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Greatness:

I just finished Steven Hayward's marvelous new book Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders. It is a short, readable, fascinating little book that I highly recommend.

I've read a number of books about (and by) both Churchill and Reagan and still found much new and interesting in Steve's new book. The central purpose of his book, as I take it, uses Churchill and Reagan as case studies to focus on the question of the extent to which great leaders are born versus made. And, more importantly, to the extent that great leaders are made, what is it about their life experiences that "make" them who they are? One good thing about having a central focus on a particular theme is that it permits Hayward to ignore many other factors that turn out to be irrelevant to his central theme, allowing him to move forward through his argument directly. He notes among other things that Reagan quoted Churchill more than any other President.

The first half of the book focuses on their personal backgrounds, examining the factors that Hayward sees as the key elements that formed their characters and intellects. Hayward makes the provocative argument that one key factor for both of them was that they were both largly "self-educated" in economics, history, and politics. Hayward argues that neither of them had overbearing professors telling them what they shouldn't read--a graduate school reading list without the professors telling them why what they were reading was bunk, is the way Hayward puts it. (Hayward notes that Bastiat was a particular favorite of Reagan's). He notes several other similarities, including the fact that they were both party-switchers during their lives, noting that they both claimed that it was more important to change parties in order to remain true to one's principles than the alternative.

The second half of the book turns to an examination of the similarities of the two in outlook and policy. Hayward particularly focuses on the two as bookends of the Cold War--Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech providing one bookend and Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech providing the other. Very interesting discussion of the views held by both on the essential nature of Communism.

In the end, Hayward concludes that the indvidual capacity for "greatness" is fundamentally about character and that greatness in political leadership manifests itself in the exercise of prudence and judgement in governing. In this sense, I infer from Hayward's argument that there is a link between conservatism, in an Oakeshottian or Burkean sort of sense, and greatness. He seems to suggest that there is an inherent link between political greatness and prudence in leadership that matters at least as much as ideas. Somewhat controversially (in my mind at least), Hayward argues that FDR and the New Deal were actually conservative in nature, which is why Reagan could support it throughout his life without fear of contradiction of his principles (Hayward distinguishes what he sees as the essential conservatism of the New Deal versus the later Great Society of LBJ, and argues that Reagan opposed the latter but not the former). Hayward suggests that liberalism/socialism is grounded in abstract ideas and ideology, rather than prudence and gradualism, thus liberal leaders are less likely to be "great" than is a politician of a conservative stripe. I'm not sure whether that is true, but it is an interesting thesis (and explains why he wants to define FDR as inherently conservative, as he wants to acknowledge FDR as a "great" leader too). Conservatives motivated by abstract ideas would presumably be subject to the same criticism (Newt Gingrich perhaps as an example).

Lurking in the background throughout is Abraham Lincoln. Hayward received his PhD from Claremont Graduate School, and the intellectual influence of Harry Jaffa is fairly clear throughout the book. Hayward notes that many of the similarities shared by Churchill and Reagan were also present in Lincoln. This perspective also seems to motivate Hayward's central idea that the seeds of greatness are planted in individual character rather than political ideology.

Overall, an absolutely delightful and interesting book. For one who has read much about both figures, I still found much in here that I hadn't previously seen (including a number of great quotes) or thought about. But I think it is also a terrific introduction to both figures for those who haven't read much about the two men. In addition, it is short and very well written. I highly recommend it as an addition to your summer reading list.

Update:

Some of the Commenters have asked how Hayward defines greatness (p. 17):

What is greatness, especially political greatness? In three thousand years we have not surpassed the understanding of Aristotle, who summed up political greatness as the ability to translate wisdom into action on behalf of the public good. To be able to do this, Aristotle argued, requires a combination of moral viture, practical wisdom, and public-spiritedness. This is exceedingly problematic, as is evident from the difficulty Aristotle has explaining it. One must know not only what is good for oneself but also what is good for others. It is not enough merely to be wise or intelligent in the ordinary IQ-score sense; in fact, Aristotle goes to great lengths to show that practical wisdom "is at the opposite pole from intlligence." One must have moral viture, judgment, and public spirit in a fine balance, and these traits must be euqlly matched to the particular circumstances of time and place. It is easy to go wrong, even with the best intentions.

Some Comments suggest that in describing Hayward's thesis I am implicitly or automatically agreeing with him. I thought it was obvious that I was just describing Hayward's thesis, not necessarily endorsing it, but if so, I do so now.

Glenn B (mail):
Greatness, in the sense invoked here, is a *bad thing*. One would think that conservatives, most of all, would realize this.
5.2.2006 3:23pm
Glenn B (mail):
Additionally, this book should be read in the context of a Straussian fetishitization of "greatness" that is dramatically anti-libertarian.
5.2.2006 3:29pm
Nunzio (mail):
To say that Reagan quoted Churchill more than any other President is not to say much. Churchill was born 10 years after Lincoln was killed and died 2 years after Kennedy was killed.

It's like saying that George W. Bush listens to the Beatles more than any President.
5.2.2006 3:38pm
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
It's interesting that Churchill's Iron Curtain speech is emphasized. My memory (I was young and now am old) is that when he got back in power he was distinctly to the "left" of the U.S. establishment--advocating soft positions like actually talking to the Soviets and recognizing Red China. Of course, in one interpretation that's another similarity with Reagan, who advocated getting rid of nuclear weapons in his old age.
5.2.2006 3:47pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
It's interesting, that based on this blogpost, the book assumes the fact that great leaders do exist, as opposed to conceding the Tolstoyan possibility that people just go with the flow, some rise to the top, but none exercise a great degree of control over fundamental matters. The best, according to Tolstoy, just roll with the punches.

I personally think there *are* great leaders, and I think that the question of "what makes them great?" is a very logical one. But does the author address contrary views, specifically that great leadership is just a myth to begin with?
5.2.2006 3:52pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
But does the author address contrary views, specifically that great leadership is just a myth to begin with?

The fact that he imagines Reagan to have been a "great leader" suggests that such rigor is likely lacking.

Though I suppose it's possible to define leadership down so that Reagan qualifies. Nothing against Reagan personally, but I'm just finishing Lou Cannon's account of his presidency, and "anti-leader" would seem to be a much better description. (Possibly a book on "masks of leadership," like John Keegan's The Mask of Command, could include a section on Reagan in this respect.)
5.2.2006 4:19pm
Cornellian (mail):
I've read a number of books about (and by) both Churchill and Reagan and still found much new and interesting in Steve's new book. The central purpose of his book, as I take it, uses Churchill and Reagan as case studies to focus on the question of the extent to which great leaders are born versus made.

Didn't one of them have greatness thrust upon him?
5.2.2006 4:25pm
SLS 1L:
This guy works for an advocacy group (and a fairly partisan one), so anything he writes is presumptively worthless from an epistemic point of view. Perhaps the book can be proven innocent, but it sounds mostly like an attempt to give Reagan an undeserved mantle of greatness by portraying him as comparable to Churchill.
5.2.2006 4:28pm
Zywicki (mail):
Anderson:
I haven't read Cannon's most recent book on Reagan, but I did read "Role of a Lifetime" and was very disappointed. In fact, it was the first biography of Reagan that I read, so I had no particular strong prior opinions before I read it. Cannon is often described as Reagan's greatest biographer, but when I read that book (and other comments by him) it seems to me that he takes the profile of Reagan as a superficial, "amiable dunce" at face value too much. I remember at the time, however, thinking that Cannon's portrayal of Reagan in that book didn't match up with my impression of the man. Hayward actually quotes Cannon in several places--often as an example of someone who Hayward believes fails to fully grasp Reagan.

Obviously, I don't have any particular insight as to which is correct. But based on the historical record, and other things I've read about Reagan, Hayward's potrayal rings more true to me than Cannon's, but obviously that just my subjective impression.
5.2.2006 4:32pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Cannon certainly has his problems with Reagan, and I'm no Reagan scholar, but two things struck me: (1) Cannon has a long record of covering Reagan, starting back in California, and (2) it's not a hatchet job--Cannon is ready to defend Reagan pretty impartially, where that's called for. He's particularly willing to go to bat against the "amiable dunce" theory as you call it.

The fact seems to be that Reagan, by choice or otherwise, absented himself from a great deal of what would ordinarily be called "leadership."

Churchill for that matter is an odd choice; his many great qualities would not seem to include "leadership," given how little time he spent, you know, "leading" anyone or anything. He would seem to have been more of a brilliant maverick whom the UK fell back upon when its leaders were discredited.

For both men, their greatest "leadership" was their ability to use the available media (radio for Churchill, TV and photo-ops for Reagan) to project an image that persuaded a great many people. Is that "leadership"? If so, then fine, they were both great leaders, as was Hitler.
5.2.2006 5:17pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Well, it's no doubt that Hitler was a "great" leader, in the sense that he galvanized a nation, if for an abhorrent cause, and eventual disaster.

Churchill and Reagan are different from Hitler, aside from the fact that they weren't murderous Nazis, in the sense that both implemented strategies that *succeeded* in defeating their respective enemies - the Soviets in the case of Reagan, and Hitler himself, in the case of Churchill.

And finally, I see your point, but you hardly needed to mention the Austrian corporal to make it - and whenever you mention him - you run the risk of turning any discussion into a flame war.
5.2.2006 6:01pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sigh. Turning Hitler into Hastur the Unspeakable is one of the blogosphere's less admirable qualities.

Churchill and Reagan are different from Hitler, aside from the fact that they weren't murderous Nazis, in the sense that both implemented strategies that *succeeded* in defeating their respective enemies - the Soviets in the case of Reagan, and Hitler himself, in the case of Churchill.

So if Hitler had been assassinated in June 1940, he'd be a great leader? Leaving aside the very dubious nature of the claim for Churchill and Reagan.

Churchill was saved by (1) Barbarossa and (2) Pearl Harbor. Was there greatness in Churchill's willingness to work with the Soviets after Hitler invaded them, or was it a no-brainer?

As for Reagan, what "strategy" did Reagan "implement" that defeated the Soviets? The USSR was going down the tubes quite nicely by itself, particularly when Gorbachev lubricated the tubes. (Now there's a failed metaphor.) Reagan's willingness to ignore the Red-baiting Republicans and work with Gorbachev does indeed have something of greatness about it, but it's an isolated case.
5.2.2006 6:16pm
Scotty:
Zywicki, your posts are like butter. Rancid, rotting butter.
5.2.2006 6:19pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Anderson, I agree with you that Churchill and Reagan both greatly benefited from circumstances out of their control. To be sure, the Soviets "won" the war more so than any other country, and the Soviet collapse *was* a matter of time. But that just raises a question about what is "great leadership" generally. And the point I was making is that Hitler failed, while Churchill and Reagan, succeeded if not entirely through their own efforts.

And would Hitler have been a great leader if he'd been assasinated in 1940? No, because of his ideology. He would have been an *effective* leader, but greatness, to me at least, has a moral component, and - shockingly - I don't share Hitler's morals.

I think a lot of this is semantics anyway, and it's very subjective. Everyone has their own criteria for greatness and for leadership, and there are those that don't believe in either - also not an untenable position.

I'm going to lubricate the tubes. Have a good day.
5.2.2006 6:28pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Jeez, Scotty! Every Zywicki post is a post where (1) David Bernstein is not ranting about Israel and (2) Randy Barnett is not reverently presenting Mark Steyn as a foreign-policy genius. And this TZ post had the added advantage of not singing the praises of the new bankruptcy law! What do you want, blood?

Agreed, Mike, that the definition of "leadership" is what's needed here. Maybe TZ can provide the book's own definition, if it has one.
5.2.2006 6:43pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sorry to double-up, but I bothered to look back at the post and found this almost-definition:

greatness in political leadership manifests itself in the exercise of prudence and judgement in governing

If this is the definition, it obviously leaves a lot to be desired, but maybe that's inescapable given the topic. That said, neither Churchill nor Reagan were particularly notable for their prudence or their judgment. (Even if you, like me, think the Dardanelles was a great idea mucked up on the spot.) Arms for hostages? Supply-side economics? The "soft underbelly of the Axis"? Strategic bombing?
5.2.2006 6:48pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Churchill won the war and lost an empire. It's debatable how great that makes him. By contrast, Roosevelt won the war while only having to fight the last half, and in the process catipulted the U.S. to superpower status, and got us out of a depression.

I also think Reagan gets too much credit for winning the Cold War. It's pretty clear that his arm's race policy put a strain on the Soviet economy that pushed it to the breaking point. It's also clear that he wanted to beat the Soviets. But I am not aware that he, or anyone else, had the idea that we could force them to collapse by winning a spending war. Remember, when the Eastern bloc fell, the CIA was as clueless about it as they were about WMDs in Iraq. So it seems a big stretch to conclude that the fall of the Soviet Union was the result of any kind of U.S. plan. I think its better to say that Reagan's natural hawkishness and profligate spending helped him to blunder his way into a Cold War victory.
5.2.2006 6:53pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Hmm, "prudence" and "judgment" are almost as amorphous and subjective as "greatness." One man's prudence is another's cowardice, and so on. I think the only way we can credit a leader with being great is by identifying particular results and then being able to ascribe those results to his efforts - as opposed to luck or free-riding. What's difficult is that there is *always* luck and free-riding.

I'll be honest - I don't know a great deal about Reagan or Churchill - having read nothing about the former and only one book about the latter, 6 years ago. I can safely say though, that Phil Jackson is a great leader. That guy wins everywhere he goes.
5.2.2006 7:09pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Mike is *trying* to go down the tubes, but obviously they're sticking ... Even in something much easier to judge, like generalship, it's hard to define the quality. Maybe if I read Hayward's book, all will be made clear to me.

Duffy, besides the questionable notion that Churchill won the war, I'm not sure that keeping the Empire was either possible or desirable. That said, it was certainly Churchill's own wish to keep the Empire, so on his own accounting, that would have to be held against him ...
5.2.2006 7:22pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
And Duffy, don't be so quick to lionize Roosevelt. It's debatale what ended the Depression, but it sure as hell wasn't the New Deal.
5.2.2006 7:31pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Well, by the same standard that made Churchill &Reagan great leaders, FDR was a great leader in the 1930s because he made America feel good about itself &inspired us to overcome the Depression.

(Given the parlous state of economics at that time, I've never been able to blame FDR for the supposed errors of the New Deal, but will concede Mike's assertion for the sake of discussion.)
5.2.2006 7:40pm
Ambrose (mail):
Churchill had his own definitation of leadership, the art of running ahead of the crowd and make it appear that they are following you.
5.2.2006 10:55pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
It's pretty clear that his [Reagan's] arm's race policy put a strain on the Soviet economy that pushed it to the breaking point.

This particular piece of truthiness is such gospel to the Right (and so necessary to the myth of the greatness of Reagan) that everyone just assumes it is true without ever bothering to find out if it actually is. Your gut just tells you it is right.

The reality (with its well known liberal bias) is that while Soviet spending did increase in the first half of the eighties, the rise can be accounted for by the strain of the Afghanistan war and was nothing like a "race" to keep up with us. In the second half of the decade, Gorbachev led a significant reduction in defense spending.

I thank Stephen Colbert for phrases and words used in this post.
5.3.2006 9:35am
Anderson (mail) (www):
There was some fear that SDI would be the straw that broke the camel's back, but otherwise, agree w/ Freder.
5.3.2006 11:35am
Freder Frederson (mail):
There was some fear that SDI would be the straw that broke the camel's back, but otherwise, agree w/ Freder.

If SDI would have broken anybody's back, it would have been ours. Missile defense, especially against the massive Soviet arsenal, was even more of an unworkable money pit than the limited unworkable system we are still throwing good money after bad at today. And now our still unachievable goal of knocking a couple primitive missiles out of space is so pathetic it shows what a ridiculous folly SDI was.
5.3.2006 12:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
And now our still unachievable goal of knocking a couple primitive missiles out of space is so pathetic it shows what a ridiculous folly SDI was.
That's not what Gorbachev himself has said. (Note that whether it will be effective as a scientific matter is irrelevant to the question of whether it was effective as a strategic matter.)


As for Reagan, what "strategy" did Reagan "implement" that defeated the Soviets? The USSR was going down the tubes quite nicely by itself, particularly when Gorbachev lubricated the tubes.
Yes, except of course that Reagan's opponents were saying at the time that Reagan was crazy, that the USSR wasn't going anywhere, that the only rational behavior was to find a way to live with that fact.

(John Kenneth Galbraith, who of course just passed, visited the Soviet Union in 1984 and claimed that the Soviet Union was thriving economically: "That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene. . . . One sees it in the appearance of solid well-being of the people on the streets . . . and the general aspect of restaurants, theaters, and shops. . . . Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.")

When Reagan gave his famous "tear down this wall speech," it was opposed by all those "prudent," realistic opponents of his who thought it was unnecessarily provocative, given that the Soviet Union wasn't going anywhere.
5.3.2006 1:57pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Reagan's opposition happened to be well-timed, but was it because of any actual knowledge he had that the USSR was on the ropes? Apparently not. He would've been doing &saying the same thing if Russia had been perfectly healthy and about to gobble up the rest of Europe.

So it was lucky for Reagan that the USSR was on the verge of collapse when it was, just as it was lucky for Churchill that a fairy-tale villain like Hitler appeared just when Churchill was looking to go down in history as an utterly naive believer in fairy-tale values.
5.3.2006 3:56pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
That's not what Gorbachev himself has said. (Note that whether it will be effective as a scientific matter is irrelevant to the question of whether it was effective as a strategic matter.)

This statement makes no sense at all. If you are throwing money at a system that doesn't work, all the scientists that don't have a vested interest say won't work, and your opponent knows can be overwhelmed by countermeasures that are much less expensive than the what nonworkable system even if it did work, that is the definition of a folly. I guess you are claiming you can bluff when your opponent can see all your cards. That is generally not a good idea.

Yes, except of course that Reagan's opponents were saying at the time that Reagan was crazy, that the USSR wasn't going anywhere, that the only rational behavior was to find a way to live with that fact.

The conservatives were the ones saying that the USSR wasn't going anywhere. The reason for the military buildup and SDI was that we needed to defend ourselves against the military might of the Evil Empire. If we knew they were on the verge of collapse (actually, I was assailed in the eighties by my more conservative friends when I pointed out all the problems--economic, military, and ethnic, that the Soviet Union faced and that the threat of the Soviet Union was exagerrated), our military buildup in the eighties was a collassal waste of money.

Even up to the day people started whacking at the Berlin Wall with sledge hammers the CIA thought the East German government was strong--they missed everything going on in eastern Europe in the summer and fall of '89. They were apparently waiting for a crackdown that never came.
5.3.2006 4:15pm
just me:
Re Reagan's role in nudging the Soviet collapse:

One common claim, including above, is that Gorby did the changing. That claim, however, needs to account for these other two issues:

Did Reagan's challenges (e.g., missiles in Europe) lead the Politburo to PICK Gorby, as opposed to another Chernenko, or younger version of Cherney, as they recognized a need to bring in an attractive-seeming reformer to deal with these challenges?

Or, even if the Gorby pick was not affected by the USA, were Gorby's acts shaped by what we was up against in the USA, and not just by purely internal conditions? His own post-fall interviews seem to indicate that, rightly or wrongly, he was affected by RR, SDI, etc. (Or, even if already had his own desire to do X, was he able to push others to go along because they recognized that they had to take some risks?)

Now, it may be that all of the above is countered by an argument that Gorby was on Path X regardless of any US action, but I haven't seen a convincing case for that so far.

Separately, someone above repeated the argument that it was Afghanistan, not the US, that strained the Soviets to the breaking point. But that ignores the fact that we funded and backed Afghan rebels -- a point that many like to bring up in the context of arguing that we created/increased the Al Qaeda threat by doing so. If, in fact, our Afghan-backing was a signficant part of the Afghan challenge for Gorby, then it makes little sense to say, "it was Afghanistan, not US acts," if US acts turned up the Afghan heat. Is there a solid counter-argument that our role was merely cosmetic?

Finally, several have said that the CIA/DOD/American policymakers generally did not know that the Soviets were on the edge of collapse. Yes, but Reagan often fought the lifers in those agencies (plus ca change . . .).
I don't have the time right now to document this, but Reagan often said, even in 1980 and in 81-82 (i.e., pre-Gorby), that they were headed to the dustbin of history, that theirs was a sad story whose final pages were being written, etc. Maybe he just got lucky, but he called it (and was derided at the time, as exemplified by quotes like the Galbraith one above).

So, those who would reduce Reagan's role to zero have several hurdles to clear to explain away all of the above.
5.3.2006 6:48pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Separately, someone above repeated the argument that it was Afghanistan, not the US, that strained the Soviets to the breaking point.

That was me, but that was not what I said. I said that Afghanistan is what accounted for the Soviet's rise in defense spending in the early eighties, not the direct response to the the U.S. military buildup. Granted, Afghanistan probably did put a strain on the Soviet Union that hastened its downfall--although it was probably more psychological than economic (Russia's Vietnam and all that). But the amount of money we spent on Afghanistan was a pittance compared to all the other defense spending in the eighties (and of course there is the unfortunate side effects of militant islam).

And Reagan's soaring rhetoric was hardly meant to be predictive. He was merely using the bankruptcy of the Soviet System to highlight the superiority of our own.

I am deeply suspicious of the the motives and the statements of Gorbachev after the fall of the Soviet Union.

As for the inner workings of the Politburo in the early '80s, your guess is as good as mine, but I doubt they were intimidated by a tough talking B movie actor. They were all tough and ruthless men. To ever underestimate a Russian leader or think they can be intimidated or cowed by an American leader is a mistake I think we make way too often (Roosevelt did, and Bush did too with Putin).
5.3.2006 10:21pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I think that motive # 1 for Gorbachev's pick was "hey, could we get somebody who won't DIE in the next 12 months?"
5.4.2006 12:12pm