Larry Arnn: Why Naming a Single Set of Disqualifying Defects is a Fruitless Exercise
Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from an interview with Larry Arnn conducted in October 2016. It has been modified for clarity.
It’s hard to name what defects of character should disqualify a candidate. You have to remember that we’re cautioned by the Classics not to attempt to bring the precision of geometry to things that are more like carpentry. In Julius Caesar, there’s an account of Caesar’s character: “He was gentle, and the elements so mixed up in him, that all the world could look at him and say this was a man.” Well, the elements are mixed up in us in different ways.
Look at Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln for example. One of them was tall, and one of them was short. One of them was teetotal and one drank all the time (that doesn’t mean to drunkenness; there’s no record of Churchill being drunk, and he didn’t like drunkenness). One of them wrote fifty books, as well as speeches much longer than everything we have a record of Abraham Lincoln ever writing in public or private. One of them had a fifty-plus year political career, and very extensive military experience. And one of them had a short political career and a little bit of military experience before becoming commander-in-chief. Both were very partisan in their youth. But Churchill did a lot more in his youth. He was very candid about his ambitions. He exposed himself to gunfire in order to become famous. That’s not much like Abraham Lincoln. They are really different guys. Yet they were both really great men.
So is teetotal necessary? No. Is free trade necessary? One of them was a free-trader and one of them was a protectionist. The effort to name a single set of disqualifying defects, in my opinion, will be in vain. There would be things that would be very bad, like betraying the public confidence for personal gain. There are allegations of that in this election, and they’re not against Donald Trump. Why is that so bad? Because that is the opposite of what public people do. It’s a violation of public justice as well as private morality. But it happens.
Featured Image Source: Hillsdale College.