February 27, 2016


The Politics of Passion: A Lesson from The Federalist Papers : In an era when Americans seek political leaders who display "authenticity" rather than prudence, a look back to the Federalist Papers makes clear the importance of a politics based on moderation rather than passion. (Nathan Schlueter , February 25th, 2016, The Public Discourse)

Back in September, Jonathan Merritt wrote that "Donald Trump is immodest, arrogant, foul-mouthed, money-obsessed, thrice-married, and until recently, pro-choice. By conventional standards, evangelical Christians should despise him. Yet somehow, the Manhattan billionaire has attracted their support." Merrill doesn't mention that Trump has said his sister--a federal judge who ruled in favor of partial-birth abortion--would be a "phenomenal" Supreme Court Justice, or that Trump has donated to Planned Parenthood, or that Trump fully supported TARP and the auto bailout, or that Trump has spoken in favor of a single-payer health system (i.e., socialized medicine), or that Trump once berated Romney for being too strict on illegal immigration. The list is endless.

There is no evidence that a Trump presidency would promote evangelical values; in fact, there is more evidence that he would oppose them. Yet Trump continues to be the favorite candidate of evangelical voters. They do not seem to be asking the most basic questions, like whether this candidate has the right principles; whether the candidate offers a realistic plan for realizing those principles within the constraints of our political system; and whether the candidate demonstrates the character, experience, and virtue to make that plan succeed. How do we account for this evident discrepancy between these voters' principles and their expressed political preferences?

Many American citizens today are angry, frustrated, and not a little bit frightened--and with good reason. Every day, news from abroad is filled with stories of social, economic, and political breakdown, not to mention warfare, violence, oppression, and deprivation. Meanwhile at home we witness firsthand the unraveling of social and familial bonds, an anemic economy, an unsustainable welfare state, and a class of political and economic elites that seem either incapable of or unwilling to address our deepest problems. Perhaps worst of all, our hard-won political victories seem to have done nothing to slow the decline.

If Homer were to write an epic for our time, it might begin, "Sing, goddess, the anger of American conservatives / and its devastation, which put pains a thousandfold upon the nation." [...]

It is notable that the only moral virtue specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is prudence, and that The Federalist Papers begin with a plea for moderation. Meanwhile today, these two virtues are commonly treated with suspicion, if not outright contempt: Prudence is equated with unprincipled pragmatism, and moderation with servility and cowardice. Then why did the Founders consider these two related virtues the very foundation of a free society and free government?

The answer is simple: Political liberty depends on citizens' interior liberty, and interior liberty is only possible with prudence and moderation. Prudence is the intellectual virtue ordered to truth in action. It helps human beings deliberate well about what is truly good, and directs the will to these ends like an arrow to its target. Moderation is the moral virtue that prevents passion from blinding prudence--not just base passions like envy, lust, and greed, but even more noble passions like anger, which is related to a love of justice.

Posted by at February 27, 2016 8:11 AM