Politics as a Vocation?

Politics as a Vocation?

March 2, 2014
Harvard Law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican speaks at Jepson School as part of the Marshall Center Lecture Series

It’s no secret. Political leaders face tough challenges.

But are those challenges inherently different than the ones political leaders of the past faced? If so, can politics be a noble vocation for students wanting to make a difference? Students and members of the community attended a public lecture this spring by Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, to gain insight into these questions.  

“The idea that politics is inherently corrupt and corrupts… has been around a long time,” says Glendon, who was on campus to speak as part of the Jepson School’s Marshall Center Lecture Series. “But is there anybody who gets through life without moral risk? I don’t think so.”

The talk was based on her latest book, The Forum and the Tower: How Scholars and Politicians Have Imagined the World, from Plato to Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Today to associate the word politics with a calling or vocation is apt to strike some people as naïve or preposterous, particularly if you watch House of Cards, says Glendon. “But if one is open to thinking about politics the way Aristotle did, then maybe one can be open to the idea that politics as a vocation is not entirely implausible.”

The work of politics, in spite of everything that makes people want to avoid it, determines whether all other parts of life flourish, she says. “Every one of us will make a difference, whether we mean to or not. The question is not whether we will make a difference but what kind of difference we will make.”

Glendon is the first female president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and was appointed by Pope John Paul II. For the talk, she was introduced by former student Kevin Walsh, a professor in University of Richmond’s School of Law.