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Profiles in Classical Statesmanship

What makes political leaders great? For more than two millennia men and women in the West have turned to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives to answer this question. A “bible for heroes,” as Emerson put it, Plutarch’s Lives aimed to shape readers’ souls by uncovering the virtues and vices of the greatest Greeks and Romans. But the Lives were far from works of hagiography. They were a reflection on the fundamental problems of politics: the nature of republican government, the temptations of empire, the rise and fall of regimes. It was not only for inspiration, but for instruction in such matters that American statesmen like Hamilton, Lincoln, and Truman turned to Plutarch. This course will approach the Lives in their spirit. We will read three pairs of Lives – Solon/Publicola, Pericles/Fabius, and Phocion/Cato – in order to consider how the birth, peak, and fall of republican regimes reveal the nature of statesmanship.

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