A great book on greatness

Yesterday was the publication date of our friend Steve Hayward’s Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, & the Making of Extraordinary Leaders. The book is now available from Amazon and in good book stores everywhere. The cover by itself will warm the heart of conservatives and mightily annoy liberals.
Steve’s book grew from what he intended to be a few paragraphs comparing Churchill and Reagan in the forthcoming conclusion to his two volume Age of Reagan. The few paragraphs could not be contained, and have now overflowed into a long essay of 170 pages plus notes.
The book sets forth an Aristotelian consideration of statesmanship using the Plutarchian “parallel lives” method. Steve possesses deep, intimate knowledge of both Churchill and Reagan, having written books on each, though he deploys his learning lightly. This is a book that could easily be read by high school students studying modern history. Here is a paragraph from the chapter on the education of Churchill and Reagan:

It is surely true that political genius cannot be taught in the same fashion as mathematics, law or medicine. Otherwise supreme examples of political greatness — those individuals we laud as “statesman” — would be more common. That they are not more common is testimony to the inherent difficulty of politics and the limitations of human character. In explaining the political greatness of Churchill and Reagan, one must answer a fundamental question: Why were they unique among their contemporaries, most of whom shared the same upbringing and formal education, and often the same general views about key issues? Explaining Reagan and Churchill as products of their environment or historical context is clearly incorrect. In the end what was decisive about Churchill and Reagan was their informal self-education. Both were political autodidacts. Combined with the example of the self-taught Abraham Lincoln, who could be considered America’s first home-schooled president, one wonders whether self-education might be a marker for great statesman.

I originally read the book in galley proofs this summer and have returned to reread portions several times. It is rich, rewarding, and inspirational — a timely book to lift our minds from the concerns of the moment in order to contemplate “the peaks of human excellence,” on which, as Steve recalls in his conclusion, Leo Strauss located Churchill at the time of Churchill’s death in 1965.


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