Larry Arnn: Great Statesmen Exercise Practical Judgment, Which Derives from Character

Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from an interview with Larry Arnn conducted in October 2016. It has been modified for clarity.

Personal character should rank at the top among attributes in evaluating presidential candidates, tied with something else. What does that mean?

We learn in Aristotle that statesmanship is the highest form of practical judgment or reasoning, and that practical judgment is an intellectual virtue. People who have practical judgment are people who are good at choosing means among conflicting circumstances where generally the best means are not available. They can find a way to make a practical, if “zigging and zagging” progress, toward the best ends. I think it takes some knowledge of those ends, and it takes an ability to estimate circumstances. That is a very dynamic process. So you need that intellectual virtue.

It’s also true that we learn in Aristotle and other places: If you lack the prime moral virtues then it is hard for you to exercise this practical judgment.

If you’re a coward and lack courage, then you’ll be afraid and you can’t think when you’re afraid. You will do things for the wrong reason, mainly to avoid pain or danger. If you’re immoderate, if you love pleasure to the place where it determines your choices, you choose because you’re not in control of yourself. You get carried away with your passions and wants. If you’re unjust, if you don’t mean to do the right thing by yourself and other people–that is a crippling defect.

You can’t have those if you’re going to be a great statesman.

We know that the great statesman can be studied at our leisure and mined for more information. You can’t do that in real-time. So you’re always guessing. But we do know that the greatest statesmen were people who had all of those seminal virtues, including sublimely, the intellectual one.

Featured Image: The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio (Wikimedia Commons)

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