Ram Madhav
May 4, 2020

Do Morals Matter ? – Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump

Author: Joseph S Nye, Jr

Joseph S. Nye, renowned American political scientist and philosopher, is famous for his conceptualisation of ‘Soft Power’. That has revolutionized the foreign policy thinking of every country in the world significantly.

In this latest gripping work that I finished reading, “Do Morals Matter – Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump”, Nye takes the reader through a fascinating journey of moral and not-so-moral actions of different presidents of the USA. Obviously, Nye argues in favour of morals and insists that more than hard power of military and money, it is the softer powers of legitimacy and values that define the leadership in world politics.

Henry Kissinger has argued that the global order depends not only upon the balance of hard power, but also on perceptions of legitimacy. And legitimacy, of course, depends on values. Nye has developed certain parameters of moral scale on which he evaluates each individual president from Wilson to Trump.

“Among the fourteen presidents since 1945, in my view the four best at combining morality and effectiveness in foreign policy were FDR, Truman, Eisenhower and Bush (Senior). Reagan, Kennady, Ford, Carter, Clinton, and Obama make up the middle. The four worst were Johnson, Nixon, Bush (Junior), and Trump”, Nye concludes.

This book interested me greatly because this dilemma of moral power vs hard power is universal in today’s international relations matrix and one gets to hear arguments supporting hard power often. Nye’s analysis and conclusions happen to be closer to my broad thinking that ultimately the world in 21st century needs not just the leadership of machismo but one of moralism.

There are books written about Indian leaders also. But it is time, someone authored a book analysing their performance based on certain moral indicators and their influence on the corresponding political outcomes.

Strongly recommend it for all practicing politicians and students of politics.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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