Published Humanitas, Volume XXXII, Nos. 1-2, 2019

In a 2012 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Adi Godrej, the chairman of Godrej Group, offered a sensible truism. “There are far too many politicians in this world,” Godrej maintained, and “too few statesmen” (Frangos 2012, para. 4). Godrej’s statement decries the modern failure to live up to the ideal of political leadership as outlined by classical philosophers. The classical philosophers Plato and Aristotle outlined a vision of political leadership inextricably linked with the pursuit of virtue and the common good. For the end of virtue, the classical statesman unites moral character, political thought, and political action. In marked contrast, modern political thinkers often disavow the entire notion that virtue can be linked with politics (Holloway 2008, 2). For such moderns, it is particular results, not moral considerations, that matter. According to this view, the task of the politician is not to minister—it is to administer. Given the increasing divorce between virtue and politics, observers can hardly avoid inquiring as to whether an older type of statesmanship can ever be restored. Statesmanship, as beleaguered as it seems, is not unprecedented within America’s political tradition. Analyses of familiar and titanic statesmen such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are numerous and often insightful. One modern American leader who both understood and acted upon principles of classical statesmanship but who has been unjustly ignored is Calvin Coolidge.

Calvin Coolidge, the stoic New Englander who served as president from 1923 to 1929, exerted leadership between two momentous ages. His presidency, during a quiet period wedged between two World Wars…

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