Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.
Thomas Osbert Mordaunt2
Verses written during the War, 1756-1763
"The instant I received the order I sprang on my horse and then my 'crowded hour' began."3 Thus Theodore Roosevelt begins his account of the charge of the First Volunteer Regiment, or Rough Riders, up the San Juan heights at Kettle Hill in Cuba, July 1, 1898. Twenty years later, following news of his son Quentin's first aerial victory over a German opponent, he was to write to his daughter Ethel that "[w]hatever now befalls Quentin he has now had his crowded hour, and his day of honor and triumph."4 Just five days after penning this letter, Quentin was shot down behind enemy lines and killed. Another five days later, Roosevelt wrote to George V, King of England, to thank he and the Queen for their kindness and thoughtfulness in notifying the Roosevelts of Quentin's death. TR continues on to recount to the king that each of his other three sons was also serving in the war with distinction and at some hazard, two having been wounded. "Unlike their fellow-countrymen," he continues, "they had prepared in advance!"5 No doubt, under TR's tutelage, they had indeed been preparing from childhood to experience their own crowded hour, and a proud father, in the event, basked in the success that resulted from that preparation.6
Mordaunt wrote his verse about the crowded hour during the Seven Years war, while Roosevelt and his sons experienced their crowded hours respectively during the wars of their generations. Warfare may not be necessary to the experience of one's crowded hour, but perhaps more than any other of life's experiences it is likely to facilitate the experience of one's crowded hour. For both the Spanish-American War and World War I, the United States was unprepared, an unnecessary condition for a nation endowed with the capacity to play a great role in the world, according to Roosevelt. While he could point proudly to the success of his sons in meeting the challenge of war, his reflections on his own success, or lack thereof, in preparing the nation and its citizens for war and its attendant challenges must have left him chagrined.
In his Autobiography, Roosevelt titled the chapter dealing with the Spanish-American War "The War of America the Unready," and lamented that he supposed "the United States will always be unready for war, and in consequence will always be exposed to great expense, and to the possibility of the gravest calamity, when the nation goes to war."7 Roosevelt's thoughts on war here are enlightening. Preparation for war is necessary to a nation's security, but also aims toward a higher purpose, which we shall see. In the realm of security, though, lack of preparation taxes the resources of the country materially and morally in a way which preparedness for war would not. Indeed, the implication is that preparedness for war is cheaper than catching up once combat is joined,8 but also is cheaper in terms of the moral strength of the population which is hardened and honed by the exertions of preparation. The courage of the people is taxed by unpreparedness, for it is the bedrock upon which the country must rely as it builds the means necessary to prosecute a war. Should the courage and character of the people be in too weakened a state to see the country through the interim necessary to field an adequate army, that grave calamity of which Roosevelt spoke might ensue.
Roosevelt, though, despite the assertions of some, is not merely a bellicose warmonger. His advocacy of preparation for warfare and its attendant rigors is grounded in his understanding of the nature of the world, and of the duties of individuals and nations alike. "I abhor unjust war," he writes.
I abhor injustice and bullying by the strong at the expense of the weak, whether among nations or individuals. I abhor violence and bloodshed. I believe that war should never be resorted to when, or so long as, it is honorably possible to avoid it. . . . I advocate preparation for war in order to avert war; and I should never advocate war unless it were the only alternative to dishonor.9
War is a means to an end for Roosevelt, and whether one agrees or disagrees with him about the worth of the end, it is simply unfair to characterize him as a mere warmonger. Here he describes the alternative to a just war as dishonor. Above we saw how Roosevelt feared a lack of preparation for war on America's part would eventually lead to disaster. The ultimate disaster might fairly be characterized as defeat in a just war. Such a defeat, though, would be at least honorable. More ignominious, however, would be wars of dishonor in which the US fought an unnecessary war or failed to fight a necessary war.
We did not at the time of which I write take our foreign duties seriously, and as we combined bluster in speech with refusal to make any preparation whatsoever for action, we were not taken seriously in return.10
For a country as powerful as the United States, to not be taken seriously is certainly a shame, but also borders on, if it is not actually, dishonorable. Countries have a duty in the world, just as citizens have a duty to their own country. To fail to do that duty is not only dangerous, because it puts the future of the country in jeopardy, but it is also dishonorable because it puts the country in the position of being unable to fulfill its duty to fight a just war if necessary. To do one's duty requires courage, but to fulfill one's duty without preparation puts even more stress on courage and invites the disaster that Roosevelt forecasts.11
Both the individual and the nation exist in a "great chain of creation and causation" with each person occupying a position as an "essential part of the whole, whose life must be made to serve the larger and continuing life of the whole."12 Roosevelt wrote these words in "The Great Adventure" following the death of his son Quentin. It is quite apparently a tribute to his own son, but also to the sons of many of his friends and acquaintances who had also fallen in the war.
But honor, highest honor, to those who fearlessly face death for a good cause; no life is so honorable or so fruitful as such a death. Unless men are willing to fight and die for great ideals, including love of country, ideals will vanish and the world will become one huge sty of materialism.13
Sacrifice for the nation is honorable, and rises above mere individualism. But it is the recognition of some greater duty that makes a country's youth sacrifice itself for the good of the country, and it is the courage to face that duty that makes such a one honorable, recognizing that the performance of that duty may end in his or her sacrifice. This, then, is the stuff of national greatness, to have sons and daughters who "have in them the quality to rise level to the needs of heroic days" and who have "that stern stuff which bade them die for [their country] at need."14 This greatest duty, "this heroic quality," however, "is but the apex of a pyramid of which the broad foundations must solidly rest on the performance of duties so ordinary that to impatient minds they seem commonplace."15 The courage to perform great and arduous duty is not to be found gratuitously among the casual and pleasure-seeking, but rather among those who have been schooled, dare we say, in virtue, who have learned the necessity of preparation through habituation in a multitude of lesser responsibilities. It is such a preparation that Roosevelt considers with pride as he recounts the heroic deeds of his own sons, and that he laments when he considers the lack of such preparation in his country as a whole, a lack of preparation that was to cost the country dearly in terms of lives and resources lost unnecessarily and despite the heroic efforts of many.
How, then, are we to understand what is that "great chain of creation and causation" which requires the inculcation of duties, the development of courage, and justifies the sacrifice of life for one's republic? Roosevelt, in a long string of publications and speeches articulates a public philosophy of civic duty which is supported by his understanding of human nature and mankind's proper political responsibility following from its nature. Roosevelt's view of that nature, however, is informed by Darwinian evolutionary biology rather than the more traditional view of human nature espoused by the writers of the founding generation. As laudable as is his call to duty, it is itself mired in the sty of materialism which he otherwise objects to so strenuously.
Roosevelt's understanding of human nature is not presented in a systematic fashion, but rather suffuses his popular and professional rhetoric, requiring some effort to tease the deeper strands of his thought out of the more pressing practical issues he addresses at any given time. Roosevelt tended to discuss human nature in terms of three general virtues: courage, common-sense, and honesty.16 Among these courage occupied the exalted position, and was made up of moral and physical elements. If we were, then, to compare Roosevelt's list of virtues with the four classic human virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice17 we can see common-sense as an analogue for wisdom, honesty as an analogue for justice, and courage which certainly equates to courage, but also seems in some way to incorporate moderation since it is a combination of physical and moral attributes. The influence of his scientific thinking, though, has the effect of ordering the virtues in a different way than would the ancients. Intellectual contemplation of the eternal verities would be misplaced as the highest of the virtues in a system of thought defined by the Darwinian laws of biology, but the elevation of courage to a position of preeminence would be justified in such a competitive, process-oriented system of thought.
For Roosevelt, the passions are fundamental. We must remember "the great primal needs and primal passions that are common to all of us."18 It is they that are "back of our reason, our understanding, and our common-sense." 19 Reason appears here as subordinate to and in the service of the passions, which at their best are capable of inspiring noble action. Indeed, in such a crisis as the Civil War, whose veterans he was addressing in the speech from which the above words are taken, it is not wisdom that provided the solution, but rather the passionate dedication of patriots devoted to the preservation of a national brotherhood which the rebellion of the South sought to shatter. It is the "underlying brotherhood of our people, the feeling that there should be among them an essential unity of purpose and sympathy," and a "community of interest" that is devoted to "a lofty ideal" that is important, which in this case was devotion to the union.20 The nation and its preservation is the lofty ideal that informs patriots as well as statesmen.21 Washington and Lincoln, the best American statesmen, are to be remembered and revered for the part they played respectively in creating the Union and preserving it more than for articulating principles of equality, liberty and the rights of mankind as the foundation of responsible self-government.22 But it is not merely the preservation of the territorial boundaries or the internal integrity of the nation which is important, rather it is the national aspect of union, the bringing together of people from different backgrounds and making them into American citizens that is the important factor in nationhood, it is the creation of a State that can give meaning to the existence of the nation.23 For this one does not need intellect, reason, or wisdom because the State is a product of historical forces and race characteristics rather than of a conscious rational design based upon an understanding of the nature of man and his place in the universe. Man's place in the universe is known scientifically, for man is only a higher form of animal life endowed by the evolutionary process with tools of thought and reason which aid him in coping with the harshness of biological and physical necessity.
Roosevelt routinely relegates intellect to a lesser role in human affairs, preferring character as a more important human attribute. In a book review of Benjamin Kidd's Social Evolution, Roosevelt presents his views on human nature and evolution in as systematic a manner as one is to find in his works. Toward the end of the essay he addresses the relative importance of intellect.
Mr. Kidd has our cordial sympathy when he lays stress on the fact that our evolution can not be called primarily intellectual. Of course there must be an intellectual evolution, too, and Mr. Kidd perhaps fails in not making this sufficiently plain. A perfectly stupid race can never rise to a very high plane; the negro, for instance, has been kept down as much by lack of intellectual development as by anything else; but the prime factor in the preservation of a race is its power to attain a high degree of social efficiency. Love of order, ability to fight well and breed well, capacity to subordinate the interests of the individual to the interests of the community, these and similar rather humdrum qualities go to make up the sum of social efficiency.24
He continues the summation of his argument by asserting that "character is far more important than intellect to the race as to the individual. We need intellect, and there is no reason why we should not have it together with character; but if we must choose between the two we choose character without a moment's hesitation."25
According to Roosevelt, "it is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing in the stress and the danger."26 The intellectual tends to pursue the latter course and to stay above the fray, an attitude for which Roosevelt has no tolerance. The ability to think well is a benefit, but only if it is used in accordance with sound principles of morality which require that the educated man enter political life and put his education to work. In doing so he will often come up against the hard fact that intellect alone is insufficient to address pressing problems. What is needed in addition, Roosevelt argues, is the ability to find practical solutions which may not require elegant intellectual formulations, and the courage to fight for them in the hurly-burly of practical politics. By such manly activity is the race advanced and civilization served. This view of human nature assumes of course that there is no need for man to speculate about his future or his nature, for that is determined by physical and historical forces beyond his control. The role of intellect, insofar as it is needed, is to identify practical solutions to practical problems of everyday life in coping with a harsh, unfriendly, and uncompromising natural environment.
In Roosevelt's dispensation, manliness takes the place of wisdom. The contemplative man is of less value to society in facing the future unless he himself is willing to enter the arena and overpower that woman fortune27 by his own strength, courage, and manliness. The future is unknown in its particulars, but knowable in its trend and direction toward progress. It remains for the courageous to make themselves worthy of conquering the difficulties of the future in the service of progress and the State. Theodore Roosevelt fits easily into the progressive camp, for though he might describe the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as great public documents of the American heritage,28 he does not ascribe to them any statement of enduring principle that should guide the Americans of the late-nineteenth century, save the importance of Union. Roosevelt's various statements on national duty or purpose, such as national glory or greatness, or public welfare, are reducible to terms of preservation, survival, or comfort. The goals of the country are material goals, and the country is preserved through material means. The high ideal to which Roosevelt refers so often appears to be nothing more than the preservation and expansion of the Union along progressive lines. The duty to civilize the barbarian nations of the world is a duty imposed by nature or history upon a dynamic national State as a condition of its continued survival and prosperity. Should a civilized country with the capacity to perform such duty fail in the performance of that duty, another more dynamic country will take its place in the world and achieve greatness.29
Courage, as important as it is in Roosevelt's thought, and occupying the position of queen of the virtues, is not enough to prepare one for the crowded hour. Courage itself is fundamental,30 it is necessary to facing heroic challenges, whether on the battlefield or off, but it is not sufficient. It is needful that there be some moderating influence on raw courage to prevent it from being mere foolhardiness. Whereas Aristotle presents each of his virtues as occupying a mean between two extremes, Roosevelt tends to view the virtues as more singular in character and operating to moderate each other. As we have seen above, courage occupies a higher place for Roosevelt than does intellect, which supports courage, adding an element of prudence. On the other hand, intellect acting alone, without the emboldening character of courage, tends to be bland, timid, and weak.
It is also unfortunately true, especially throughout New England and the Middle States, that the general tendency among people of culture and high education has been to neglect and even to look down upon the rougher and manlier virtues, so that an advanced state of intellectual development is too often associated with a certain effeminacy of character. Our more intellectual men often shrink from the raw coarseness and the eager struggle of political life as if they were women.31
In facing the heroic challenges of the crowded hour, courage is in need of other support in order to overcome the incapacitating effects of fear without succumbing to rashness or false bravado. Intellect cannot provide this need, but one of the other "fundamentals" identified by Roosevelt comes close. Above, we identified wisdom from the classical list of virtues with Roosevelt's fundamental of common sense. It is because common sense approaches prudence more than pure intellect that it approaches what is necessary to courage in times of heroic challenge.
Roosevelt describes this need in a discussion of marksmanship and hunting. Some marksmen are physically gifted with the attributes necessary to great marksmanship, while others are less so and must work diligently to muster the skill necessary to become a marksman of the second rank. But marksmanship is only half the story when it comes to hunting.
All kinds of other qualities, moral and physical, enter into being a good hunter, and especially a good hunter after dangerous game, just as all kinds of other qualities in addition to skill with the rifle enter into being a good soldier. With dangerous game, after a fair degree of efficiency with the rifle has been attained, the prime requisites are cool judgment and that kind of nerve which consists in avoiding being rattled.32
In hunting, as in battle, the initial experience is likely to result in buck fever, "a state of intense nervous excitement." It is necessary, in order to comport oneself well in such a situation, to overcome and control this nervous excitement. "What such a man needs," Roosevelt asserts, "is not courage but nerve-control, cool-headedness. This he can get only by actual practice. He must, by custom and repeated exercise of self-mastery, get his nerves thoroughly under control." Roosevelt is not disparaging courage here, rather, he describes a particular situation in which something other than, and in addition to, courage is needed. It is illuminating regarding this point to note that Roosevelt refers to his own "crowded hour" occurring on the charge up Kettle Hill rather than at the battle of Las Guasimas, his first combat. There is reason to believe that Roosevelt considered his first clash to have included a perfectly normal bout of "buck fever" despite the fact that by all accounts he acquitted himself well. Roosevelt concludes his consideration of "nerve" or self control, just before considering rashness, by noting that hunting dangerous game (or by implication facing a dangerous enemy) requires nerve, at least as much as it does physical address."33 Courage is necessary in such situations, but not sufficient.
No less important is the exercise of courage, both physical and moral, in the political sphere. The advance of civilization is a political as well as martial exercise, and the boldness expected of a good citizen on the battlefield is to be no less expected in the arena of political strife. As noted above, failure to participate in those activities necessary to the progress of civilization will result in one's country being passed by in favor of the more bold, manly, and courageous countries. One aspect of Roosevelt's view of this progress was to be found in the historical development of the Anglo-Saxon race from its experience in the Teutonic woods of northern Europe, through the English period, and finally to America where it had reached the pinnacle of its development to that time. This progress in civilization and its attributes was predicated to a great extent upon competitive encounters along the way, but it also contained features of social organization that fostered liberty and democracy that could not be attributed to mere competition. This race characteristic was derived from experience beginning with the minimal organization of familial ties in village life, and resulted in an inherited Anglo-Saxon capacity for self-government. The American people enjoyed a particularly rich cultural and political heritage that, allied with their energy and courage, produced an innate capacity for the spread and perpetuation of democracy. The first chapter of Roosevelt's The Winning of the West and the first three chapters of his Thomas Hart Benton in particular describe the capacity of these people to spread beyond their borders, conquer and occupy territory, and institute self-government almost unconsciously. Roosevelt describes this capacity beautifully in The Winning of the West. Those early American pioneers
were led by no one commander; they acted under orders from neither king nor congress; they were not carrying out the plans of any far-sighted leader. In obedience to the instincts working half blindly within their breasts, spurred ever onward by the fierce desires of their eager hearts, they made in the wilderness homes for their children, and by so doing wrought out the destinies of a continental nation.34
This independence, and its associated instinctive duties, become the foundation of government.
The first duty of the backwoodsmen who thus conquered the west was to institute civil government. Their efforts to overcome and beat back the Indians went hand in hand with their efforts to introduce law and order in the primitive communities they founded; and exactly as they relied purely on themselves in withstanding outside foes, so they likewise built up their social life and their first systems of government with reference simply to their special needs, and without any outside help or direction. The whole character of the westward movement, the methods of warfare, of settlement, and government, were determined by the extreme and defiant individualism of the backwoodsmen, their inborn independence and self-reliance, and their intensely democratic spirit.35
These frontier folk are wild, crude, and often semi-barbaric, but they also exhibit the manly virtues to an extraordinary degree, and in doing so they advance the cause of democratic self-government and civilization as a whole.
The need for these manly virtues does not wither away with the advancement of state organization and the disappearance of the frontier. In his famous Sorbonne lecture in 1910, Roosevelt declares his subject to be "individual citizenship." If "republics are to succeed," then the "average citizen must be a good citizen," for "success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises which call for the heroic virtues." In a republic, "the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship."36 Preserving the manly virtues must be a primary responsibility, particularly in a republic, if it is to survive. "The good man should be both a strong and brave man; that is, he should be able to fight, he should be able to serve his country as a soldier, if the need arises."37 Courage is necessary not only to the founding of a republic, but also to its preservation. It is a duty one owes to the state.
Equally important are the duties of the state, which fall into two main categories: the protection or security of the country, and the pursuit of national greatness by promoting the cause of civilization. "No nation," Roosevelt says, "can achieve real greatness if its people are not both essentially moral and essentially manly."38 Since "as it is with the individual, so it is with the nation,"39 "it is also necessary that the nation should have physical no less than moral courage; the capacity to do and dare and die at need, and that grim and steadfast resolution which alone will carry a great people through a great peril."40 But what is it that a nation is to do courageously?
A nation, and particularly a great nation, must provide for its own peace and security. Most importantly, this is the case for commercial republics, for a "peaceful and commercial civilization is always in danger of suffering the loss of the virile fighting qualities without which no nation, however cultured, however refined, however thrifty and prosperous, can ever amount to anything."41 Nations, then, no less than individuals must cultivate the "virile fighting qualities" as a national characteristic and be willing to fulfill their duty in exercising these virtues in the international arena. According to Roosevelt, "cowardice in a race is the unpardonable sin."42 For the United States this means a capable navy is required "for the protection of our own shores," and "to protect our interests in the islands from which it is possible to command our shores and to protect our commerce on the high seas."43 It also applies to the army which "has never been built up as it should be built up." Fears of a standing army are misplaced, Roosevelt says.
I shall not discuss with an audience like this the puerile suggestion that a nation of seventy millions of freemen is in danger of losing its liberties from the existence of an army of one hundred thousand men, three-fourths of whom will be employed in certain foreign islands, in certain coast fortresses, and on Indian reservations. No man of good sense and stout heart can take such a proposition seriously. If we are such weaklings as the proposition implies, then we are unworthy of freedom in any event.44
These forces represent the fighting virtue of the nation, and by extension, the people of the nation. To not provide the forces necessary for our own protection is a sign of great cowardice, even if done for good intentions, and the blame for future military failure must be laid at the feet of those timid souls who had not the vision, foresight, and courage to provide the military means necessary to the protection of the nation.
It is not merely for the protection of the nation that such forces must be maintained, for they are "the sword and the shield which this nation must carry if she is to do her duty among the nations of the earth."45 There is an international role for the great nation to perform, indeed it is a duty to perform that role or else to fall in ignominy from the ranks of the great nations and become "a cumberer of the world's surface."46 Roosevelt argues that the United States
can not, if we would, play the part of China, and be content to rot by inches in ignoble ease within our borders, taking no interest in what goes on beyond them, sunk in a scrambling commercialism.47
To do so would not only deprive the nation of the honor and glory that it deserves, but it would also leave to others the responsibility which the United States is well-fitted to fulfill in the world.
This duty the country is to perform, because of Roosevelt's evolutionary views of the course and development of civilization, is necessarily somewhat obscure. He speaks of accomplishing "very much for the world at large," being a "useful member of the brotherhood of nations," doing a "man's work in the world," of a nation "holding its place in the world," and doing "any work really worth doing," of playing a "great part in the world," and advancing the "cause of civilization," but it is not always altogether clear what he means by these phrases.48 He does not often provide specific examples, or even principles which would be a reliable guide to a country seeking to do good work in and for the world. It may be that to provide such principles would bind the argument in time, for the way one gauges the advance of civilization is not by the achievement of certain standards, but rather by looking around the world at what the most energetic, bold, courageous, and administratively advanced countries are doing. The advance of civilization is associated with liberty, democracy, and the rule of law, but more because institutionalization of those principles has proven successful to the most advanced nations than because they represent a principled political standard. Roosevelt does identify "orderly liberty which is both the foundation and capstone of our civilization" as some form of principled measure of success.49 Therefore, the United States, having replaced tyranny in the Philippines and Cuba, must not "let it be replaced by savage anarchy" which would provide for neither order nor liberty.50 The lack of guidelines, together with the indeterminate nature of future progress, work together to make courage the vital ingredient to meeting that future and acquitting oneself well, whether as an individual or as a nation.
As one reflects on the necessity for courage to the founding and preservation of great nations, it is intriguing to contemplate the place of Roosevelt's conservation policies. For Roosevelt, conservation did not mean mere preservation, but rather preservation of resources to ensure a steady or reliable supply for both present and future use.51 Beyond the mere utility of natural resources, though, there lies a deeper and more important benefit to the preservation of resources, and particularly the forests. In a speech at Yellowstone National Park in April 1903, Roosevelt applauds the "creation and preservation of such a great natural playground in the interest of our people as a whole." He continues on:
But of course this park, also because of its peculiar features, is to be preserved as a beautiful natural playground. Here all the wild creatures of the old days are being preserved, and their overflow into the surrounding country means that the people of the surrounding country, so long as they see that the laws are observed by all, will be able to ensure to themselves and to their children and to their children's children much of the old-time pleasure of the hardy life of the wilderness and of the hunter in the wilderness. This pleasure, moreover, can under such conditions be kept for all who have the love of adventure and the hardihood to take advantage of it, with small regard for what their fortune may be."52
By preserving the wilderness, and the animals that reside therein, the country can retain the capacity to restore and rejuvenate those virile manly virtues that are shaped and honed by confrontation with the elements of nature. Those virtues that are so important to the foundation and preservation of this republic, no less than the resources themselves, are protected and promoted by policy.
It remains to consider why Roosevelt wrote what he did, and why he chose to write in the first place. It is common to explain his writings as simply a means to supplement his income, which was usually provided by a government salary from some public source. Why would an accomplished politician, some might even say statesman, burden himself further by continuing to write even through his tenure as Governor of New York? Roosevelt's prolific output, particularly on the subject of issues of civic duty, must have some deeper explanation than that he needed the money. Speaking respectively of American Ideals and The Strenuous Life, two of his early collections of essays, he describes them, at least in collected form, as his "politico-social" essays and "my philosophy of life."53 Hermann Hagedorn, the editor of one edition of Roosevelt's collected works, describes Citizenship, Politics, and the Elemental Virtues, the volume into which he places both of the above works, as the place in which "the reader will find the most complete and vigorous expression of Mr. Roosevelt's moral convictions."54 Elting Morison, writing in the introduction to a recent re-issue of Roosevelt's Autobiography, cites Elihu Root in referring to Roosevelt as "the greatest educator he ever knew."55 Edmund Morris, one of Roosevelt's finest biographers, however, is not willing to grant to Roosevelt the same level of sophistication in his political writings. He describes those essays, as so "sterile, banal, and so droningly repetitive as to defeat the most dedicated researcher,"56 Certainly it is worth taking Roosevelt's own assertion as a starting point in an effort to determine if they are in fact a representation of a coherent "philosophy of life" or are in fact of little worth because so "droningly repetitive."
After reading the political works of Theodore Roosevelt, the open-minded reader cannot help but be struck by the breadth and depth of the theoretical influences upon Roosevelt which he absorbed and made his own, melding them into a peculiarly Rooseveltian formulation. Far from being the mere power-monger John Morton Blum describes in his The Republican Roosevelt, or Elting Morison's rootless political practitioner,57 Roosevelt reveals himself to be a political thinker of significant stature. What seems to elude most scholars is the rhetorical emphasis of much of Roosevelt's writings and speeches.58 Roosevelt did not write for a sophisticated academic audience, though his teaching applied to such an audience even more than to the average citizen. Roosevelt's rhetorical and political purpose was subtler than that, and herein may lie the difficulty, for he was engaged in a project to teach the American people how to think about themselves, and how to act politically as responsible citizens based upon that knowledge.
The fact that Roosevelt is not an academic in the mold of Woodrow Wilson does not necessarily indicate any deficiency in the political thought of Roosevelt. Wilson did write for a scholarly audience, and did conform more closely to the reigning scholarly orthodoxies of the day in the presentation of his work. Is there, then, no middle ground between the purportedly scientifically sound writings of Wilson and the supposedly eclectic and ungrounded picture of Roosevelt's political thought that Morison paints? The political scientist Larry Arnhart, in an analysis of Aristotle's Rhetoric, has proposed that political rhetoric, if taken seriously, may provide just such a middle ground. He argues that
the rationality of rhetoric becomes especially dubious if scientific demonstration is taken to be the sole model of valid reasoning; for it is obvious that rhetorical argument cannot attain the exactness and certainty of scientific inquiry.59
Not all rational discourse, Arnhart goes on to point out, is strictly scientific in nature, conforming to the dictates of philosophic discourse. Indeed, one might today legitimately question the truly scientific credentials of Woodrow Wilson's work. Rhetoric might also be considered rational
if one could show that the realm of reason extends beyond the confines of scientific demonstration and, therefore, that rhetorical argument can be in some sense truly rational even though it lacks the certainty and exactness of scientific knowledge. In this way one would restore the meaning of rhetoric as rational discourse.60
Arnhart, following the lead of Aristotle, argues in addition that "rhetoric is a genuine form of reasoning to be distinguished from sophistry, even though rhetorical reasoning is less exact and less certain than scientific demonstration."61
There does appear, then, to be a possible middle ground wherein Roosevelt's rhetoric may lie which does not rob it of all capacity for theoretical consistency. Reference here to The Federalist may be helpful. Morton Gabriel White,62 among others, has investigated the philosophical foundations of The Federalist, but found the effort difficult because The Federalist is not primarily a work of philosophy. Because the authors of The Federalist were engaged in a political effort to persuade the voters of New York to ratify the new Constitution, they did not include in that work a systematic discussion of the philosophical foundations upon which it was based. Yet this does not as a result make it merely a work of sophistry or propaganda, for as White points out, it is built upon solid philosophical foundations that are obscured by the nature of the project. In similar fashion, Roosevelt's works are aimed primarily at a more general public audience than at an exclusively academic or scholarly audience, and serve a distinctively practical political purpose. This does not mean that there are not solid philosophical or theoretical foundations for this work, but rather means that they are obscured rather than made clear for rhetorical purposes. Blum and Morison, as well as the majority of writers who approach Roosevelt as a subject, seem to accept the notion that a rhetorical message is a theoretically groundless message. They do this from a position of intimate familiarity with Roosevelt's works, despite considerable evidence in those very works to indicate the presence of a sophisticated mind at work.
The fact that the very possibility that Roosevelt had in mind a purpose for his rhetoric is obscured in most modern scholarship perhaps says more about the scholarship than it does about the depth of Roosevelt's political thought, or its significance. A scholar such as Jeffrey Tulis, who seeks to explain in some meaningful fashion what the rhetoric of American statesmen might signify in the constitutional order, must first justify why it might be desirable or important to even study rhetoric at all. He notes that
the rhetorical presidency may have been generally ignored as an object of concern not only because it has become so familiar and comfortably democratic, but also because it is hard to believe that mere rhetoric could be of consequence to the development of American political institutions.63
A deeper problem, however, is identified by Tulis in even proposing to study presidential rhetoric. A difficulty arises in that
one must be prepared to reverse the common assumption that ideas are "epiphenomenal," that is, mere reflections of important political developments, and to entertain the possibility that thought might constitute politics.64
The reigning dogmas of social science do not easily admit the relevance of such notions.65 The idea that "mere rhetoric" could be an important topic of serious study too often offends the scientific pretensions of the social science community. Yet Tulis has a point, for rhetoric may be significant enough to the study of politics to warrant deeper study and consideration. By remaining open to the importance of political rhetoric, Tulis finds Theodore Roosevelt's rhetoric to be a significant influence in shaping public attitudes toward greater government intervention in railroad regulation, as well as politically useful in mobilizing popular opinion in order to apply pressure on members of Congress to support Roosevelt's policy goals.
I contend that Roosevelt's writings and speeches are the public expression of a theoretical understanding of American politics in which he aims to educate the American citizen body in order to ensure the survival of self-government in an age of industrial and social change. His purpose in pursuing a rhetorical strategy is education of the body politic in political duty and the moral virtues necessary to fulfill that duty, not an education in the philosophical truth of political propositions. As such, his theory is obscured because a deeper education is not suited to the audience, and not required by the political purpose. His theory is republican in its dedication to popular government and moral virtue, progressive in its understanding of human nature and political purpose, and requires statesmanship in order to lead and educate the people and government officials. It is the foundation for an understanding of constitutionalism as a slow accretion of customary law which is the institutional and positive product of the evolving, improving character of a hardy civilized people.
It is here that Roosevelt falls short. As admirable as may be his call to a courageous civic duty, its foundation in evolutionary progressivism and lack of firm principle as a result leave his thought prey to the very problems identified over a century earlier by The Federalist. In the famous fifty-first Federalist, Publius agues that a "dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions."66 Roosevelt's constitutionalism shortchanges the need of auxiliary precautions, and as a result suffers from the difficulties of democratic regimes described by Publius elsewhere. The spirited nationalism that Roosevelt articulates may be attractive to a nation at war, when the virile manly qualities of the citizen body are called upon as at no other time. Doubtless, many more will be called upon to fill their crowded hour, as many already have done. Even in war, however, it is useful to refer to the principled basis of the regime and remind oneself of the foundation for freedom and self-government in the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and in those self-evident truths articulated in the Declaration of Independence. In cutting himself loose from these moorings, Roosevelt gives us but half the story courage for the sake of courage, honor, and glory.
1 This paper in no way reflects the opinions, standards, or policy of the United States Air Force Academy or the United States Government. No portion of this paper may be quoted, reproduced, or referenced without the express consent of the author. href="#footnote1return">(Return)
2 The Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse, Chosen by David Nichol Smith (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), 434. href="#footnote2return">(Return)
3 The Rough Riders in The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, National Edition, Vol. XI (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), 81. Hereinafter cited as works. href="#footnote3return">(Return)
4 Elting E. Morison, ed. The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, vol. 8. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954), 1351. href="#footnote4return">(Return)
5 Ibid., 1353. href="#footnote5return">(Return)
6 "To feel that one has inspired a boy to conduct that has resulted in his death, has a pretty serious side for a father and at the same time I would not have cared for my boys and they would not have cared for me if our relations had not been just along that line." Letters, VIII:1355. href="#footnote6return">(Return)
7 The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, National Edition, Vol. XX (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926), 210. href="#footnote7return">(Return)
8 In "Washington's Forgotten Maxim" he writes: "It has always been true, and in this age it is more than ever true, that it is too late to prepare for war when the time of peace has passed." works, VIII: 188. href="#footnote8return">(Return)
9 "Autobiography," Works, XX: 212-3. href="#footnote9return">(Return)
10 Ibid., 213. href="#footnote10return">(Return)
11 On this last point, see Henry Cabot Lodge in "The 'Hero Tales,'" Works X: xviii. href="#footnote11return">(Return)
12 "The Great Adventure," Works XIX: 243. href="#footnote12return">(Return)
13 Ibid., 245. href="#footnote13return">(Return)
14 Ibid., 243, 244. href="#footnote14return">(Return)
15 Ibid., 244. href="#footnote15return">(Return)
16 Works, XIII: 321, 323, 328, 332, 386, 449, 473, 474-475, 489, for example. href="#footnote16return">(Return)
17 Plato, Republic, 427e. Cicero uses these same classifications of the virtues, for example see De Finibus, Translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 47-55. href="#footnote17return">(Return)
18 "Brotherhood and the Heroic Virtues," Works, XIII: 463. href="#footnote18return">(Return)
19 Ibid., 467. href="#footnote19return">(Return)
20 Ibid., 461, 463. href="#footnote20return">(Return)
21 Works, XIII: 10, 452. href="#footnote21return">(Return)
22 Ibid., 3, 4, 457, 500. Roosevelt also speaks in these passages of the moral influence of Washington and Lincoln, of their words as well as their deeds, yet he does not speak of liberty, or equality, or rights, or cite the Declaration of Independence and its principles as evidence of their lofty idealism. It is possible that this is a case of what Roosevelt refers to in "Manhood and Statehood," Works, XIII: 450, as "important truths, when once we have become thoroughly familiar with them, often because of that very familiarity grow dim in our minds." It seems more likely, and more consistent with Roosevelt's thought overall, that he considers the principled speech of Washington and Lincoln to be worthwhile as expressions of ideas significant to the historical period in which they were spoken, but which have since been overtaken by events. What few substantive comments he makes on the Declaration and its principles are critical at best. "I have scant patience with those who fear to undertake the task of governing the Philippines, and who openly avow that they do fear to undertake it, or that they shrink from it because of the expense and trouble; but I have even scanter patience with those who make a pretence of humanitarianism to hide and cover their timidity, and who cant about 'liberty' and the 'consent of the governed,' in order to excuse themselves for their unwillingness to play the part of men. Their doctrines, if carried out, would make it incumbent upon us to leave the Apaches of Arizona to work out their own salvation, and to decline to interfere in a single Indian reservation. Their doctrines condemn your forefathers and mine for ever having settled in these United States." "The Strenuous Life," Works, XIII: 330. "I am afraid I have not got as much reverence for the Declaration of Independence as I should have because it has made certain untruths immortal." Quoted in The Letters of Archie Butt, ed. Lawrence F. Abbott (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1925), 68. href="#footnote22return">(Return)
23 Hence the importance of Americanism, the denigration of philosophic types who lose attachment to the country, the victory over local sentiment, and the importance of assimilating immigrants which Roosevelt argues for in his essay "True Americanism," Works, XIII: 13-26. href="#footnote23return">(Return)
24 "Social Evolution," Works, XIII: 240. href="#footnote24return">(Return)
25 Ibid., 241. href="#footnote25return">(Return)
26 "The College Graduate and Public Life," Works, XIII: 39. See also his famous comment on the man in the arena:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."Citizenship in a Republic," Works, XIII; 510.
28 The Winning of the West, Works, IX: 218. href="#footnote28return">(Return)
29 "The Strenuous Life," Works, XIII: 321-324,328, 330, 331. href="#footnote29return">(Return)
30 "Latitude and Longitude Among Reformers," Works, XIII: 354. The other two fundamentals are honesty and common-sense. href="#footnote30return">(Return)
31 "Machine Politics in New York City," Works, XIII: 82. See also "The Monroe Doctrine," in Ibid., 179: "Similarly the anemic man of refinement and cultivation, whose intellect has been educated at the expense of his character, and who shrinks from all these struggles through which alone the world moves on to greatness, is inclined to consider any expression of the Monroe Doctrine as truculent and ill advised." href="#footnote31return">(Return)
32 "Autobiography," Works, XX: 35. Consider also the words of a contemporary of Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, on the same subject:
This shows what value a little active service is to the soldier. The first time he is under fire he imagines himself to be in great danger. He thinks that every bullet is going to hit him, and that every shot is aimed at him. Assuredly he will be killed in a moment. If he goes through this ordeal once or twice, he begins to get some idea of the odds in his favour. He has heard lots of bullets and they have not hurt him. He will get home safely to his tea this evening, just as he did the last time. He becomes a very much more effective fighting machine.Winston S. Churchill, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993), 184. href="#footnote32return">(Return)
33 Ibid., 35-6. It is worth noting here the similarities between Roosevelt's account and the treatment of courage and self-control by Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics. The two virtues are closely associated in Aristotle, as they are by Roosevelt, one following the other. True courage for Aristotle must be undertaken for some noble end, as in the case of war for Roosevelt it must also be honorable. While Aristotle, not unsurprisingly, undertakes a more careful delineation of the attributes of courage than Roosevelt, also identifying several qualities similar to courage, some of which might seem to account for Roosevelt's qualifications better than Aristotle's virtue of self-control. While a spirited temper, one of Aristotle's qualities similar to courage, may seem very close to Roosevelt's description of the events surrounding his "crowded hour", such an explanation would fail to account for the very principled reasons for which Roosevelt put himself in that position, as it would not account for the honors he expected to receive for acting well. Neither does the argument from experience fully explain Roosevelt's argument, for the examples of courage that Roosevelt routinely uses do not fail of courage in the event of a turn for the worse. It would seem that Roosevelt is articulating a view of courage and self-control very close to what Aristotle presents in the Nichomachean Ethics. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Translated, with introduction and notes, by Martin Ostwald (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1962), 1115a6-1119a20. href="#footnote33return">(Return)
34 "The Winning of the West," Works, XIII: 22. href="#footnote34return">(Return)
35 "The Winning of the West," Works, IX: 11. See also VIII: 7, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 22. Thomas Hart Benton, Works, VII: 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 23-24, 26, 33. href="#footnote35return">(Return)
36 "Citizenship in a Republic," Works, XIII: 508, 509. href="#footnote36return">(Return)
37 Ibid., 513. href="#footnote37return">(Return)
38 "The Monroe Doctrine," Works, XIII: 176. href="#footnote38return">(Return)
39 "The Strenuous Life," Works, XIII: 321. href="#footnote39return">(Return)
40 "Washington's Forgotten Maxim," Works, XIII: 185. href="#footnote40return">(Return)
41 "The Manly Virtues and Practical Politics," Works, XIII: 32. href="#footnote41return">(Return)
42 "Washington's Forgotten Maxim," Works, XIII: 184. href="#footnote42return">(Return)
43 Ibid., 192. href="#footnote43return">(Return)
44 "The Strenuous Life," Works, XIII: 326. href="#footnote44return">(Return)
45 Ibid., 328. href="#footnote45return">(Return)
46 "American Ideals," Works, XIII: 10. href="#footnote46return">(Return)
47 "The Strenuous Life," Works, XIII: 322. href="#footnote47return">(Return)
48 "Monroe Doctrine," Works, XIII: 172 & 176; "Washington's Forgotten Maxim," 185; "The Strenuous Life," 322 & 330. href="#footnote48return">(Return)
49 "Washington's Forgotten Maxim," Works, XIII: 185. href="#footnote49return">(Return)
50 "The Strenuous Life," Works, XIII: 329. href="#footnote50return">(Return)
51 "At Leland Stanford Junior University, Palo Alto, Cal., May 12, 1903," Presidential Addresses and State Papers of Theodore Roosevelt, Part One (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, Publishers), 383, 384-5. "Speech Before the Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources, May 13, 1908," The Essential Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Gramercy Books, 1994), 248. href="#footnote51return">(Return)
52 "At Laying of Cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Gardiner, Montana, April 24, 1903," Presidential Addresses and State Papers of Theodore Roosevelt, Part One (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, Publishers), 324, 327-8. href="#footnote52return">(Return)
53 Letters, I: 624-625; II: 1424. href="#footnote53return">(Return)
54 "Editor's Note," The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, Memorial Edition (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925), xi. href="#footnote54return">(Return)
55 Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, Da Capo Reprint, New introduction by Elting Morison (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), ix. href="#footnote55return">(Return)
56 Ibid., 467. href="#footnote56return">(Return)
57 See Letters, V: xiii-xxiv. Morison remarks of Roosevelt, "these attitudes, shorn as they are of any general philosophic interpretation of the meaning of life, present an operational approach to existence" (xv-xvi). He says of Roosevelt's position on strong executive power as a means of good administration that "considered as a political philosophy . . . It has no decent intellectual underpinning; in vain one scrutinizes the scheme to find a logically constructed system of ideas" (xvii). Such statements are stunning coming from the editor of the Letters. More than anything, Morison's comments call his own judgment into question, for nowhere is Roosevelt more open and unguarded in expressing his ideas than in his letters. href="#footnote57return">(Return)
58 Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency, and James Ceaser, Presidential Selection at least treat Roosevelt's rhetoric with the seriousness it deserves even though neither of them undertakes a serious evaluation of Roosevelt's early work. Patrick Garrity treats Roosevelt's early writings with respect and captures some of the importance of his rhetorical project regarding his advocacy of nationalism as a unifying and edifying force in American politics, in "Young Men in a Hurry: Roosevelt, Lodge, and the Foundations of Twentieth Century Republicanism," in Natural Right and Political Right: Essays in Honor of Harry V. Jaffa, ed. Thomas B. Silver and Peter W. Schramm (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1984), 225-33. href="#footnote58return">(Return)
59 Larry Arnhart, Aristotle on Political Reasoning: A Commentary on the Rhetoric (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1981), 4. href="#footnote59return">(Return)
60 Ibid. href="#footnote60return">(Return)
61 Ibid., 12. href="#footnote61return">(Return)
62 Morton Gabriel White, Philosophy, The Federalist, and the Constitution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). href="#footnote62return">(Return)
63 Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency, 13. href="#footnote63return">(Return)
64 Ibid., 17. href="#footnote64return">(Return)
65 See Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., America's Constitutional Soul, 148-162, especially 149-150. href="#footnote65return">(Return)
66 Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, Introduction by Clinton Rossiter (New York: New American Library, 1961), 322. href="#footnote66return">(Return)