Star Wars and the Classical Virtues

Economists who talk about free markets seem to ignore that Adam Smith (considered as the father of laissez-faire economics) wrote also “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”; and that Max Weber, the famous sociologist, connected hard work and moral values (ethics) with the advance of capitalism. Public policy has to deal with the social fallout of unlimited greed, lack of honesty, cynicism, selfishness, etc, which the current financial crisis illustrates conspicuously. The actual financial crisis, …cannot be explained only by years of cheap money and growing imbalances in the world economy. Mistakes in macro-economic policy were accompanied by gross abuses of securitisation, abnormally skewed incentives and loss of moral compass. ~ StanViorica
In short, what the above abstract shows is that a lack of values education can have a long term impact on our economy and general future. It’s time for a serious look at how we educate our kids.

Values education has been around for years, but most programs I have seen have revolved around reading kids painfully fabricated stories and then discussing the moral decisions the characters must make. They tend to be preachy, unrealistic and the kids treat them accordingly. The teacher “covers” the values section of the curriculum and the kids file it away, never really gaining anything long lasting.

Enter the four classical virtues.

Ideally a values education program would allow teachers to use the works they always have- books and stories that have stood the test of time and appeal to students intellectually and aesthetically, rather than prepackaged “programs.” It is my hope that by applying the classical virtues to what we already read we can show students examples of how to live without it coming across as phony, or put on.

I believe every major character in a work of fiction either exemplifies one of the four classical virtues or is lacking in one of them. Many times a protagonist will do both, with the lacking virtue acting as the character’s fatal flaw. Let’s use Star Wars as a proxy for all fiction simply because it is familiar to most.

Each character in Star Wars can be analyzed by looking at how much or how little of each classical virtue he has. I am going to limit myself to the first movie (by first I mean 1977 release, not the chronological first- confusing isn’t it?) I’ll look at two characters, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

Luke the Evolving Hero

He is brave enough to decide to rescue Princess Leia and his sense of justice will not let him leave the job undone when they go up against superior forces in the Death Star. Yet, he lacks prudence. This devil-may-care, jump-before-you-look attitude leads him into trouble time and time again. It is not really until the end of the first trilogy that we see a Luke who is able to think about his next move and make it confidently, knowing he is doing the correct thing at the correct time.

Han  the Complete Hero
Solo on the other hand is quite prudent and moderate in his dealings. However, because these two virtues are not tempered by Justice, he tends to only look out for himself. It is not until he puts others before himself that he becomes a true hero. He is in fact the real hero of the first film, even though Luke is the one who saves the day.

Han is the one who overcomes his main flaw and comes in to save Luke just before certain death. The fact that Luke is the one who destroys the Death Star is an important step in his hero’s journey, but he is not finished. Han on the other hand has essentially completed his journey and will be a steadfast hero throughout the rest of the films.

Looking at fictional characters through the lens of the classical virtues allows you to see deeper into their motivations and eventual actions. In turn you can discuss morals and values in a more authentic manner. And just maybe, 10 years from now these kids will have a stable economy and plentiful employment to look forward to.