Normative Prudence as a Tradition of Statecraft

Document Type


Publication Date

March 1991


Ethical dilemmas of international relations have led to two distinct principles of thought, as presented in this article. The Western tradition has generally advocated the distinct differences between politics and morality, though asserting that the former is grounded on the latter. The “normative prudence” school of Aristotle, Aquinas, Burke, and Niebuhr interlink a nation's morality and politics in an ethical and pragmatic statecraft of nations. Realists such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, on the other hand, divorce the two, maintaining that “prudence” is the most vital element in the political realm. Realists argue that politics supersedes morality and is upheld through self-interest as the pure search for the truly good. Both views spotlight the individual citizen as the center of moral society yet differ on the importance of the means and ends of statecraft and political adroitness of leaders. Adhering to Aristotelian views, Coll clearly advocates the notion that “moral principles are ultimately realized only in specific acts which human beings choose to carry out.” The author cites Washington, Lincoln, and Churchill as examples of leaders whose moral wisdom in political reasoning led to remarkable statecraft explicitly derived from prudence.