The President as Leader

Appealing to the Better Angels of Our Nature

Erwin C. Hargrove

Choice Outstanding Title

Few issues have clung to the presidency in recent years as tenaciously as that of moral leadership. This timely book, based on a lifetime of personal observation by an award-winning author, examines the politics of ideals to propose that, just as moral purpose without political craft is weak, political acumen without moral appeal is futile.

“In this intellectually engaging book, Hargrove argues that successful presidents are those who combine political skills with intellectual and moral leadership. He examines three distinctively different presidencies—Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan—in revealing, exceptionally well written profiles. Strongly recommended.”


“What Hargrove says deepens our understanding of presidential leadership and merits further development.

—American Political Science Review
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Looking back to the timeless political theories of Aristotle and Machiavelli, Erwin C. Hargrove asks how presidents can most effectively combine political arts and skills with intellectual and moral leadership. He draws on his own scholarly research and synthesizes critical thinking about leadership—especially the point-counterpoint perspectives of Richard Neustadt and James MacGregor Burns. With insight and intelligence, he shows how effective leadership demands a judicious balance of commitment to the public good and an ability to discern the possibilities for political action at any moment.

Hargrove argues that political leadership must contain a moral element if it is to be fully effective, and that a successful president must provide leadership in accord with the ideals embedded in American culture. To demonstrate this theory, he suggests a model with which to analyze, compare, and evaluate political leaders, and then assesses the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan according to the model's normative implications. By examining the three presidents in terms of skill, character, cultural leadership, and other qualities, Hargrove extends his analysis beyond individual presidents to generate keen insights about presidential leadership in general.

This thoughtful book clearly demonstrates that craft dissolves into cleverness without a clear sense of moral purpose, and that truth-telling, empowerment, and altruism in politics are not only desirable but achievable. The President as Leader is the capstone of a distinguished career, synthesizing years of observation and research about issues that occupy the thoughts of many Americans. In taking Lincoln's evocation of the better angels of our nature as a source of inspiration for his own reflections, Hargrove reminds us that we, as leaders, have the means before us to become better versions of ourselves.

About the Author

Erwin C. Hargrove is professor of political science at Vanderbilt University and winner of the prestigious Richard E. Neustadt Award. Among his other books are Presidential Leadership, The Power of the Modern Presidency, and Jimmy Carter as President: Leadership and the Politics of the Public Good.