Research Overview

My research draws on the ancient, medieval, and American traditions of political thought to reflect on timely questions concerning three themes: leadership, virtue, and the relationship between religion and politics. Each theme relates to my central interest as a scholar: examining the intersection of individual character and public life. Although the interplay of character and politics is often fraught with imprecision and uncertainty, my research features thinkers who afford clarity to intricate ethical questions.

A full copy of my Research Statement is available upon request.

Dissertation Abstract

My dissertation, Paragons of Political Leadership, proposes a new theory for evaluating the ethical character of political leadership. My theory offers a robust definition of political leadership and a conceptual framework for its evaluation. Prevailing scholarship often defines political leadership along one or two dimensions of analysis, such as personality traits or governing styles. Consequently, the ethical evaluation of political leadership—the analysis that determines its normative merit—hinges on variation across one or two totalizing variables. I invoke Aristotle to argue that a complete understanding of political leadership must recognize each of its “four causes,” or dimensions: constitutional authority, technical skill, prudence, and service of the common good. A precise evaluation of political leadership, I suggest, is only possible when we assess all four dimensions and recognize their nuanced interaction. This definition undergirds my framework, which presents ideal types, or paragons, as a heuristic to facilitate the comparison and generalization often lacking in leadership studies. Finally, I apply this framework to several thinkers in the “mirrors for princes” genre—Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Christine de Pizan, and Thomas More—and outline a paragon for their respective treatments of political leadership. In sum, my dissertation offers two primary contributions: 1) a precise definition and framework for evaluating political leadership, and 2) analysis of the central themes and traditions shaping the ethics of political leadership. This project is grounded in the history of political thought, but aimed at informing contemporary conceptualization and practice of political leadership.

Publications

2018. “When Toleration Becomes a Vice: Naming Aristotle’s Third Unnamed Virtue,” (with Richard Avramenko). American Journal of Political Science. Available online June, 27.

Abstract: Toleration is lauded as a chief virtue of contemporary liberalism. Without this virtue, it seems, citizens are ill‐equipped to reconcile ethical disagreements appropriately in pluralistic societies. In recent scholarship and practice, however, toleration has undergone significant transformation. The tolerant citizen, we are told, avoids causing the discomfort or pain associated with uncomfortable conversations, criticism, or even difference of opinion. Regrettably, this understanding of toleration hinders rather than facilitates dialogue and conflates pain or discomfort with cruelty. To offer a more viable theoretical grounding for toleration, this article turns to the third unnamed virtue of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. When conceptualized as an Aristotelian moral virtue with vices of both deficiency and excess, it is clear how toleration, taken too far, becomes a vice. Moreover, Aristotle’s principles of contextual sensitivity, other‐regarding virtue, and non‐cruel pain constitute a better foundation for restoring toleration as a healthy virtue for liberal citizens.

2017. “Truth, Lies, and Concealment: St. Augustine on Mendacious Political Thought,” (with Jeremiah Russell). Review of Politics. 79.3.

Abstract: There is disagreement among scholars regarding the mendacity of esoteric writing. Some see it as a necessarily dishonest mode of communication; others argue it does not meet the conditions of lying; others are more nuanced in their assessment. In this article, we seek to resolve this disagreement by offering a systematic analysis of the literary practice in which we argue that there are both truthful and mendacious forms of esoteric writing. In sum, if an author conceals truths from a general audience while still being truthful on the surface of the text or makes it clear that he is being untruthful, he is not lying; yet if an author conceals truths while intentionally being untruthful on the surface, he is lying. Given the parallel ethical structure between esoteric writing and political discourse, we argue that the analysis provided in this article may illuminate the ethical choices made in both written and political statements.

Works in Progress

Models of Statesmanship: Plutarch and the Excellence of Political Leadership.” Under Review

“Liberal Arts Leadership: An Assessment of Political Leadership Education in American Universities.”

“Presidential Selection and Success: A Study of Presidential Rankings.”

“Cultivating the Cultivators: Restoring the Classical Tradition of Leadership and the Common Good,” Book Project (with Jeremiah Russell).