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Review Of Soulcraft And Statecraft



What characteristics are necessary for a political career? How do you recognize an unfit ruler? Should you oppose or try to reform him? These questions are central to recent debates about liberalism, conservatism and meritocracy—and perhaps even impeachment.

Yet they are also very old questions. As Harvard professor

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James Hankins

shows in “Virtue Politics,” a magisterial study of “soulcraft and statecraft,” humanist scholars in the Italian Renaissance were concerned with many of the same puzzles that obsess us today. While acknowledging the variety of responses that they offered, Mr. Hankins focuses on a particular kind of answer. He calls it “virtue politics”: the attempt to reform civic life by improving the morality of the ruling elite.

Statue of Petrarch in the courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.


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Virtue Politics

By James Hankins
Belknap/Harvard, 736 pages, $45

Virtue politics was not invented in the 15th century. As Mr. Hankins shows, it drew on intellectual currents that extend back to ancient Greece, classical Rome and the Church Fathers of the early Christian era. In different ways,





all argued that virtue was the basis of political achievement.

But the central figure in Mr. Hankins’s account is

Francesco Petrarca,

better known as


He is remembered today mostly as a poet and an editor of Latin texts. Mr. Hankins contends that he was also a significant political thinker. According to Mr. Hankins, Petrarch saw his literary and scholarly endeavors as a step toward saving Italy—and perhaps all of Christendom—from misgovernment. Learning to speak and write beautifully was not simply a cultural achievement but also, he believed, a political necessity.

Borrowing a term from German ethnologist Leo Frobenius, Mr. Hankins describes this enterprise as paideuma—an “intentional form of elite culture,” as he writes, “that seeks power within a society with the aim of altering the moral attitudes and behaviors of society’s members, especially its leadership class.” The humanists’ task was to institutionalize and propagate this paideuma through writing, speaking and teaching.

On the intellectual level, Petrarch and his followers sought to rescue classical antiquity, especially pagan Rome, from Christians’ historical suspicion. Although the Romans had not known the true God, humanists argued, their political success was based on their superiority in virtue. When it came to personal rectitude and public spirit, the Romans often exceeded ostensible Christians. The humanists had to acknowledge that not all Romans met this lofty standard. But they adopted Cicero—the statesman, lawyer and philosopher—as its personification.

As pedagogy, the medieval curriculum emphasized the comparatively abstract disciplines of philosophy, theology and law. The humanist paideuma, by contrast, concentrated on the inculcation of worldly virtue through the study of language, rhetoric and history. To learn from the Romans, one had to understand them. To understand them, one had to learn not only to decipher Latin but to think it. The military theorist

Roberto Valturio

argued that even soldiers would benefit from this training.

Mastering Latin—and, by the 15th century, ancient Greek—was a slow and demanding effort that was practically limited to members of the upper and middle classes. In principle, however, it was open to anyone with the ability and will to learn. Against theories of divine right and natural hierarchy, humanists promoted a social model that might be described as virtue meritocracy. “True nobility” could be found anywhere, not only among those who inherited wealth and power.

True nobility was closely related to the humanist conception of the good government. Unsatisfactory rulers might secure desirable outcomes from selfish motives. Those with true nobility would pursue the right goals for the right reasons. In this respect, humanist political thought had a perfectionist quality. The test of legitimacy was not simply performance, but good character.

Mr. Hankins shows that the humanists’ obsession with character explains their surprising indifference to particular forms of government. If rulers lacked authentic virtue, they believed, it did not matter what institutions framed their power. Here Mr. Hankins challenges the claims of scholars like

Hans Baron


Quentin Skinner,

who have argued that the humanists developed a “civic republicanism” that preferred non-monarchical governments characterized by broad citizen participation. But Mr. Hankins emphasizes that, for the humanists, popular government was no better than one-man tyranny if the people themselves were corrupt.

Indeed, a ruler of true nobility, in the humanists’ view, should be cherished even if he came to power in an irregular manner. Despite their admiration for Cicero, some humanists defended Julius


—who invaded Italy, against the senate’s order, and ruled as dictator for life. To these writers, Caesar’s outstanding character and good intentions outweighed his questionable methods. “Can a man raised to power through his own merits, a man who showed such a humane spirit, not to his partisans alone but also to his opponents because they were his fellow citizens—can he rightly be called a tyrant?” asked the Florentine statesman

Coluccio Salutati

“I do not see how this can be maintained, unless indeed we are to pass judgment arbitrarily.”

Such humanist defenses of Caesar’s virtue are superficially similar to


infamous account of the virtù of a prince—the capacity for amoral calculation that, in Machiavelli’s view, must guide the effective prince (a generic term that includes any aspirant to power). Mr. Hankins devotes his last three chapters to exploring the differences. If Petrarch is the hero of “Virtue Politics,” Machiavelli is its villain.

Mr. Hankins’s critique of Machiavelli has several elements. To begin with, he argues that Machiavelli was not much of a scholar. Although he is credited with having an encyclopedic knowledge of classical texts, Mr. Hankins suggests that Machiavelli’s library was rather limited and his knowledge of classical languages less than masterly. That does not necessarily diminish Machiavelli’s insight, but it does undermine his imposing reputation as a guide to ancient political thought.

Next, Mr. Hankins chastises Machiavelli for reducing politics to militarism. The humanists argued that politics was a moral enterprise and that the study of the humanities could orient inevitable conflicts toward the common good. By contrast, Machiavelli severed struggles for power from any guiding purposes. This difference was made explicit by a famous passage in “The Prince.” According to Machiavelli, “a prince should have no other object, nor any other thought, nor take anything else as his art but that of war . . . for that is the only art which is of concern to one who commands.”

As their defenses of Caesar showed, humanists did not imagine that politics could be strictly governed by law. But it was Caesar’s goodness, they argued, that justified his departures from strict legality. Machiavelli rejected this justification. What was necessary to a successful prince was not to be good but only to seem good. Machiavelli suggests that a prince can easily win public approval through the careful management of his image.

Above all, Mr. Hankins charges Machiavelli with replacing virtue politics with a new science of institutions. Especially in his “Discourses on Livy,” Machiavelli attributes Roman greatness to the role of tribunes and other such devices and to certain legal procedures—not to moral superiority.

In this respect, Machiavelli prefigures our current predicament. The Renaissance tradition remained influential well into modern times. Particularly in New England, humanist arguments about virtue were often blended with Protestant theology in an amalgam that historian

Mark Noll

calls “Christian republicanism.”

John Adams

believed Petrarch showed that “tyranny can scarcely be practiced upon a virtuous and wise people.”

Yet virtue politics was eclipsed by modern constitutionalism. In their emphasis on the separation of powers, Locke and


and the other Enlightenment philosophers whose ideas inspired the American Founders shared Machiavelli’s doubts about the sufficiency of virtue. English scholars like

Edward Coke

and William Blackstone also promoted a greater appreciation for the role of law. We can see the legacy of this shift in the ambiguity of the impeachment process, which appeals both to virtue and to legality. Should Congress remove a president if he is deemed unfit for office or only if he has committed a crime? The humanists and Machiavelli might give different answers.

The Renaissance humanists insisted that history is valuable because it offers lessons for the present. Although Mr. Hankins’s purpose is primarily scholarly, it is not unreasonable to ask how we might improve ourselves by learning from the history that he presents.

First, “Virtue Politics” contains an implicit argument for the beleaguered humanities. By showing how thoughtful people at a very different place and time responded to some of the same questions that plague us, it extends the horizon of our own moral imagination. The dominant motif of 21st-century culture is exhaustion. We feel constrained to choose from a shrinking range of ethical and political possibilities that seem to offer ever diminishing returns.

Mr. Hankins doesn’t suggest that we don the garments of the Renaissance, as some over-enthusiastic humanists tried to make themselves into ersatz Romans. But he does show how the study of the past, of dead languages and of unfamiliar texts can enrich the present by disclosing unfamiliar possibilities and appealing models for our own thought and action. This is a far more plausible argument for majoring in, say, history than implausible claims about job skills or a reductive political agenda.

Second, Mr. Hankins makes an explicit plea to the modern successors of the elite that the humanists tried to cultivate. Those who enjoy cultural or political influence should consider carefully whether they are worthy of such power. Modern meritocracy assures us that we deserve whatever success or failure we experience. Virtue meritocracy holds us to a higher standard.

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Therapy: The Opposite of Politics



Therapy is about the authentic, while politics is about the artificial.
Source: cottonbro studio/Pexels

One lesson I have learned from experience is that therapy and politics are contrary skills. Not only that, but they are often fundamentally incompatible with each other. I find this to be true from the smallest of personal settings, such as the mundane dynamics of the workplace, to the far-reaching impact of governmental authority.

Personal Level

As a therapist, I’ve had to be clear with my clients that politics and therapy represent opposite poles of the human condition: advancement in the eyes of the world versus inward reflection and authenticity. For example, let’s say a client is experiencing significant levels of depression and is considering asking for accommodations, or even a medical leave of absence from work. They may ask me, “Should I tell my bosses what I’m going through? Will they be helpful or would this put an invisible stain on my prospects for advancement at my company?”

While a company may not legally retaliate against an employee for their health care conditions, therapists know that the world can be unjust. Sadly, it is sometimes the case that employees are discriminated against, and it can be difficult or impossible to prove. It’s not a therapist’s job to encourage the client to live their life as if life were fair, but to help them navigate the fact that it isn’t.

So the answer to the client’s question about whether they should tell their boss is a relatively simple one: I have no idea. Some managers would be supportive. Some wouldn’t. In some workplaces, an employee may be praised for their bravery in coming forward; in others, they would be stigmatized. Many organizations would pay lip service to the employee’s rights while tacitly blacklisting them from future promotions. I don’t know which type of workplace my client is subject to, nor the inner motives of their supervisors.

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One support I can provide is to ask the client questions to help them explore their own appraisal of the situation and their tolerance for risk, basically guiding them in their own cost–benefit analysis. However, if the client lacks sufficient career experience, or their thought process is impacted by their mental health symptoms, they may be guessing blindly as to the likelihood of different scenarios. In this case, neither I nor the client can provide any real insight into the implications of such a decision.

In a case like this, I recommend that my clients seek the input of a mentor figure, a career advisor, or someone else who has the practical savvy to maneuver through the metaphorical game of chess. The wisdom of a guide can be beneficial for our clients in other ways in which we lack skill or life experience. For example, I am thankful to a number of amazing Black and Latinx professional colleagues who have been open to contact from my clients seeking workplace advice.

National and International Levels

The incongruity between therapy and politics exists not only on the personal level but on the national and international levels as well. I don’t think any reasonably informed person would argue that national politics is a bastion of integrity and fairness. Subterfuge, deception, misdirection, and many other nefarious tactics have been a fundamental component of the internal and external functions of every government since the dawn of civilization. While “Game of Thrones” is fictional, it brilliantly captures the inherent treachery of statecraft.


Of course, this does not imply that every system of government is morally equivalent. Nor does it mean that a therapist or client is prohibited from being politically engaged. Fighting for a just cause, such as to protect the vulnerable or to relieve suffering, for example, can and should fall very much within the purview of therapists and clients alike. But, to try to distill a complex distinction down to a few words, I would say that these ethical causes usually fall under the umbrella of “power to” another person rather than “power over” them.

As I stated at the start of this piece, politics is the exercise of power over others while therapy is the exercise of power over oneself. Therapy is about the authentic, while politics is about the artificial. They are both necessary skills, and they are both tools that are inherently neither good nor evil. But they are the antithesis of each other. As we seek a healthy balance of these opposites, we benefit from recognizing the conflict they represent.

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What lies ahead for Sask. politics after fall sitting begins in controversy, ends with $500 cheques in mail



The fall sitting of the Saskatchewan Legislature started with controversy and ended quietly on Wednesday with confirmation $500 affordability cheques have been mailed.

The past seven weeks have seen the typical disagreements on what the government’s priorities ought to be, but it began with an incident that made international headlines and led to an apology by the premier.

On Oct. 26, Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty delivered the government’s throne speech. Seated in the crowd was convicted killer and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Colin Thatcher.

Thatcher, 84, was found guilty in 1984 of the first-degree murder of his ex-wife, JoAnn Wilson, who was found beaten and shot to death in the garage of her home the previous year.

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He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years and granted full parole in November 2006.

Thatcher was invited by Thunder Creek MLA Lyle Stewart, who initially defended the decision, before calling it an “error in judgment.”

The Saskatchewan Party government relieved Stewart of his legislative secretary duties. Five days after the throne speech, Premier Scott Moe apologized.

On Wednesday, deputy premier Donna Harpauer met with reporters, as Moe was in Washington, D.C.

“It was a mistake, one that the premier addressed on behalf of all of us, but we are very focused on the government agenda and got back to our agenda very quickly,” she said.

Colin Thatcher, a former Saskatchewan MLA and a convicted murderer, walks out of the chamber after the speech from the throne at the Saskatchewan Legislature in Regina on Oct. 26. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Carla Beck said the invitation was a “slap in the face” to survivors of domestic violence, those that work in the field, and the assembly.

“We’re looking at a government that is out of touch,” the Opposition leader said.

“The fact that they did not see a problem with inviting a convicted wife killer to the legislature on throne speech day and then took five days and international embarrassment to even table the weakest of apologies,” said Beck.

“It sent a terrible message in a province that has twice the rate of domestic violence in the country.

Saskatchewan First Act

A day after Moe’s apology, Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre introduced the Saskatchewan First Act, which the government said will confirm the province’s autonomy and jurisdiction over its natural resources.

“This isn’t about fed-bashing for kicks,” Eyre said on Nov. 1.

“This is about quantifying, assessing, and defining economic harm. It’s about our place in this federation and our responsibility to the people of Saskatchewan to foster economic growth.”

The Saskatchewan First Act has been overshadowed by new Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act which was introduced on Nov. 28 and is already going to be tweaked by government.

On Wednesday, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations called for the proposed Alberta Sovereignty and the Saskatchewan First acts to be withdrawn.

Moe and Eyre have said the Saskatchewan act is inclusive.

“It doesn’t change the intentions the government has to include all Saskatchewan people, Indigenous or otherwise, in the economy,” Moe said last week.

“What the act is focused on is to make sure we have the focus on Saskatchewan so we can collectively benefit.”

Last week, Beck and members of her caucus received some criticism for voting to move the bill to committee.

Beck said it is not clear what the bill accomplishes.

“My observation is that this was an act that was designed to have a political motivation behind it, but really materially wouldn’t have had that much of an impact on the people of this province. It reasserts rights that already exist.”

Beck said she has concerns about a lack of consultation with Indigenous and Métis communities.

$500 cheques not enough, says Opposition

Beck and the Opposition spent much of the sitting calling on the government to spend more to help people facing increased cost-of-living.

The government said it had responded with its decision to spend $450 million to send $500 cheques to more than 900,000 adults.

After an initial delay in getting the cheques mailed, they have been sent to people who filed their income tax by Aug. 31.

Harpauer said Wednesday the government is addressing needs by spending in areas of need like health care and education.

“We have committed additional dollars in a plan for health care for recruitment, retention, training and incentivizing more workers, recognizing that there is stress in the health-care system,” she said.

“We also addressed stresses within education by providing additional dollars for inflation for our school divisions as well as an increase in student enrolment.”

Beck said the government’s priorities do not match the Opposition’s, mentioning the government’s decision to create a Crown corporation, the Saskatchewan Revenue Agency.

The bill to create the agency was introduced this week. The government said its aim is to “pursue greater autonomy in tax collection.”

“We think this is a priority,” Harpauer said.

“The piece of legislation I introduced this week is a very high-level piece of legislation that won’t come to fruition for a few years. But at some point, we do want to explore it, and this lets the public know what our agenda is.”

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer released the mid-year update last month. The government is projecting a $1.1 billion surplus for 2022-23. (Matt Howard/Radio-Canada)

Beck said the public was not looking for a new tax collection and administration agency.

“There’s a very big distinction between the priorities that we brought forward because these are concerns that people in the province have,” she said.

“The government seems very pleased with in this building I don’t think translates very well to the people out there who are struggling to just get by right now.”

Harpauer disagreed, saying the proposed revenue agency is a response to what the government has heard.

“We are listening to stakeholders around the province, to different groups as well as our own constituents. This isn’t just coming from nowhere. This is something that people are raising concerns about.”

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The Many Ad Bans of Disney+: No Booze, No Politics, No Netflix



(Bloomberg) — Walt Disney Co. debuts the ad-supported version of its Disney+ streaming service Thursday with strict rules: No alcohol commercials, no political spots and no ads from competitors.

The new service, which is priced at $8 a month, has signed up 100 sponsors across a wide swath of business, including finance, retail and automotive, Rita Ferro, Disney Media’s president of advertising, said in an interview. The company intentionally left some slots open to accommodate marketer interest after the product’s debut, she said.

Although Disney’s position on some of the restrictions may change over time, the Burbank, California-based company will shut out rivals including Netflix Inc. and Inc.’s Prime Video to prioritize its own shows and films, Ferro said.

“Our content is going to be the only thing you see on our platforms,” she said.

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The ad-supported version of Disney’s flagship streaming platform will have 4 minutes of commercials per hour or less, or about half the ad load of Hulu, its sister streaming service. It’s becoming available at a tough time for the media industry at large amid a pullback in ad spending and fears of an imminent recession.

On Tuesday, shares of CBS owner Paramount Global fell 7% after Chief Executive Officer Bob Bakish said the company’s advertising sales this quarter will be “a bit below” the third quarter in a “challenging” market.

Industry Challenges

The comments echoed those of Jeff Shell, chief executive officer of Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal division, who said the advertising market is “definitely getting worse.” Last week, AMC Networks Inc. announced plans to fire 20% of its US staff, Warner Bros Discovery Inc.’s CNN division laid off employees, and NPR said it would “severely restrict” hiring after a sharp drop in sponsorship revenue.

So far, Disney has been less affected than peers by the wider downturn in ad spending and has benefited from a “flight to quality,” Ferro said.

“There’s no question that the marketplace is challenged, and there’s no question there are more challenging times to come,” Ferro said. “But we have not necessarily seen the slowdown that we have seen in the marketplace.”

With the debut of the ad-backed Disney+, the price of the commercial-free version is increasing by $3 to $11 a month. Achieving profitability in Disney’s direct-to-consumer division, which lost $1.5 billion last quarter mainly due to expenses at Disney+, is a priority for the company.

C-Suite Tumult

Disney shares fell by 13% on Nov. 9, the worst daily drop since 2001, after the company reported the loss. They were down 41% this year through the close Wednesday.

In response, Disney on Nov. 20 ousted Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek and brought back longtime CEO Bob Iger. Iger told employees at the first town hall held after his return that the company will prioritize breaking even on its streaming initiatives over subscriber growth.

As of last quarter, Disney had about 236 million subscribers across all of its online TV businesses, including Hulu and ESPN+. Chapek said at the time that losses had peaked in the direct-to-consumer division, which Disney expects to reach profitability in 2024.

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