Democrats, Republicans, and the Loss of Statesmanship
The 2016 Presidential campaign has revealed this inescapable fact about our America – her parties no longer have real meaning. Why do I believe this? Let me begin with a definition of statesmanship.
According to dictionary.com, statesmanship refers to the “ability, qualification, or practice of a statesman; wisdom and skill in the management of public affairs.” We no longer ask, “Will this candidate be a good statesman for our country? Does this candidate possess the wisdom and skill to manage our nation’s public affairs?”
Instead, we seem to be asking, “Is this candidate winnable? Will my candidate be capable of beating the other guys candidate?”
Statesmanship has been replaced by “the-cult-of-personality,” this explains Donald Trump’s continued success despite himself. Whoever presents him or herself with fantastic sound bites, wins.
I’m frightened by this trend. My fear is founded upon a growing suspicion that our beloved country has lost her way and our political system seems incapable of any true correction. History has already demonstrated what happens to a developed country where personality becomes the deciding factor in political decisions – Nazi Germany.
After the German people were beaten and embarrassed by the loss of World War I, a political leader emerged amidst the chaos of confusion whose rhetorical powers were fantastically charismatic. His name was Adolph Hitler.
I’m fearful that the growing economic disparity between the wealthy and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, and increasingly specialization of jobs is contributing to a tension that will lead to the rise of a charismatic leader bringing with him a political revolution. By revolution, I don’t mean a “civil war” per se but a civil revolution – a fundamental change in law. He or she will change laws at odds with our founding documents where freedom is traded away for security and promised comfort. Only, in the end, all three will be lost.
A Classic Lens
So how do we address this troubling trend? My answer begins with the latin phrase “Tolle lege,” take up and read. Read what exactly? I suggest you read the classics of the Western World. We are not the only ones whoever lived in a time such as these.
During my studies with Knox Seminary, I enrolled in a “classical studies” program that exposed students to the best literature of the Western World. Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine were my professors. My fellow classmates and I immersed ourselves into the cradle of Western Civilization and studied the influential thought of our ancient fathers.
While reading Plato’s Republic, I learned there were different kinds of political regimes: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. Today we usually only think of communism and democracy.
When thinking about our present political climate, I can’t help but reflect on the political cycle of nations.
The Political Cycle:
Aristocracy – Today we would understand this as a true Republic. Leaders govern the people not for their own gain but for the sake of others. Leader’ decisions are based on selfless virtue — the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Timocracy – When rulers begin to exchange the selfless virtue for self-interest, the republic devolves. Educational systems change from emphasizing virtue to promoting the pursuit of self-interest.
Oligarchy – Recognizing the threat of a growing affluence among the people, Timocracy gives way to Oligarchy. Leaders find new ways to pass laws that effectively limits a person’s ability to create wealth or pursue their interest. Oligarch’s lead by creating laws that effectively restrict the people from rising above their circumstances.
Democracy – In reaction to the Oligarchs, the people seek to throw off the oppression of the rulers demanding freedom and equality. Social order breaks down and people are free to pursue their own pleasures at the expense of the society. Special interests dominate the discussion. Some political philosophers note that Socialism is merely a radicalized form of democracy.
Tyranny – Because a society can not function when everyone is pursuing their own gain, a crisis occurs and a tyrant emerges. At first, the tyrant is heralded as the answer to the civil problems. They use speeches to captivate their audience promising change. Yet, in the end, their pursuits are not for the good of the people but for the good of themselves.
As I reflect upon our Presidential election, I can’t shake the growing sense that our nation is deep into this cycle. Left unabated, it will continue until the rising of a tyrant.
If you think I’m overreacting, I suggest you read a wonderful little book titled, History of the Peloponnesian War. I suggest you read the Strassler version. In it you will discover how a superpower was defeated and how democracy was eventually lost.