As a professional school specializing in the art of statecraft, The Institute of World Politics teaches the use of the various instruments of power. The Institute, however, recognizes that power, like liberty, can be misused and abused, and therefore its use must be accompanied by responsibility. As Theodore Roosevelt observed, "To educate a man in mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society." Thus, the Institute's educational philosophy is guided by a recognition that education in ethics and civic virtue is a necessary prerequisite to the responsible conduct of statecraft.
The Institute's philosophy proceeds first from a recognition that peace and security are the essential prerequisites for all functions of civil society, and that nothing in our public life – neither domestic governance, commerce, the exercise of civil liberties, nor organized charitable work – is possible without them.
Following from this, the Institute believes that current and future leaders must be educated so as to have deep understanding of the nature of peace. The Institute does not have a utopian view of peace. It recognizes that the achievement of peace requires an understanding of the structure of human communities and how such structure must take into account the realities of human nature – especially the human capacity to commit wrongs against one another. It is for this reason that laws are needed in human affairs, as well as instruments of coercion to enforce those laws. In a culture that has largely abandoned the serious study of tragedy and the human frailties that underlie it – in both history and literature – the Institute teaches that the conduct of statecraft must take these realities of the human condition into account.
However much this realism in assessing the worst side of human nature is necessary for effective efforts to achieve peace, on its own it can produce an excessive focus on the instruments of force while ignoring other tools of statecraft. Thus, a truly realistic view of human behavior must include a proper recognition of the best side of that nature: man's capacity for truth, justice, and that love of neighbor that transcends the requirements of justice. It is this view that will incline the integrated strategic thinker to incorporate diplomacy and other instruments into national strategy before resorting to coercion.
The Institute recognizes that opposing concepts of human nature and the perfectibility of man also lie at the root of different political philosophies, and that the American system is explicitly based on the concept, articulated by James Madison, that if men were angels there would be no need for government. Implicit in this concept is that men are not about to become angels.
Proceeding from this premise of a moral quality to human nature, the Institute's curriculum is based on recognition of the necessity for education in natural law – deriving from the Western, Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian moral tradition. Thus, the Institute, above all, is dedicated to, and encourages, the search for truth. This means that the Institute recognizes that there is such a thing as truth and that truth is not relative. It thus recognizes the existence of historical facts that are true regardless of the perspective of observers of those facts.
A corollary to this principle is that the Institute is dedicated to, and cultivates, the understanding of objective moral standards and believes that justice and respect for human rights, as prerequisites for peace and security, cannot logically exist without the existence of these underlying standards.
Another corollary of this perspective is the recognition of the intrinsic dignity of the human person, no matter what his or her background or condition. The Institute believes that recognition of this inherent dignity militates against treating other human beings either as cogs in the wheel of some ideological system, as faceless enemies, or as less-than-human objects that can be manipulated, exploited, or destroyed.
In light of this recognition of ethical standards and human dignity, the Institute cultivates civic virtue as part of its larger mission of moral leadership. This stands in contrast to a national cultural trend where questions of virtue and honor are over-shadowed by utilitarian formulae for success.
The school's curriculum is also based on the premise that representative democracy with equality before the law is rare in human history, that it is worth defending, and that statecraft in service of democracy requires special educational preparation that is distinct from education in service of non-democratic forms of government.
Another underlying premise is that one cannot effectively defend a country and civilization that one neither understands nor appreciates. Hence, the Institute's students are educated in: the American founding principles of representative democracy, including human rights and the rule of law; the principles of Western political economy, particularly those that explain economic success; the underlying historical and philosophical bases for those principles; and the role of those principles in U.S. foreign policy. While the Institute is an American school, dedicated first to the education of Americans, it encompasses within its vision the mission of educating non-American students to be effective in the defense of "decent civilization" even if it is not American or Western.
Finally, the Institute attempts to cultivate a spirit of service and civic duty among its students. It seeks to inspire them to recognize that there are causes higher than oneself, and that service to others and to a cause such as peace with freedom and justice is an honorable and ultimately fulfilling career path.