American politics is now largely devoid of the language of virtue. The word occasionally surfaces in the bloviating of para-intellectuals such as David Brooks (New York Times gasbag and author of The Road to Character) and William Bennett (inveterate gambler and compiler of The Book of Virtues), but this hardly serves to recommend it.
Yet this concept, which had been integral to the founding of the American republic, is arguably more necessary for a sane politics than ever. It was clear, in the midst of the recent demoralizing presidential election campaign, that many Americans were speechless with exasperation, trying to articulate complaints for which the language of virtue and a politics of virtue, should we recover it, would be indispensable. Widespread concern over the “temperament” and “trustworthiness” of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton suggested as much, as did the unprecedented unlikability ratings that each candidate ran up with voters. Though it was rarely put this way, we doubted their virtue.