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Politics For The Greatest Good:
The Case for Prudence in the Public Square
by Clarke D. Forsythe
IVP Books, 304 pages, $23 paper

Clarke D. Forsythe, senior counsel for Americans for Life, has written an essential book for lawmakers and all participants in the ongoing culture wars, particularly those engaging in public-policy issues concerning the origins of life, the end of life, and marriage. He explains, “I wrote this book to address the nagging concern that citizens and political officials sometimes have whether it’s moral or effective to achieve a partial good in politics and public policy when the ideal is not possible.” His answer is a resounding yes.

Forsyth provides a masterly discussion of prudence, that virtue that governs and guides the other cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance. Along the way, he demonstrates how prudence has been defined and applied throughout history. Simply put, prudence means making good decisions and implementing them effectively, or, in Aquinas’ definition, “right reason about what is to be done.” Forsythe successfully shows his readers that “there is no moral compromise when we make the aims of politics not the perfect good but the greatest good possible.”

Forsythe reviews the thought on the classical virtue of prudence, “against the backdrop of the thought of Greek, Roman, and Stoic philosophers like Aristotle, Seneca, Cicero, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas.” He then studies the practical political application of prudence in the founding of the American republic and the divergent approaches of William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln to ending slavery. Forsythe also examines prudence in relation to the moral watershed of our time, legalized abortion, and finishes with a chapter on “Regulating Biotechnology to Protect Human Life and Human Goods.”

Our revulsion against the moral horrors of our age can incline us to reject anything less than complete and immediate reversal of Roe v. Wade and other repellent aspects of the current social order. But prudence helps us to perceive and judge gradations of good and evil, guiding our adoption of the most productive strategies to promote the good and amend the bad. Forsythe reminds us that at times the best is the enemy of the good.