Luke Phillips’s Cabinet of Invisible Counselors
Over at his charming little home on the web, “The Art of Manliness,” Brett McKay brought to the world’s attention, a few years back, the concept of the “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors.” This somewhat eccentric framework is a useful personal development tool, an extension of the concept of “role models.”
As counseled by the long-dead Napoleon Hill, a man ought to pick a little cabinet of great figures, personal patron saints, living and dead across history, whom he admires and seeks to emulate, and place them in his mind. Then he ought to spend time studying them, their legacies, their lives, their intellects, their characters; and by way of study and emulation, become more like them. This is not a new concept; Machiavelli famously donned courtly robes and communed with the ancients as he composed The Prince, and counseled as well that to become great, one ought to study the paths of those who have attained greatness.
I’ve had a couple such “invisible counselors” myself for some time; in truth, I’ve probably had multiple “cabinets,” one for political thought, another for character, another for adventure, and the like. But I’ve never formalized my invisible cabinet for utility’s sake, nor have I consolidated my many coteries of inspirations into a single general-purpose cabinet of whole-of-life emulation.
So as of this writing, I hereby formalize my “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors” into a club of eight scholar-statesmen, emperors of the mind and of the state, romantic and restless hearts, sober and penetrating minds, men of letters and men of action, who gave their lives to service and civilization. These are men whose lives and characters and intellects and legacies I, in the whole of my life, can only hope to meagerly emulate. If I succeed but a small amount in this quest, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest hopes for my own life.
A few notes.
First off, I am in no way an expert on the life, legacy, intellect, or character of any one of these men, let alone all of them! That said, the Cabinet being a fundamentally self-developmental and self-educational project of communion with great souls, I hope to become something more like an expert on each of them as I move forward in my study of each. And in learning about each, and developing a sort of relationship with their aura, perhaps they, in their kindness, will impart a bit of their wisdom upon my youthful ignorance.
Second off, an admiration and emulation of any one in particular does not presuppose a blind and slavish mimicry to them in entirety. They are counselors; in studying them I shall ask them to advise, not to command. I as a person am inseparable from my time, place, and experience, as are they, and those gulfs are neither easily nor perfectly bridged. But human nature and the stage of life rhyming as much as it does, there are things someone like me can learn from each in their own situations.
Finally, the historically informed will note that these are all Western statesmen and intellectuals of various calibers. It is only natural that I should pick, as my counselors, historical mentors whose paths I seek to follow- men of letters, men of action. I admire men and women in other fields, as well; but statecraft and political thought are my true loves, and for the purposes of informing my intellect and character, it’s better to pick those who walked those paths.
With that being said, here are the eight- each name is accompanied by an image and a brief appeal for their wisdom. The order is not a ranking, but a chronology.
Machiavelli, you stared unflinchingly into the cold, dark eyes of human nature, and through your communion with the ancients and service to your masters, you devised a science of politics, an art of the state, which transformed the modern West. Teach me all you know, that I may use it in service of the common good.
Saint Thomas More
Thomas More, patron saint of politicians, you wrestled throughout your illustrious career with that greatest of questions all Catholic statesmen must ask- Caesar or Christ? Kingdom of Earth or Kingdom of Heaven? My country, or my soul? You gave your final answer with your life. Impart upon me your piety, and help me to explore that darkest of questions in full honesty and conscience.
Hamilton, you rose up from oblivion and built- and matched- your country’s rising greatness. None so mastered the arts of republican empire as did you, and we must thank no American more highly than we thank you for making America great while keeping her free. You would’ve sacrificed your life- though not your character- to exalt your country’s station, and in the end you did. Help me to channel my talents and passions into a life of service to the public good, and let me do for America as you did in stateroom and study.
Burke, you knew the beauty of human life and culture more subtly than did any other man, and saw and practiced the virtues and temperaments needed to preserve the great covenant of civilization from its own excesses. Give me an eye for the beautiful, the glorious, and the sublime, and guide me on the path of the defender of human dignity and freedom amidst a world of extremes.
President Roosevelt, no one enjoyed and embraced and embodied more than you did the joy of life and the duty of life- none was more fit to lead than you, and none was more American. You guided a great civilization from era to era and prepared it for a new age of glory, and in your life in the arena you never lost your spirit. Teach me what it means to be a man- teach me what it means to be a leader- teach me what it means to be an American. May I emulate your virility in all I do.
Mr. Churchill, last of the lions, you saved civilization from itself and lived to chronicle the story for all posterity. You embodied the greatness of your people and the ruggedness that made them great. Inspire me to be infused with a romantic spirit of adventure and a passionate love for the right amidst the darkening storms of human events.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Dr. Moynihan, in your long career in public life, you were a scholar and a statesman, who built the edifices we must now rebuild, who served many lords but had one master- the American people. You were a man of character and intellect, so rare amongst your generation. If I do nothing else, help me to lead and serve humbly, always towards the right, though it might not win me glory.
Dr. Kissinger, more than most, you learned the lessons of history and used them to bend history to your will. Your vision of order and peace, tragic but optimistic, is the sort that saves civilizations from themselves. The only one of my Counselors I have met in the flesh, you are a holdout from another age; may I learn from you the paths of statecraft amidst the letters of history, and follow your tracks.
These have not been prayers, for with the exception of Thomas More, none of these men were saints. Rather, these are appeals for wisdom and guidance- encapsulations of the basic understanding I seek to glean from each counselor.
Perhaps on my deathbed I will know I was a better man for observing the ways of these great men of old. Perhaps not. That, we shall see.