Fred Greenstein, ‘world-class scholar’ of the American presidency, dies at 88

Monday, Dec 10, 2018

Fred Greenstein, professor of politics emeritus, one of the nation's leading experts on the American presidency, and a long-time faculty associate of the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, died on December 3, 2018 at the age of 88.

Professor Greenstein was best known for his contributions to the systematic study of political psychology and for its application to presidential decisionmaking and leadership. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1960 and did postdoctoral study at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute (1961-62). After an initial appointment at Yale (1959-62), he taught at Wesleyan University (1962-73). Greenstein settled in Princeton University in 1973 and was an early director of the Program in Leadership Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He  held several visiting professorships, served as secretary of the American Political Science Association and was a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

During his graduate education at Yale, Greenstein studied under three leading scholars of political psychology: Robert E. Lane, Harold Dwight Lasswell, and Nathan Leites. His early work in the field led to such books as Children and Politics and Personality and Politics: Problems of Evidence, Inference, and Conceptualization. In the 1980s, Greenstein applied efforts in political psychology to inquiries about American presidents and their advisers. The dynamics of effective presidential leadership and successful presidential decision-making are the two themes that dominated his presidential work. In The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader, Greenstein attributed part of the public's discontent with presidential performance to the conflict built into the Constitution between the president's apolitical and unifying role as chief of state and his partisan and divisive role as head of government. Greenstein found that Dwight D. Eisenhower was able to bridge the built-in contradictions of the office and provide an effective leadership style. In 1988 Greenstein published How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam, 1954 and 1965 (with John P. Burke) and Leadership in the Modern Presidency. In 2000, he published The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton, which in 2001 appeared in paperback with an afterword on George W. Bush. That book appeared in its third edition with the subtitle From FDR to Barack Obama in 2009. Also published in 2009 was Greenstein’s Inventing the Job of President: Leadership Style from George Washington to Andrew Jackson (Princeton University Press).

Greenstein was a generous guide to CSDP graduate students, frequently offering to review and edit graduate students' writing. He was a mentor to many prominent scholars, several of whom sent personal notes including, "I was extremely fond of Fred and he was a real inspiration to me. He was also unflaggingly kind and fun," "Fred's work was my first thrilling introduction to political psychology as an undergraduate....His creativity was a wonderful thing to behold."

More on his background and tributes from colleagues can be found on the Princeton University website.