Monday, December 17, 2018

Fred I. Greenstein (1930-2018)

Although the Washington Post had run an obituary earlier in the week, it was only when I read yesterday's NY Times' obituary that I learned of the death of Fred Greenstein, one of my professors at Princeton in the 1970s and a great friend and mentor, even though my own field was primarily political philosophy and his was primarily American Politics.

Born in the Bronx in 1930, Fred graduated from Ohio's Antioch College, served two years in the Army, and got his doctorate in political science at Yale in 1960. Married in 1957, he had three children. Fred taught at Yale and Wesleyan before coming to Princeton in 1973, when I first got to know him. After my time, he was chairman of Princeton’s politics department from 1986 to 1990. He retired in 2001. 

“Growing up in the World War II period and the beginning of the Cold War, I was struck by the elements of emotion in politics, particularly irrationality,” he told the New York Times in 2000. “All this sort of led me to be interested in the psychological aspect of politics.” For his Yale doctoral dissertation, published in 1965 as Children and Politics, he surveyed several hundred 4th-8th grade students in New Haven, to decipher their political understanding. His book was a major contribution to the field of "political socialization," that is, the study of how political beliefs are formed and passed on in society. Fred repeated his children’s surveys in the 1970s, with interesting post-Watergate variations. His "Queen/U.S. President/French President Driving a Car" stories were a wonderful resource regarding children's comparative political awareness and ideas, which I can remember using when I taught introductory American politics.

By the time I got to know him, Fred had moved mainly to a focus on the presidency. Along with several other students, I served as an assistant on his mid-1970s presidential bibliography project. In 1982, he published The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader, which corrected the previously prevalent, somewhat negative, academic view of Eisenhower. “We tended to think of Eisenhower as a dumb president who was syntactically challenged,” my Princeton contemporary and now presidential scholar at the University of Vermont John Burke, told the Times, “Maybe that was true, but he was willing to play the fool to achieve his political ends.”

In his book, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton (2000), Fred eventually identified six qualities essential for a president: public communication ability, organizational capacity, political skill, vision of public policy, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. Of the six, he considered emotional intelligence the most important. What would he have said about the present president?

Those still in academic political science can better describe and evaluate his large body of work than I. While I have been influenced in my own thinking by his studies of political socialization, the Eisenhower Presidency, and the importance of "emotional intelligence" in the presidency, my most important memories are of Fred as teacher, mentor, and friend, in all of which areas he excelled. 

Sadly, it occurs to me as I write this that the Princeton politics professors who mentored and befriended me and helped me in so many ways - Sheldon Wolin, Paul Sigmund, Walter Murphy, Gerry Garvey, and now Fred Greenstein - are all now gone. And with them are also increasingly gone my remaining links to academia and to some amazingly life-enriching experiences and relationships, that I will always treasure.

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