Remarks at IWP Commencement 2014

Commencement 2014
John Lenczowski

Good afternoon everyone.  Let me first thank everyone who has made this school possible:

Trustees, benefactors, faculty and guest lecturers, staff and interns, friends and helpers, the spouses and families of those who work in our vineyards for this cause, and ultimately, our students.

As most of you know, IWP has a four part mission:  The first is to develop leaders who have a sound understanding of the realities of this world.  That means understanding history, the nature of foreign cultures and the global strategic environment.

That, in turn, means understanding all the curve balls, and knuckle balls that can be thrown at us.  It means seeing without flinching the array of dangers that one can expect in this world: terrorism, mass murder, atrocities, genocide, deception, propaganda, treaty violations, and every form of tyranny.  At bottom, it means understanding the realities of human nature.

Too many in our business fail in being sufficiently realistic about these things.  Some are filled with wishful thinking or willful blindness.  Many harbor utopian ideas about human nature.  Some believe that man is perfectible on this earth through social, political, and economic engineering.

Some believe that foreign countries can be shaped at our will as if there is no such thing as culture; as if the habits, traditions, and mentality developed over decades and even centuries do not exist.

Others believe that human nature is so fundamentally good that all that is necessary to achieve peace is a better set of international laws, better treaties, or more dialogue and mutual understanding.  Once we have these things, they believe, we can realize a natural harmony of interests that is assumed to exist in this world and we can all link arms and sing Kum-Ba-Ya together.

Some political systems are based on such utopian ideas.  Communist systems, for one, are based on the notion that human nature can be shaped and perfected by the right kind of external stimuli and that it is possible to create the New Man.

The American system, in contrast, is based on a recognition that human nature is flawed; that men will always be susceptible to succumbing to the temptation to do the wrong thing.

This is why we have a rule of law, federalism, a separation of powers, checks and balances, a Constitutional law that is higher than statutory laws that can prove to be unjust, and ultimately respect for a law even higher than the Constitution – that moral law that is higher than any law written by man, because, ultimately, rights cannot be inalienable and unconditional if they are endowed by majorities which can become tyrannical.  Slavery can be made formally legal by judicial interpretations of our constitution, but that doesn’t make it just.

The second part of our mission is to develop leaders who have skill in the use of the various arts of statecraft – the instruments of national power.  These are the means of handling the challenges which this dangerous world sends our way.  They include military power, intelligence, counterintelligence, diplomacy, public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, information policy, political action, and economic statecraft.

As you can see from the imagery in our program, we at IWP conceive of these as akin to instruments in an orchestra.  One must be able to play one’s instrument well, but also have a capability of strategically integrating with the rest of the orchestra.  We also need conductors who are aware of all the instruments in that orchestra – and all too often our conductors – such as Presidents and cabinet officers don’t know about them all.

The third part of IWP’s mission is to teach why we must study these things.  What is goal of all this work?  It is nothing less than the defense of our country and civilization.  For those of our students who are not Americans, the task is the defense of what we call decent civilization wherever it can be found.

What is the civilization with which we are principally concerned?  It is the American branch of Western civilization.  It is a concept of human community that is based on several principles: the dignity of the human person regardless of background or condition; inalienable individual rights; a society that is based on efforts to achieve the common good – a good that can be determined by reason; a rule of law that is also based on reason rather than the arbitrary rule of men; the principle of self-government, which, if successfully realized, results in the limitations on state power and in human freedom; and finally government by the consent of the governed.

When we have implemented these principles, we may arguably have come closer to building a more free, just, and prosperous civilization than any other on earth.  It is a civilization that has resulted in unprecedented freedom of enterprise, of speech, of charity, of scientific advancement, of cultural creativity and expression, and of social, political, and economic self-improvement.

The principles underlying this civilization, however, are too often misunderstood.  Look at the concept of the common good.  To realize a common good, there must be such a thing as the good.  It must be a concept of good that is the result of the product of sound moral reasoning and reasoning based on truths about human nature and the way successful societies function.  It cannot be the result of feelings, which too often govern our current affairs.

As the ancients taught us, democracy will ultimately decay and we will lose it if we permit our public affairs to be dictated by feelings and passions as opposed to sound political and moral reasoning.

It is clear, then, that the task of building, sustaining, and defending a society leads us ineluctably into the realm of moral philosophy.  This is the fourth element of our mission: to impart knowledge and appreciation of the Western, Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian moral tradition and to impress upon our students the importance of character building and moral leadership in the exercise of the most sensitive functions of government.

IWP students must grapple with one main question using their right reason: is there or is there not a transcendent, objective, universal moral order in the world?  Is there what the philosophers call a Natural Law that applies to all people at all times and places – a law discernable by human reason?

Many today argue that there is no such law – and that therefore there is no true standard of good, and that all standards of good and evil are matters of personal preference that cannot be discovered by reason.  If that is so, if there is no such thing as a permanent and objective good, it means that there can be no true common good – and that any attempts to establish a common good that is determined solely by personal preferences can only result in force, compulsion, the doctrine of might makes right.

Under such circumstances, establishing what is right and wrong becomes a matter of power struggle rather than recognition of and living by the Natural Law.  And power struggle usually means the triumph of passions over reason.

If we descend to rule by passions, we plow directly into the very perils of democracy that were so compellingly identified by Plato and Aristotle – perils such as the triumph of selfishness and special interests over the common good.

We have known about these weaknesses and perils of democratic governance for millennia.  Our Founders counseled that if we wish to be a free and self-governing people, we cannot be dominated by our passions.  John Adams said that our Constitution was suitable only for a virtuous people who are capable of controlling those passions and is utterly unsuitable for any other kind of people.

Recent events have demonstrated that the most sensitive positions in government must be occupied by people of character, virtue, and patriotism.  These are positions that address problems of war and peace, of life and death.  That is why a huge part of IWP’s ethos concerns what kind of people out students turn out to be.

Character begins with consciousness of the virtues that make up good character.

  • It is exhibited in doing the right thing when no one is looking.
  • It involves cultivation of conscience.
  • It requires cultivation of the will.
  • It requires the development of good habits – because habits become destiny.

A huge part of the kind of character that is necessary for leadership in statecraft concerns personal and intellectual honesty and integrity.

It includes commitment to the truth and effort to discern the truth.

Here courage is essential:

Having the courage of one’s convictions,

The courage to see the truth when all about you are willfully blind, and the courage to tell truth to power.

Here humility is essential.  And so is acute sensitivity to the dangers of hubris.

We here teach our students that there are two kinds of people – those who want to do something and those who want to be somebody: On the one hand, mission oriented people, and on the other hand people who are interested in power, position, glory, and the satisfaction of one’s ego.

We at IWP want our students to be mission-oriented people.  And when they are tempted to embark on self-serving maneuvers for personal power and glory, we want them to resist the temptation.

Humility keeps people on track to achieving a mission.  And the mission is the cause higher than oneself.

Hubris engulfs people who simply want to be something.  It is the spiritual disease of the ego.  It is deadly.  It derails a leader from pursuing a mission and puts him or her on a slippery slope to Machiavellian intrigues and all the dishonesty and baseness involved in them.

Finally, let me mention prudence.  At one level, prudence is the ability to exercise wisdom, reason, caution, and discretion in the conduct of policy.  But in a larger sense, Prudence is the application of universal principles to particular situations.

What prudence requires first is knowledge of universal moral principles.  It is that virtue that enables a person to discern good ends, achieve good ends, and ultimately to be good oneself.

With the education that you graduates have received both intellectually and, we hope, in cultivating your consciences, we expect great things from you, but particularly the exercise of those virtues that make for statesmanship.

It has been a privilege to be your professor and to see how seriously you have taken your studies and your vocations.

Congratulations for persevering and Godspeed in your service to your country.

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