The Statesman is the True Visionary
Leadership and vision. We use these words to describe those in positions of power. A leader with vision tends to convince us he has some special knowledge of how to create a better future because he describes what the future should be. We, intentionally or not, come to believe that some people know what is best for all of us by endorsing the vision for the future set out by our leaders. Yet men are imperfect, so leaders inevitably disappoint us with hollow rhetoric and failed promises. Leadership and vision are the main qualities of modern politicians. Conservative and liberal alike have a general focus on the future. However, our emphasis on leadership has become problematic because anyone can vaguely promise to lead society to progress beyond the past. In doing so, universal truths are cast aside in favor of the notion that history progresses—that what exists now is better than what was.
While both the modern leader and the classic statesman are great speakers, the content and purpose of their speech differs. The leader makes broad claims about how to “move us forward” while the statesman’s oratory is meant to elevate the populace toward universal truth. The modern leader’s progressive vision for the future sounds quite appealing. Barack Obama’s promise of “hope and change” was inspiring and comforting to be sure, but perhaps this emphasis on the future should be grounded in truth rather than a vague notion of progress. He may have advanced his liberal agenda, but we have seen mixed results because the modern leader overpromises and cannot possibly fully deliver.
A statesman is a master of persuasion, but the goal of his speech is not merely to move forward, but to exhort his audience to be better human beings and citizens. The statesman blends speech with action while directing people toward Truth. He stresses principle along with policy to ensure the country does not wander from its Founding design even when it may seem expedient to do so. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were two of the greatest statesmen because they blended the practical with principle. Their speech and actions were rooted in principle to maintain the character of their people during existential crises rather than appeal to expediency alone. They understand—unlike the modern leader—that the character of the people matters as much as the policies they enact. The statesman does not merely view things in “their historical context” but rather can see what is universal. Perhaps the statesman is the one with the real vision after all.
The modern concepts of leadership and vision ultimately rests on one truth: history is an evolutionary process and we always must adjust for a better tomorrow. There is no room for universal truth outside of what each generation feels is correct. There is no consistent truth in this conception of history because history is evolutionary journey and only some of them are capable of seeing the direction in which history is going. Progress sounds good in a sound bite, but the modern political discourse avoids deeper discussion of what the purpose of government is. Government must either expand its power or we must “drain the swamp.” A better future is what leaders aim for, but our experiences with many different leaders should show that leadership can be unsuccessful. We need a statesman who understands the principles of natural law on which the nation was founded rather than another leader who overly focuses on progress without adherence to principle.