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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

Statesmen and Tyrants: Studies in Political Leadership

Instructor(s): Flagg Taylor, Government

This course is an examination of statesmanship, as distinct from ordinary political leadership.  Statesmanship suggests a certain quality of excellence in both leadership and judgment.  This excellence is often rooted in a complex array of qualities including, but not limited to, wisdom, prudence, moderation, ambition, a certain ruthlessness, and rhetorical acuity.  In this course, we will explore the virtues and character of three statesmen in particular: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill.  What qualities of soul do these figures share?  What elevates them above the ordinary politician?  And, by contrast, what separates them from tyrants such as Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler?  We will also look closely at the crises each of these men confronted and explore their strategies for navigating their countries through them.  Finally, we will consider the extent to which democracy, as the regime of self-government, is in tension with statesmanship.  In democracy, the people are said to rule.  Yet democracy has needed the extraordinary political excellence of singular human beings to establish, sustain, and justify it.  Because no one discipline can satisfactorily lay claim to such a comprehensive and multifaceted approach, we will explore a variety of writings (philosophical, historical, literary, social scientific, and biographical) to understand statesmanship and tyranny.

Course Offered