the democratic system: can we permit the chief executive unlimited authority in the area of foreign affairs and war-making and remain a free nation, or must we sacrifice efficiency and speed of decision-making by sharing the power around, as the Constitution mandates? Schlesinger wants a "constitutional" presidency -- a rather wobbly solution in these days of constitutional confrontation at the highest level. But withal, Schlesinger has seemingly effortlessly traced the rise of the autocratic White House and that is sufficient.
Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1973
ISBN: 0618420010
Page count: 629pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1973


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