What is the author's purpose in writing Profiles in Courage?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I sense two fundamental purposes in the writing of the book.  The first is to present a narrative of American History that is able to highlight the individuals who were able to seize leadership at critical moments in the nation's history.  Kennedy is clear about the idea of documenting individuals who sought a transcendent or greater notion of the good in the face of challenging specifics and contexts that posed challenge.  The notion of "courage" is thus defined as being able to stand for something in the face of challenge and opposition.  Kennedy seeks to bring this idea out in showing that government can be a source of courageous leadership to the people, inspiring them to reach for a transcendent notion of the good that transforms the present into what can be as opposed to what is.  There is a certain risk involved in upholding principled leadership and it is here where Kennedy seeks to highlight political courage.  On a more individualistic level though, Kennedy's purpose is to establish himself in this tradition.  In writing the book, Kennedy is able to align himself with part of an American political tradition whereby opposition can be seen as standing in the way of principled political leadership.  It is a very shrewd move on his part.  In being able to write about political courage, it allows him the credibility to argue that he, himself, is descendant of a tradition of political leadership that allows him to articulate a vision that might receive public critique. No doubt that his own vision of America during the Cold War would be one whereby criticism was inevitable.  In writing about courageous leadership, Kennedy is able to offset some of this criticism.  In doing so, Kennedy was able to insert his own name into a pantheon of courageous leadership even before he assumed its mantle.

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