The purpose of a statesman or stateswoman is to build bridges — bridges between what is and what should be, between estranged individuals, between conflicting cultures, between opposing classes and races, between clashing historical forces.
An education designed for statesmanship, then, will give the student the requisite tools and knowledge that will allow her to be an effective bridge builder.
But as we teach aspiring statesmen and stateswomen, we must always remember that the single most important distance that any of us can bridge — infinitely more important than any other — is the distance between heaven and earth.
A prospective statesman’s relationship with God is infinitely more critical than his relationship with Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Washington, Churchill, or even a live mentor. In fact, it is his relationship with God that determines the quality, impact, and longevity of all his other relationships.
A student with a strong and active relationship with God will be more in tune with her mission, will study longer and harder, and will have much more impact than the student who shirks in her duties to God.
A student with a deep and broad classical liberal arts education, but without a relationship with God, is ineffectual at the least, and dangerous at the worst.
It would be like a person being given an expensive sports car without keys, or handing the keys to that sports car to a 10 year-old child; the one doesn’t have the ability to drive the car, and the other may be able to drive it but will kill people in the process.
The purpose of acquiring a world-class, statesman’s education is not primarily to amass large amounts of so-called knowledge; those who believe this invariably end up by, as Plato wrote in Apology, “…thinking that they are something when they are really nothing.”
The purpose of gaining a superlative education is to earn the right to approach God in our moments of greatest need, and with complete honesty be able to figuratively look Him in the eye and without reservation say, “I’ve done everything that I know how to do — You must do the rest.”
It is to demonstrate that we have paid the price, taken utmost responsibility, and then have been humble enough to admit that we can’t do it alone, without our humility degenerating into escapism. It is to earn the right and develop the ability to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
The Dangers of False Allegiances
Those who develop the ability to merge heaven and earth will create generational legacies impacting millions. But for those who do not, the cost is high. They will build half-bridges with half-truths.
They may half-heartedly reach toward heaven in an hour of extreme need, but will find that heaven does not reciprocate because they were not worthy of it.
They will leave gaps that no mortal can fill. Their legacy will be “almost, but not quite,” which is a deeper tragedy than not trying at all.
Can you imagine how that would feel? To come so close to saving the world through sheer personal effort, and then watch with an unforgivable disappointment as it disintegrates because we thought we could do it alone?
The ranks of those would-be statesmen who fail in fulfilling their duties to God include pedantic academics, narrow-minded businessmen, compromising politicians, “benevolent” tyrants, and unprincipled, sacrificial social workers.
Academics certainly have their place, and I don’t want to be guilty of undervaluing education. However, there is a danger when we are not able to place education in context.
The academics I speak of are the prideful and arrogant members of the so-called intelligentsia who rarely offer solutions themselves, but are quick to point out when the men and women of action are doing something wrong in the eyes of the intellectuals.
They are those who cower into the supposed security of intellectualism as a way to escape the responsibility of acting. They want to be the saviors offering advice without being accountable for the implementation of their advice.
They look at people and situations in an objective, idealized, and sterile environment detached from the messiness of practical affairs. They may be practiced visionaries, yet they lack the fortitude and ability to bring their vision to pass through sustained effort in the trenches of practical daily action.
Statesmen and women must be both thinkers and doers. As Theodore Roosevelt said:
“It is not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again — because there is not effort without error and shortcomings — but he who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Having said this, however, it must also be stressed that there is an opposite danger to the academic critic, and that is the uneducated man or woman of action. To possess knowledge without taking corresponding action is irresponsible, yet to act without knowledge is foolish and dangerous.
The world is full of uneducated entrepreneurs, for example, who are great at taking action, but are impatient with obtaining a valuable education, which would greatly enhance their ability to act. Theirs is the school of hard knocks — which has its merits — but it is limited by its very nature.
They are limited by their own experience and don’t take time to learn from the experience of others who have gone before. And if they do, it is usually from a narrow spectrum of people who have achieved success in business, but who are not great examples of statesmanship.
They may be able to run a profitable business, but they don’t know how to use business as a tool to deeply improve society.
As limited as uneducated businessmen are, they are not nearly as harmful as the compromising politicians. Politicians are anxious for positions and titles without developing the ability to handle them. Their focus is on the glory, not the cause.
They are about gaining and maintaining personal power, not on making an impact. When any proposal arises, they ask, “What’s in it for me?” not “Is it right?”
Politicians are about looking good, not doing good. Their allegiance is usually themselves and/or other people, and not God.
Politicians are deceptively ingratiating weasels whose harm is generally indirect; benevolent tyrants are wolves in sheep’s clothing who cause direct and immediate harm. Benevolent tyrants oppress people in the name of helping them.
Alexander Hamilton displayed his understanding of this when he wrote in The Federalist Papers,
“…a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”
Unprincipled social workers seem relatively harmless on the surface, yet when an entire culture embraces a false sense of government-sponsored philanthropy, the long-term consequences are an irresponsible society operating under a crippling sense of entitlement.
The desire to lift and serve others is good, but the danger from the group I speak of comes from using government force to impose their sense of morality upon the populace. This degenerates into a moral cannibalism that ultimately destroys the society.
When the true sense of public virtue is distorted and counterfeited to become forced wealth distribution, the virtue is lost and replaced with resentment and anger by those forced to give, and the loss of dignity and self-reliance on those who depend on the givers. False charity destroys those who know how to fish at the expense of those waiting for fish to be given to them.
The cruel irony is that the people who are hurt the most by forced welfare schemes are the same people that misplaced charity is precisely designed to help. People who set out to “serve society” and who do not operate under moral principles inevitably seek to “lift” the bottom by forcefully taking from the top. The result is a miserable mediocrity for all.
All of the above counterfeits result from good-intentioned people not having the proper allegiance — God — and therefore not being able to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
Heaven only speaks to those who listen, and those with allegiances to self and/or others only heed the voice in their head or the voices of the crowd.
Without the ability to merge heaven with earth, a world-class, statesman’s education ultimately damns the person receiving it and damages everyone with whom they associate.
A person who gains an education for the purpose of self-aggrandizement is better off — and so is the world at large — not pursuing it at all. They are like the people who, in Christ’s parable of the sower in the book of Matthew, receive the word amongst thorns and, in the words of Christ, “…heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.”
After all, continued Christ, “what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
The purpose of a statesman’s education is — or should be — to develop the ability and earn the right to seek and acquire the help of God in any endeavor.
Understanding what de Tocqueville says about democracy, or what Tolstoy teaches of aristocracy must be subordinate to what God says about His laws and your mission.
As deep and impactful as they are, Democracy in America or War and Peace are poor substitutes for direct revelation from the Source of all classics, who is able to put the classics in context.
Without God as a foundation and guide, our education will mirror the efforts of the builders of the Tower of Babel–reaching for heaven with the wrong structures and for the wrong purposes, and our “wisdom of men” being scattered to the winds of popular opinion.
A common — though perhaps overlooked — denominator of the greatest statesmen and women in history is that their dependence upon God far outweighed their dependence on themselves and on books.
When we read the writings of George Washington, do we see the prayer at Valley Forge that gave wings, breath, and quiet power to his words and actions?
When we learn of the extensive accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin, do we see the Source of his ingenuity?
Was Gandhi able to free a nation from imperialism by the force of his character alone?
Did Mother Teresa feed and comfort millions of poverty-stricken people with her hands alone?
From his writings, it’s clear that George Washington was a wise and knowledgeable man, and that he spent much individual effort on his education. Yet from his own admission, he never acquired the level of education — at least in terms of book knowledge — that many of his peers had.
In The Real George Washington by Parry, Allison, and Skousen, we read that “The historical record is almost silent about the education of George Washington…Whatever the sources of his schooling, George struggled throughout his life under a ‘consciousness of a defective education.’”
Of course, we are familiar with Washington’s struggles to keep an inexperienced and undisciplined army together facing extreme shortages of food, clothing, shelter, and ammunition. We know of his countless sacrifices for his country and posterity when his greatest desire was to live a quiet life of farming in Mount Vernon.
Above all of his individual efforts, however, the most important lesson to be learned from Washington’s example was his willingness to humble himself before God and ask for His help throughout the struggles. Because of the man that he was, Washington merited the blessings of heaven.
Historical accounts of his prayer at Valley Forge provide the most vivid illustration of Washington’s dependence on God.
Reverend Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduate of Princeton with a degree from Dickinson College, detailed Washington’s Valley Forge prayer in his “Diary and Remembrances.”
Mr. Snowden was born in Philadelphia January 17, 1770 and died November 12, 1851. His writings cover a period from youth to 1846. In his records may be found these observations, in Mr. Snowden’s own handwriting:
“I knew personally the celebrated Quaker Potts who saw Gen’l Washington alone in the woods at prayer. I got it from himself, myself. Weems mentioned it in his history of Washington, but I got it from the man myself, as follows: ‘I was riding with him (Mr. Potts) in Montgomery County, Penn’a near to the Valley Forge, where the army lay during the war of ye Revolution. Mr. Potts was a Senator in our State & a Whig. I told him I was agreeably surprised to find him a friend to his country as the Quakers were mostly Tories. He said, ‘It was so and I was a rank Tory once, for I never believed that America c’d proceed against Great Britain whose fleets and armies covered the land and ocean, but something very extraordinary converted me to the Good Faith!’ ‘What was that,’ I inquired? ‘Do you see that woods, & that plain. It was about a quarter of a mile off from the place we were riding, as it happened.’
‘There,’ said he, ‘laid the army of Washington. It was a most distressing time of ye war, and all were for giving up the Ship but that great and good man. In that woods pointing to a close in view, I heard a plaintive sound as, of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly into the woods & to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world.
‘Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home & told my wife. I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen & heard & observed. We never thought a man c’d be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, & America could prevail.’ He then to me put out his right hand & said ‘I turned right about and became a Whig.’”
The Reverend Snowden also wrote of his own experiences with Washington’s faith:
“I felt much impressed in his presence and reflected upon the hand and wonderful Providence of God in raising him up and qualifying him with so many rare qualities and virtues for the good of this country and the world. Washington was not only brave and talented, but a truly excellent and pious man of God and of prayer. He always retired before a battle and in any emergency for prayer and direction.”
Washington also sheds light on his faith in his own words. A Reverend Israel Evans once delivered and printed a sermon to American soldiers. Washington received a printing of the sermon, and wrote to the Reverend and assured him that,
“…it will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavors to inculcate a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that all wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends…”
Washington was ever active and vigilant in doing everything in his power to move the cause of liberty. He never asked God to do his job for him.
But in his efforts, he never sought for praise and glory for himself; no matter how much he did himself, he always recognized that ultimately, his and the nation’s success depended on the blessings of heaven. His efforts were not to gratify his pride and vain ambition; they were to earn the right to Divine help.
Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, scientist, inventor, philanthropist, publisher, writer, revolutionary, and renowned thinker in colonial America with an astounding list of lifetime accomplishments.
Franklin served as governor of Pennsylvania for two terms, represented Pennsylvania at the Continental Congresses, served as a delegate on the convention to write the Constitution, was the nation’s first Postmaster General, and served as an ambassador to France.
Despite all of his accomplishments, one of the most notable stories about Franklin is his contribution to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. After winning the Revolutionary War, the colonies now were faced with the daunting task of creating a constitutional form to govern a newborn nation.
The Convention ran relatively smoothly, until the intensely heated debate of the number of federal representatives per state threatened to fracture the group beyond repair.
In this charged and inflammatory atmosphere, the elder statesman arose and delivered the following speech, presented as it was preserved by his own pen:
“Mr. President, the small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks of close attendance & continual reasonings with each other…our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes and ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, some we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor.
To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.’
I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.”
Without Franklin’s leadership in bridging the gap between heaven and earth, it is highly doubtful that the Convention could have proceeded any further, let alone produce the document that the British statesman William Gladstone said was “…the most brilliant work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”
Gandhi’s life and words spoke for themselves. We know from his words and his actions that his power to free a nation came from his ability to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, not solely from himself. Consider the following quotes from Gandhi:
“Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”
“I can give you my own testimony and say that a heartfelt prayer is undoubtedly the most potent instrument that man possesses for overwhelming cowardice and all other bad old habits. Prayer is an impossibility without a living faith in the presence of God within…Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and everything will be added unto you.”
“Who am I? I have no strength save what God gives me. I have no authority over my countrymen save the pure moral. If He holds me to be a pure instrument for the spread of non-violence in place of the awful violence now ruling the earth, He will give me the strength and show me the way. My greatest weapon is mute prayer. The cause of peace is therefore, in God’s good hands.”
“I have but shadowed forth my intense longing to lose myself in the Eternal and become merely a lump of clay in the Potter’s divine hands so that my service may become more certain because uninterrupted by the baser self in me.”
“Spiritual relationship is far more precious than physical. Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul.”
“Only he can take great resolves who has indomitable faith in God and has fear of God.”
Gandhi derived the awesome strength to throw off chains of oppression through quiet humility and submission to God.
His entire philosophy of non-violent resistance was based on the idea that physical force must not be matched with like physical force, but must rather be met with “soul-force.” Not wishing to leave the whole world “blind and toothless,” he made of his own earthly heart a heaven, and shared that heaven with whomever he associated.
Considered by many to be a living saint, Mother Teresa spent her life in devoted service by comforting the poor and poverty-stricken, not only in Calcutta, India, but in numerous locations across the world.
In October of 1950, Teresa received Vatican permission to start her own order, which became known as the Missionaries of Charity, whose mission was to care for (in her own words):
“the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”
It began as a small order with 12 members in Calcutta; today it has more than 4,000 nuns running orphanages, AIDS hospices, and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine in Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America, Poland, and Australia.
By 1996, she was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. Today over one million workers worldwide are employed by the Missionaries of Charity.
It was through her quiet, dedicated service that she attracted global attention and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The following excerpt from her Nobel Prize acceptance speech speaks volumes about her ability to draw heaven closer to earth:
“The poor are very wonderful people. One evening we went out and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. And I told the sisters: ‘You take care of the other three; I will take care of this one that looks worse.’
So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand, as she said one word only: ‘thank you’ – and she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: ‘What would I say if I was in her place?’ And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said: ‘I am hungry, I am dying, I am cold, I am in pain,’ or something. But she gave me much more – she gave me her grateful love.
“And she died with a smile on her face – like that man who we picked up from the drain, half eaten with worms, and we brought him to the home…’I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.’ And it was so wonderful to see the greatness of that man who could speak like that, who could die like that without blaming, without cursing anybody, without comparing anything.
“Like an angel – this is the greatness of our people. And this is why we believe what Jesus has said: ‘I was hungry; I was naked, I was homeless; I was unwanted, unloved, uncared for – and you did it to me.’ I believe that we are not really social workers. We may be doing social work in the eyes of people. But we are really contemplatives in the heart of the world. For we are touching the body of Christ twenty-four hours. We have twenty-four hours in this presence, and so you and I.
“You too try to bring that presence of God into your family, for the family that prays together stays together. And I think that we in our family, we don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy or to bring peace – just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world. There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.”
Mother Teresa knew — as do all great statesmen and women — that it is our allegiance and submission to God that is the ultimate determinant of our effectiveness and impact.
Conclusion: A Personal Experience
In my first three years of attending George Wythe University, I read more than 150 classic books with topics including philosophy, theology, history, government, economics, politics, business, personal finance, psychology, self-improvement, literature, biography, and family relations.
But aside from the relatively decent amount of knowledge I gained, there is one experience that stands out above all else.
The single most powerful experience that I had occurred in the Constitutional Convention simulation of 2006.
For days, over 150 people waded and fought through confusion, frustration, insecurity, and the hostility that comes from thinking that we knew everything, that if only we could convince the group that our idea, our plan, our solution would save the world. We tried so hard — but of course in vain — when we labored under the lie that we knew anything.
We debated heatedly, we quoted assiduously from our favorite classics, and we reasoned and argued until we were blue in the face.
Then, in the middle of the contention, backbiting, and politicking, the awful moment arrived when we were collectively overcome with the deep and intensely humbling recognition that we knew nothing.
We knew nothing and we knew that we knew nothing as deeply as anyone can know anything.
The debating quieted, the long-held and fiercely contended beliefs surrendered impotently to the realization of our ignorance, and our pathetic arguments were revealed for the naked egoisms that they were.
And then, in the depths of our abject humility, we collectively bowed and knelt before the Source of all Truth, all Knowledge, and all Wisdom and pled our case before Him. We fully understood what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said,
“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”
The answers came quickly and unmistakably. The confusion, anger, and frustration vanished and were instantly replaced with peace, harmony, and inspiration. Calm faith replaced anxious desperation.
Never in my entire life have I witnessed a scene where over 150 people were on the same page, striving toward a common goal with nothing but love and humility in the ranks.
The Cause moved forward, the delegates were united, the solutions were Divine. The Constitution was no longer “my” document or “her” idea, but His and ours. Not only was there synergy between the delegates, but there was also synergy between heaven and earth.
This didn’t happen because of our knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Montesquieu, Madison, Toffler, and Bobbitt. It happened because we collectively bridged the gap between heaven and earth.
Studying the classics was but one small step toward being worthy of a bridge being extended from heaven to earth. And as we bridged that most important gap, we could tangibly see the other governmental and societal bridges being built, almost in spite of us.
It happened because we, through our diligent study, deep pondering, and pure hard work, were able to approach our Father and say with all honesty and sincerity, “We’ve done everything we are able. It’s Your turn now. You must fill in the gaps of our weaknesses.”
Heaven touched earth, even if briefly, and the result was nothing short of miraculous. We may have paid a small price through our study of the classics, but the classics were not, in the end, what gave us the answers we so desperately needed.
An aspiring statesman who knows the classics but who is a stranger to God is not a statesman at all — he is an ineffective politician, a dangerous tyrant, or both. Students of the classics who do not seek the mind and will of God will get surface-level understandings of the classics at best.
Acquiring a world-class education is not so much to fill our heads with knowledge, as it is to earn the right to call on heaven in our hour of greatest need.
We can’t know — and aren’t expected to know — everything, but God does expect us to prove to Him that we are worthy of His help by our diligence in seeking answers.
Let us remember the wisdom of Winston Churchill who said,
“To every man there comes…that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”
Let us never forget that the most critical preparation for an aspiring statesman is to learn how to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.