Politics, Ethics and Change

Politics, Ethics and Change

The Legacy of James MacGregor Burns

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by George R. Goethals and Douglas Bradburn

The impact of James MacGregor Burns’ writings on our understanding of moral and lasting change is explored through essays focussing on transforming leadership in contexts such as the founding of the American nation and presidential leadership throughout US history. Burns’s most influential concepts are explained, critiqued and expanded and then applied in political, business and institutional domains. The volume demonstrates how Burns’s analyses illuminate the nature of social change and transformation, the subtleties of the relationship between leaders and followers, and how together both can realize enduring human values using power resources that arouse and satisfy deep human motives.

Chapter 9: James MacGregor Burns’s Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox and the Election of 1940

Susan Dunn

Subjects: business and management, business ethics and trust, business leadership, politics and public policy, leadership


Jim Burns’s first book on FDR, published in 1956, was memorably entitled Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. Jim saw FDR as a shrewd politician adept at making deals, dissembling, manipulating, and turning on the charm. But he also saw Roosevelt as a bold, courageous, and moral leader. Roosevelt was a devious fox—and he was also a brave lion. Jim borrowed the idea of the lion and the fox from Machiavelli, who wrote in 1513 that a prince must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. As Jim once remarked, FDR was skilled not only in charm and deception, but also often in sowing confusion and benefiting from it. But Roosevelt could also be decisive and bold—a courageous lion who would lead the nation successfully out of the Great Depression and World War II, and ultimately change for decades Americans’ expectations of their government and the nation’s global role and responsibility. To illustrate these two sides of Jim’s interpretation of Roosevelt’s leadership, I will focus on the election of 1940. First I will discuss the foxlike strategies that FDR used during that election season.

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