The American Leadership Tradition

By Marvin Olasky and Charles W. Colson

Private morality impacts public action. This is a lesson Marvin Olasky wants us to see in The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton. Olasky draws a line between religious beliefs and public policy. He demonstrates his thesis by examining the lives of ten United States Presidents and three citizens of notable repute. Reader beware. There are surprises in these pages, both delightful and disappointing. 

The author wants us to grapple with the notion of compartmentalization, i.e. one can lead a duplicitous life in private while publicly parading steady statesmanship. Olasky is out to discredit that belief. He writes, "Integrity stores up principal for future generations, but compartmentalization always leaves a bill, although one that might not be presented for years." 

His case is compelling. His scope is impressive. His work is interesting and instructive.

Here are four reasons to read The American Leadership Tradition:

1. Olasky's careful treatment of the presidents (as well as Henry Clay, Booker T. Washington, and John D. Rockefeller). I particularly appreciated his efforts to "unveil" the darker side of Thomas Jefferson, Clay, and John F. Kennedy. I did not feel this was a vendetta or a paparazzian effort, but a careful scholarly look.

2. Olasky's treatment of the impact of the social gospel vs the gospel of grace.

3. Olasky's emphasis on the mistrust caused by compartmentalization and how such mistrust, unexcused in the armed forces, is tolerated in politics.

4. Olasky's bibliography is stellar. He outfits any reader who wants to dig deeper into the lives of Washington, Jefferson, Clay, Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Rockefeller, Cleveland, T. Roosevelt, Wilson, F. Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton, with an solid group of works from which to begin that study. 

My only critique is that despite the outstanding bibliography, Dr. Olasky (a thorough scholar), did not source his work throughout this volume. Overall, I highly recommend The American Leadership Tradition.