Thousands of books have been written on the concept of the excellent statesman. From Plato’s discussion on the qualities of the Philosopher King to Machiavelli’s somewhat less flattering discussion on the qualities of the successful “Prince,” to the hundreds of books written in the past five years on politics in America, biographies and analysis of various politicians. Libraries can be filled with books on the politician, and this isn’t even taking into consideration the limitless commentary on politicians from “talking heads,” countless news networks, blogs, and radio programs. The characteristics and qualities of the politician have been operated on from the armchair a hundred thousand times.
But have we found a solution? As with any topic encompassing such an enormous amount of information, it is helpful for us finite humans (and especially those exceptionally finite humans like me) to attempt to summarize what’s really going on. I am not about to claim I know better than Aristotle or even Rush Limbaugh what the politician needs. Instead, I would like to present three characteristics I believe every politician should possess. These are the pillars upon which the statesman stands, and when standing on these pillars he will be in a position to carry out his duties commendably, and shine out among his peers.
The first pillar receives perhaps the least attention in culture. The politician or statesman must understand the basics of life. He must know what man is, what are his desires and weaknesses and strengths. He must know why he has these desires, and whether they are something that can be fulfilled while on this earth. He must understand the limitations of reality, know when he is asking for too much, and when he has not pushed oneself far enough. He must know man, for man is the subject of his study, and men must be studied by him if he will ever successfully lead them.
Here, the Christian ought to have an advantage. For the Christian knows that man is fallen and ruled by sin. He knows that this world is fallen, too, and that heaven is no place on earth, but it is a place we cannot reach on our own power. Thus, the Christian knows that man will always tend towards the accumulation of personal power and that no amount of regulations or lack of regulations will make this world an entirely happy place. We are pilgrims, and while we are given the task to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must recognize that we can only do so much with what we have to work with, and thus we avoid the temptation to an earthly Utopia.
The second pillar, while less foundational, is completely necessary. The statesman must understand the state. More specifically, he must understand his state. He must understand any and every detail of its machinery he can, how to strategically slow down the process of pushing legislation through Congress or how to speed it up, how to draft a bill or how what has already been written will affect the other gears and cogs of this machine. He must know the rules of behavior for the politician and know what to expect from those around him who are participating in the same machine of the state. He must have technical knowledge and grasp the importance of function. He must know his government if he is ever to lead with it.
The third and most important pillar is character. A statesman may possess both the above qualities, but without character he is simply a well-trained soldier out for hire. He knows his battlefield, but fights for the right side only when it helps him personally.
All three of these pillars are necessary. Understanding man, his government, and possessing character, the statesman will be well prepared to govern, to legislate, and to lead.
Do you aspire to leadership?
Learn everything you can about both man and the US government, while first and foremost focusing on Christ. Learn your Bible and your Constitution. Learn about God, man, and this fallen world. Learn about the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches of the Federal government and how they are designed to work and interact with each other. Read C.S. Lewis and the Federalist Papers, listen to sermons and political commentators. Learn about your city’s political system; learn about the effects of journalism and inner-party politics. Find out why there’s a basketball court above the Supreme Court.
And by the grace of God, that just might get you somewhere.