Last night I was doing some background reading for an interview and came across Dennis F. Thompson‘s 2010 article “Constitutional Character: Virtues and Vices in Presidential Leadership” Presidential Studies Quarterly 40:23-37. Thompson is Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus at Harvard University.
Thompson argues that presidents, and by implication presidential candidates, should conform to a certain set of virtues which when taken together contribute to what he calls “constitutional character.”
- Sensitivity to basic human rights, especially as they relate to the most vulnerable citizens in society
- Respect for due process or a respect for the limits of presidential power
- A willingness to accept responsibility when things go wrong and suffer the consequences
- Toleration of opposition, or engaging political opponents on fair terms
- Candor or telling the truth to the American people
Robert Wiebe, in his 1984 book Opening of American Society: From the Adoption of the Constitution to the Eve of Disunion, writes that the idea of “republican character,” as articulated by the founding fathers, required the following virtues:
- Self-Control (which was the most important to the founders)
In his 2001 book The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil, James Davison Hunter defines a person of character as having:
- Moral discipline: Control of one’s passions; constraint
- Moral attachment: Commitment to a community or something larger than self
- Moral autonomy: Freedom to make ethical choices
How do our current candidates measure up?