Date of Award

Fall 2022

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Political Science, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Mark Blitz

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

James Nichols

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Christopher Nadon

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2022 Erin E Brooks


Aristotle, Civilian-Military Relations, Plutarch, Political Philosophy

Subject Categories

Political Science


All societies depend on great men, but great men come with ambition that can prioritize private interest over public good. Ambition is most worthy of praise when one can unite the good of the whole society with the good for themselves as an individual. Private ambition that is unconstrained or lacks responsibility becomes dangerous and destabilizing to a regime because it grows from people who either hold or pursue positions of political power. In these circumstances, poorly guided ambition generates poor judgment and internal conflict within the regime. The same offices that enable such people to defend the common welfare of the public also allow them to turn the instruments of power against their regime. This political problem is critical within a military environment or the context of a regime fighting a war. The debates surrounding strategic and tactical decisions can involve weighing the community’s abilities and needs against the desire to win honors and accolades for oneself. The best way to protect against these dangers is to ensure that such men’s political perspectives and ambitions are ordered toward the common good through a well-formed character. Aristotle’s articulation of magnanimity is an excellent way to understand how a regime can guard against the dangers of poorly restrained ambition and vanity. Full magnanimity grows within a more comprehensive concept of virtue and the demands that justice requires of one’s behavior. True magnanimity requires that an individual demonstrate proper behavior across political circumstances. In particular, it involves a degree of law-abidingness that suggests magnanimity requires an appropriate measure of loyalty to the political institutions of a regime. Magnanimity encompasses understanding institutional and societal loyalties that grow from one’s civic associations. It provides the context to understand where a person fits within the whole regime. Plutarch helps to understand the contours of Aristotle’s magnanimity more deeply by describing the lives and histories of men who either succeed or fail to demonstrate the theoretical principles of virtuous living. His descriptions help contextualize more fully what actual behavior and decisions are encompassed by a robust view of magnanimity. Figures such as Pericles and Fabius Maximus help the reader to understand proper decision-making within complicated environments. The struggles of Alcibiades and Coriolanus to live peacefully within their regimes illustrate the importance of properly formed virtue. This analysis can continue throughout the examples of American political and military leaders. Indeed, albeit altered, the contemporary American examples provide a vision of a republicanized form of institutional magnanimity in the United States. Both George Washington and Douglas MacArthur demonstrate the importance of fitting one’s ambitions to the political interests of the regime. This dissertation attempts to push past a selfish vs. selfless framework for understanding leadership and magnanimity. Instead, it presents an integrated perspective where the interest of the individual can line up well with the interest of the regime and where there is the possibility to pursue a unified path that leads to what the Federalist Papers called “self-interest rightly understood.”