On May 20th, 2017, Professor Arkes was honored by the Institute of World Politics, and delivered the Commencement address to IWP’s Graduating Class of 2017. IWP is a stand-alone Graduate School which was “founded to fill a major national need: to supply professional education in statecraft, national security, and international affairs.”
For Professor Arkes, Commencements are times for “families,” who have borne obligations and sacrifices to support children in their higher education. But the meaning of “family” has always been bound up with “the laws” and the political regime that shapes those laws. Arkes returned then to the classical concern for the nature of “the best political regime,” and its bearing on the question of statecraft and foreign policy. The first task of a statesmen was to get clear on the nature of the regime they wished to establish—or in the case of Lincoln, the regime he wished to preserve. Arkes drew on Aristotle and Lincoln to recall some classic teachings that have been forgotten—or never learned. In one of his most curious moves, Aristotle taught that political science was the “architectonic science,” the science of first principles that gave order and scale to everything else, including the natural sciences. That barely understood point comes with a jolt of novelty, the jolt coming from the recognition that Aristotle actually had it right.
Professor Arkes concluded then by recalling one of those lines too often quoted from Justice Holmes: “A page of history is worth a pound of logic.” Arkes remarked that “experience keeps revealing the deep falsity of that line. For we keep discovering that an ounce of logic, or the careful study of political philosophy and statecraft, may spare us a generation or two of misspent experience and history. For we persistently run into the tragedy of lessons we had never taken the time to learn.” We have been told this was the first Commencement Address at IWP that brought a standing ovation.