Challenge to Govern as Statesmen

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How Do You Wish to be Remembered as a Leader – as a Statesman or as a Politician?

I believe it is useful to occasionally pause to reflect on what motivates us and what do we hope to achieve with our lives. Let me pose these questions: What kind of a leader do you wish to be? And how do you want to be remembered? More than ever, people all over the world are pleading for their governing officials to be visionary leaders who care about them and use the authority of office to help them reach their God-given potential as opposed to being politicians that care primarily about their own personal aspirations while in office. Social media and the demand for and expectation for transparency are fueling this movement.

I was impressed that during a debate in the European Parliament in 2015 focusing on the Greek debt crisis, Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister, bluntly asked the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras: “How do you want to be remembered? As an electoral accident who made people poorer or as a revolutionary reformer?”1 Verhofstadt was asking the question we are asking, “What kind of a leader do you wish to be? And how do you want to be remembered?”

The governed all over the world are looking for better leadership for their nations. Instinctively, there is the conviction that they are entitled to better leadership than they are experiencing. This was blatantly clear in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election campaign. Even in this nation which Americans would like to view as politically progressive, there is a revolt among the governed. There is frustration. Added to the confusion is a lack of understanding on the part of the governed as to what they are even looking for. It is this issue that I am seeking to address. My goal is to help identify what the people are looking for, then, to consider with those governing how to be such leaders, and finally, to facilitate cooperation between governed and governors on this issue. My analysis is that there has been a breakdown between the governed and governors. In the midst of this, the governed have lost sight of their responsibilities in this partnership and left the governors in large part unchecked, to the detriment of everyone.

I am borrowing terminology used by others in the past and tightening up its definition. Hence, I am defining the kind of leadership the governed are looking for as statesmen, in contrast to politicians. Several analysts have pointed out that there is a major difference between being a political figure absorbed in personal aspirations and being a statesman who will leave our nations better than we found them. We have heard voices defining the issue as follows:

James Freeman Clarke:

A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman of the next generation. A politician looks for the success of his party; a statesman for that of his country. The statesman wishes to steer, while the politician is satisfied to drift.2

Ord L. Morrow:

The difference between a politician and a statesman is that the politician sees which way the people are going and tries to stay ahead of them, whereas the statesman sees what is best and right and does that even if no one follows.3

Edmund Burke, the British political figure in the late eighteenth century:

The great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is that the one sees into the future, while the other regards only the present; the one lives by the day, and acts on expediency; the other acts on enduring principles and for immortality.4

Burke brought this issue to our attention in the 18th Century, Clarke in the 19th Century, and Morrow in the 20th Century. And it was publicly asked of the Greek Prime Minister in the 21st Century. The issue is timeless and it seems destined to remain with us permanently! Five years ago, I addressed this topic at a gathering of 400 political and community leaders. Afterward, the daughter of one of the organizers of this event told her father: “Everyone present was a politician. Not one was a statesman.”

Shortly after I began addressing the topic of statesmanship in the mid-1990’s where I had identified statesmen from earlier eras, one official asked me if there were any statesmen during the 20th century. After reflecting for a moment, I answered that I could not give him an answer. I had quickly dismissed Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. A superficial knowledge of the Western leaders who countered them had also not impressed me. I answered that I had nominees for the 18th Century and 19th Century but not the 20th Century. As I continued to reflect on this question, I added one to the list for the 20th Century5, and as we completed the final decade of that century, I added still another. Nevertheless, there are precious few statesmen. In a recent discussion with a European official, he commented that he could not identify a single statesman within Europe today. I have since become more optimistic as I have been privileged to know and appreciate a number of leaders who have the hearts of statesmen.

As I began to study this topic, I noticed one common denominator in the lives of many but not clearly all cases: faith. As a scientist, which I am by professional background, I am part of a school of thought influenced by the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, who argued that one should state one’s conclusions and hypotheses so strongly that they invite further investigation, including efforts to refute them, all in an attempt to arrive collectively at the truth6. What I am sharing reflects this approach. I challenge you to explore with me the hypothesis that faith in God is the most effective way to become a statesman.

There is a Creator who has designed the world, every person who lives in it, and several institutions for the healthy running of this system. He has revealed His intents and instructions to us as a human race in the Bible. Even if you disagree with my understanding, I challenge you to explore the implications with me. What do you have to lose? I am convinced there is much to gain, and nothing to lose. My hope is that this journey will be revolutionary for you. Please join me.

How do you want to be remembered as a leader? As a Politician or a Statesman?

NOTE: The enclosed is not intended to be an academic treatise, but rather reflections intended to stimulate your thinking. Hence, I have been loose on layout ─ more concerned with ideas than style. I have attempted to provide referencing for quotations but have failed in several cases. I have purposely avoided detailed referencing in cases where the reasoning will be obvious to the reader.


  1. Niki Kitsantonis and James Kantor, “Athens Requests a 3-Year Loan But Is Vague on Its Financial Plans,” New York Times, 9 July 2015, p. A11.
  2. James Freeman Clarke, “Wanted, a Statesman!”, Edward Everett Hale, editor, Old and New Magazine, Vol. 2, Dec. 1870, p. 644.
  3. Ord L. Morrow, quoted from Good News Broadcaster, Jul.-Aug. 1978, p. 4, quoted in Albert M. Wells, Jr., ed., Inspiring Quotations Contemporary & Classical (Nashville: Thomas

Nelson, 1988), pp. 155-156.

  1. Edmund Burke, quoted in Herbert V. Prochnow, The Toastmaster’s Handbook (New York:

Prentice‑Hall, 1949), p. 264.

  1. Gary I. Allen, “Homage to Three Statesmen at the End of This Millennium”, pp. 8-10, in Sotiraq Hroni, Doing Politics Differently, (Tirana: Botime Toena, 1999).
  2. Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).