Icons of democracy: American leaders as heroes, aristocrats, dissenters, and democrats

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Basic Books, 1993 - Biography & Autobiography - 422 pages
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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, 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 it entertained them. Andwe 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 American public life. "In an era when American leadership seems sunk in petty power struggles and shallow media spectacles, Miroff writes, "some of our icons have much to teach us about the forms of leadership that can still speak to the democratic possibilities of the American people".

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ICONS OF DEMOCRACY: American Leaders as Heroes, Aristocrats, Dissenters, and Democrats

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

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 ... Read full review

Icons of democracy: American leaders as heroes, aristocrats, dissenters, and democrats

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

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 ... Read full review


The Aristocratic Statesman
Merit Fame and Political Leadership
Democratic Leadership and

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About the author (1993)

Bruce Miroff earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. He teaches and writes in the areas of the presidency, American political theory, and American political development. He is the author of PRAGMATIC ILLUSIONS: THE PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS OF JOHN F. KENNEDY, ICONS OF DEMOCRACY: AMERICAN LEADERS AS HEROES, ARISTOCRATS, DISSENTERS, AND DEMOCRATS, and THE LIBERALS' MOMENT: THE MCGOVERN INSURGENCY AND THE IDENTITY CRISIS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. He regularly teaches an introductory lecture course on American Government and has received a teaching excellence award from SUNY Albany, where he is currently a professor.