The Prudential FDR
What is the most accurate description of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential leadership style? What method did he use to guide the nation through the trials of the Great Depression and the tribulations of World War II? Scholars have had a difficult time dealing with these questions and agreeing on answers to them. The positions taken by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., James MacGregor Burns, and Patrick Maney are typical of this scholarly divergence of opinion. Schlesinger maintains that Roosevelt was a pragmatist. Burns classifies him as a Machiavellian. Maney attributes Roosevelt's achievements to his positive outlook and an incredible amount of good luck. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a proponent of classical Western prudence. In this chapter I will discuss the concept of classical prudence, provide a brief account of its historical development, and demonstrate how the concept can be used to explain why the Roosevelt presidency succeeded in some policy areas and failed in others. The conclusion will illuminate my differences with the interpretations of leading Roosevelt scholars.
Classical prudence is based on certain assumptions about reality and human nature. It posits the existence of transcendent immaterial ideals