The Constitution, Claes G. Ryn argues, provides a model for statesmanship characterized by restraint, resourcefulness, and prudence.
Where is Real Statesmanship When We Need it Most?
…To recover their moral and intellectual bearings, Americans need to pull back from the demagoguery and turmoil of the moment. They would do well to remind themselves of an older model of debate and decision-making. That model, which should be for them a default setting, is today virtually ignored—the U.S. Constitution. Here the primary source of wisdom is not constitutional prescriptions like the congressional prerogative to declare war or the Senate’s treaty power, as important as they are. These institutional and procedural specifics are but the tip of an iceberg. What needs to be better understood and brought to bear on current problems is that the Constitution is the political expression of a general view of human nature and society. It embodies an entire American ethos, of which a certain view of how to make political decisions is but a part. The Framers’ way of approaching political problems and life generally was not only realistic and far-sighted but morally astute.
Much more attention ought to be paid to the fact that prominent general assumptions and features of the Constitution, though not explicitly connected to international relations, carry important and wide-ranging implications for foreign as well as domestic affairs. Specifically, they assume a notion of statesmanship.
It used to be generally recognized that, especially in foreign affairs, inferior leadership can have disastrous consequences. There the need for circumspection and restraint is acute. Run-of-the-mill politicians may be prone to narrow-mindedness, demagoguery, and carelessness, but statesmen have the vision and the character to rise above the quarrels and opinions of the moment. They have a historical frame of reference and critical distance to their own time. They recognize dangers and opportunities not apparent to lesser men, and they have a capacity for audacious leadership. When necessary to advance the common good, they are willing to go against prevalent opinion and even to risk their political careers. Statesmen too will have human flaws, but they have as their models some of the most admirable members of the human race. A desire to move people with this kind of potential for leadership into influential positions was integral to the constitutional design of the American Framers.
Claes is professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America, where he was Chairman of his department for six years. He has taught also at Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and Louisiana State University.
A naturalized American, who was a doctoral and undergraduate student at Uppsala University in his native Sweden, Ryn has lived for most of his adult life in Washington, D.C. His teaching and research have been predominantly philosophical but interdisciplinary, combining study of ethics, culture, epistemology, and the history of Western political thought with study of American political thought, U.S. foreign policy, and international relations. His many books include America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire; A Common Human Ground: Universality and Particularity in a Multicultural Age; Democracy and the Ethical Life: A Philosophy of Politics and Community; Will, Imagination and Reason: Babbitt, Croce and the Problem of Reality; and the recent novel A Desperate Man, a moral-political drama.
In 2011 Ryn received the CUA Provost’s award for Distinguished Achievement in Research. In 1992 The CUA Graduate Students Association named him Outstanding Graduate Professor.
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