Originally published 05/23/2013
Joseph S. Nye Jr. is a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard. This article and the accompanying sidebar are adapted from his upcoming book, Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era.The 21st century began with an extraordinary imbalance in world power. The United States was the only country able to project military force globally; it represented more than a quarter of the world economy, and had the world’s leading soft-power resources in its universities and entertainment industry. America’s primacy appeared well established.Americans seemed to like this situation. In the 2012 presidential campaign, both major-party candidates insisted that American power was not in decline, and vowed that they would maintain American primacy. But how much are such promises within the ability of presidents to keep? Was presidential leadership ever essential to the establishment of American primacy, or was that primacy an accident of history that would have occurred regardless of who occupied the Oval Office?
Originally published 01/23/2013
Five presidents: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. Taken in 1991.Many people assume that leaders with transformational objectives and an inspirational style are better or more ethical than leaders with more modest objectives and a transactional style. We tend to think of Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan as more impressive than Dwight Eisenhower or George H. W. Bush. Leadership theorists often dismiss transactional leaders as mere “managers.” But that is a mistake.