Growing in Civic Fortitude

As we contemplate the failure of our contemporary managerial class to fulfill its natural and constitutional duties, our own responsibility for securing the common good, and complicity in its neglect, demands that we ask a specific question.

That question is: what are we going to do about it?

The duty of our representatives is to refine and enlarge our own views, balancing the interests and passions of competing factions, so as better to approximate genuine justice.

Otherwise put, the goal of statesmanship is to overcome the defects in reasoning that afflict our public discourse. Our leaders do this when they challenge us, and one another, to reason better about the rights of our fellow citizens and the genuine interests of the community.

Let’s look at our side of the equation. If we expect others to refine our views, are we giving them views capable of refinement? Do we know what that refinement looks like when we see it?

If we ourselves fail to engage in serious deliberation about public matters, to the extent that our abilities and commitments allow, we will lack both the intellectual capacity and the moral standing to offer constructive feedback to those officially “in charge” of such matters.

Where can we learn to deliberate seriously? Generally, education involves theory and practice. Today, I would like to focus on the former.

As St. Thomas More advises, literature is an excellent means of stretching the mind, and particularly of cultivating prudence, without which sound management of the hurly-burly of practical affairs is well-nigh impossible.

Take, for instance, Sophocles’ Antigone. As L. Joseph Hebert explains in this review, the poet intends to teach us what political prudence looks like, and how it can be achieved, by depicting the causes and consequences of its absence in the catastrophic events he dramatizes.

By paying attention to what is valid and invalid in the reasoning of the “great boasters” responsible for this tragedy, we may be able to discern what kind of thinking would be necessary to achieve better results.

One point in particular is worth special attention: “The Chorus,” Hebert notes, “who represent the city elders,” “are wise enough to understand what motivates each faction,” but “lack the intellectual and moral fortitude to identify and advocate a prudent response to the city’s problems.”

Lest the same be said of us, Dear Reader, let us strive to grow in civic fortitude!

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