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Book excerpt: Thomas More on Statesmanship by Gerard B. Wegemer

King Henry VIII of England ordered Sir Thomas More to the headsman for More’s refusal to knuckle under to Henry’s split from the Catholic Church over the Pope not granting Henry’s divorce.

No one here in the United States has yet been beheaded over keeping to traditional Christian beliefs, but try speaking out against, say, flying the Pride Flag over your city’s civic center and see what happens.

More lost his head but kept his faith. For Roman Catholics, he is the patron saint of politicians.

For our own troubled times, we could do worse than pondering Thomas More’s writings. The excerpt below is from the introduction to Thomas More on Statesmanship by Gerard B. Wegemer:

If reason is to serve as the foundation for politics, then education and public deliberation are needed for its development. Nonetheless, More realized that to expect reason to exercise such power is almost utopian, given the fact that history seems to present more war than peace, more discord than harmony. The daunting task of good law and good education is, therefore, to strengthen and support reason against passion, prejudice, and thoughtless self-interest. The task is so difficult that most political philosophers after More have abandoned this educational project, which he and his classical ancestors saw as the irreplaceable support for just government. Yet conscious of all the difficulties involved, More remained eminently classical in his conviction that institutional arrangements could never substitute for personal virtue as the primary safeguard of political liberty.

(Emphasis added.)

“Institutional arrangements” could well be taken refer to the checks and balances built into the American form of Constitutional government by Founders convinced of the difficulty of maintaining personal virtue as a basis for political conduct.