ICONS OF DEMOCRACY by Bruce Miroff

ICONS OF DEMOCRACY

American Leaders as Heroes, Aristocrats, Dissenters, and Democrats
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Miroff (Political Science/SUNY at Albany; Pragmatic Illusions, 1976) thoughtfully examines the lives of nine disparate American leaders, ``seeking to read from their stories the possibilities, limitations, and dangers of American political leadership.'' Miroff fits his subjects into four paradigmatic categories: ``aristocratic'' leaders of the early republic, like Hamilton and John Adams, strong-willed elitists who led passive followers; their modern successors, ``heroic'' leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and JFK, who, in distinctive ways, wielded power like kings; the ``democratic'' leaders like Lincoln and FDR, who balanced personal styles of leadership with a commitment to increasing the democratic enfranchisement of the American people; and the ``dissenters,'' like Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in resisting the prevailing order, sought to bring politically powerless groups into civic life. While each category has its own particular advantages and disadvantages, Miroff is most wary of the aristocratic and heroic styles, finding them contradictory to the democratic promise of American society. He sees the democratic leaders as paradoxical; his study of Lincoln reveals the President's overweening ambition and unconscious assumption of superiority, which was balanced by a determination ``to remain close to the people while educating them to the demands of American liberty.'' Similarly, Miroff finds that the democratically idealistic FDR oversaw the expansion of government and the establishment of a militarized state. Miroff concludes that the dissenters--who, unlike the others, held no public office--did the most to empower women, working people, and African-Americans, and thus ``most fully revealed the potential for a public life of democratic honors.'' Miroff ably demonstrates the paradoxes that lie at the heart of leadership, and shows how the noblest qualities of our best leaders can be a threat to democracy.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-465-08747-7
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993




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