The Statesman Operates on High Moral Principles

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Edmund Burke, the respected British political figure in the late eighteenth century, had provided the following insight into the character of the Statesman:

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. 1

According to Burke, a defining characteristic of the Statesman is that he or she operates on “enduring principles” ― those that represent the noblest of mankind, driven by godly character and the immense dignity of man.

There are two issues here. The Statesman is characterized by vision and this makes the Statesman noble by comparison with the self-promoting Politician. However, even though the Statesman possesses a noble vision, the Statesman will not stoop to unethical methods to achieve those noble goals. Clearly, the ends never justify the means. It is incongruous to pursue noble goals while employing ignoble methods to achieve them. Statesmen are leaders of character.

Secondly, our Creator has vested great authority in Government for the purpose of doing for the people that which they are not equipped to do for themselves ― for achieving the noble goals that vision embraces. Hence, we have God’s analogy with the shepherd. Perhaps God’s instruction which best describes the reason for the existence of Government is: “Pursue justice and justice alone.” 2 Justice in all its facets will give all members of society their best opportunity to achieve the quality of life God intends for them. Essential issues in the life of the Statesman are character, including honesty and integrity, all based on a foundation of commitment to justice. President Dwight Eisenhower summed it up well:

The supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity…His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose. 3

The governing official is a human being, with all the temptations that human beings face. However, he or she must possess the capacity to recognize this reality and to overcome it. This is where we need the help of God, who intends for us as human beings to be able to provide service to our fellow human beings. 4 One analyst commented on the reality of functioning in a democratic State: “It is a republic designed for sinners.” 5 This is the beauty of effective democratic governance: our Creator provides for imperfect human beings to implement justice for imperfect humanity. We are under obligation to the people we serve and to our Master not to allow ourselves to misuse the authority of which we are a steward. The Statesman must be able to rise above the weaknesses and temptations from his or her human nature. The solution is not to deny this reality but rather to display the strength and ability to overcome. It is to avail ourselves of the power of God’s Holy Spirit to “put to death the deeds of the body.” 6 Quoting Edmund Burke again: “There never was a bad man that had ability for good service.” 7 We are under obligation to the people we serve and to our Master not to allow ourselves to misuse the authority of which we are a steward.

We, as imperfect human beings, are charged with administering perfect justice for an imperfect humanity. We must always recognize that we need the help of a perfect God and Master. We must submit to Him in every action we take.

1. Edmund Burke, quoted in Maturin Murray Ballou, Pearls of Thought (1881; Houghton, Mifflin & Co, 1884), p. 249.
2. Bible, Deuteronomy 16:20.
3. Dwight D. Eisenhower, quoted in Lloyd Cory, ed., Quotable Quotations (Wheaton: Victor, 1985), p. 211.
4. Gary Allen, Challenge to Govern as Statesmen (2019), pp. 61-62, 65-69
5. Michael Novak, “Public Arguments: Saint Thomas More”, Crisis Magazine, 1 June 1993.
6. Bible, Romans 8:13.
7. Edmund Burke, Impeachment of Warren Hastings, 15 February 1788, quoted in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 15th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), p. 373.