By George Anastaplo
Let happiness be well-doing with
virtue, or self-sufficiency of life, or
the most pleasant life with security, or
abundance of possessions and bodies with
power to guard and use them; for nearly
all men agree that one or more of these
─ Aristotle, Rhetoric 1360b15-19
It is with considerable personal pleasure that I welcome back to this Works of the Mind Lecture Series a former instructor in the Basic Program, Larry Arnhart, who is now a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University.
I first met Mr. Arnhart at the University of Dallas in 1971, where he distinguished himself in a seminar of mine on Alfarabi. Before Dallas, he had been enrolled in a small Arkansas college. He then came to the University of Chicago to do graduate work in political science and to earn his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.
While at the University of Chicago, he was critical to the establishment of an informal graduate seminar in political philosophy that met for several years in Regenstein Library, a fortnightly seminar from which I (among others) profited considerably. I myself have also seen him diligently at work in seminars at Rosary College and at The Clearing (in Door County, Wisconsin), and have heard of his good work at Idaho State University.
Mr. Arnhart can always be counted on, in class and elsewhere, to make the best of whatever happens to be offered up by others. And this, along with his capacity for sustained work, his lively curiosity, his good-natured sense of humor, and his fund of always relevant stories—all this has helped make him an excellent teacher, one who is adept at explaining to others whatever he himself has learned.
Among the things he has learned is that one should simply keep doing one’s work, and doing it as well as one can, leaving it to others to recognize its worth in due time. Thus, although he began in the most modest academic circumstances and has had to endure one undeserved disappointment after another, he has made such good use of his talents and opportunities that he is now earning a name for himself in his profession.
Mr. Arnhart’s publications have been considerable, including a well-received commentary on Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Another book—an introduction to the thought of the great political philosophers—is soon to be published. Indeed, he has been among the most productive scholars of his generation—and, obviously, much more is yet to come, including examinations of subjects that political scientists do not usually venture into (such as may be seen in the essays we have already had from him on Darwin, on mathematics, and on logic). Whatever he produces bears the mark of the informed and conscientious scholar who is moved by a worthy ambition.
I trust Mr. Arnhart will permit me the following somewhat personal observation: He has long seemed to me a reasonably happy man, remarkably so considering how troubled so many of his contemporaries tend (almost on principle) to be. This is related, I suspect, to his deep-rooted piety, a relaxed piety which finds expression in his manly respect for family ties and for organized religion. This is also related to his refreshing capacity to amuse himself: certainly, also, he does not bore those fortunate enough to associate with him in the classroom and elsewhere.
Perhaps vital to Mr. Arnhart’s effectiveness both as scholar and as teacher are his natural political gifts. Since he would have been, in another time and place, a politician of stature, he can, as a political scientist, appreciate the possibilities as well as the limitations of politics and the public mind. It is his aptitude for serious politics—that is to say, for highminded friendship—which keeps him from becoming rigid and doctrinaire: he is remarkably open to opinions different from his own. However seriously he takes the subject under consideration, he does not take himself too seriously.
Mr. Arnhart is, then, very much in the Abraham Lincoln tradition. It is fitting and proper, therefore, that we should welcome back one of our own for a talk on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Introduction made at a Works of the Mind Lecture The Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, The University of Chicago, February 11, 1985. See for Larry Arnhart’s current work, his blog, Darwinian Conservatism.