Statesman Defined: The 4 Qualities of a True Statesman

Are you a statesman? Or are you an infomercial salesman, running on “hype”? Statesmen don’t overstay their welcome; they present the problem and give the solution. They leave without making waves or fighting for attention – that’s what makes them so special.

A statesman is “a person who holds public office in a country and acts as its chief executive.” Statesmen are distinguished by their ability to be both the leader of their nation and the voice for the people. Statesmen are also known for having great wisdom, courage, and strength.

The inauguration of our next president is a year away in the United States, and the primary season is in full gear. Journalists and commentators evaluate each candidate’s speech, appearance, and debate, examining what they did well and poorly, as well as who is gaining and losing ground in the polls. These commentators, as well as the viewers and listeners at home, assess the candidates based on who seems to be the most “genuine,” has the greatest line of the night, or has launched the most effective advertising. The entire process may come off as more of a sport or a fun diversion than the build-up to a major election.

So, what qualities should the more serious citizen seek in the future leader of the free world? What criteria may a guy use to assess and appraise candidates for government, or those currently in office, other than hair and quips?

On such a big and serious issue, opinions will undoubtedly vary. However, when in college, I was exposed to a fantastic standard for evaluating our leaders, which I have used ever since.

I took a few of classes with Dr. J. Rufus Fears, a professor of an immensely macho subject: the history of freedom, while I was there. One of the things the fine professor stressed to us enthralled students was the distinction between a politician and a statesman. Fears contends that a statesman is not a dictator, but rather the free leader of a free nation who must exhibit four essential qualities:

  1. A solid foundation of principles
  2. An ethical compass
  3. A vision
  4. The capacity to reach an agreement in order to realize that vision

Let’s take a closer look at these four characteristics of a democratic leader.

1. A Foundation of Principles

The statesman’s platform is built on rock-solid, immutable basic facts. This is his underlying worldview, the things he believes at his heart. Storms may buffet the building, resistance and difficulties may occur, and times will change, but the foundation will stay the same. A statesman may alter the specifics of his policies and the means by which they are implemented, but only insofar as those expedient short-term tactics support the long-term goal of advancing his bedrock of ideas.

2. A Moral Guide

Dr. Fears claims that contemporary politicians use “antennae” to make judgments. He sends out feelers to see how others are feeling. He molds himself and his message to give the people precisely what they want after he finds out which direction the wind is blowing. However, as Dr. Fears would often remind us, a statesman does not rule based on public opinion surveys.

The genuine statesman, on the other hand, takes judgments based on his own moral compass. He is not a relativist; he believes in absolute facts and a feeling of ultimate right and evil. When something isn’t right, he tells it like it is and tries all he can to correct it. When he believes something is right, he is prepared to go to any length to protect and propagate it. The statesman is ambitious—he has to be to get to the top—but there are certain things he will and will not do to get there. He is a guy of honor who tells it like it is. He is a virtuous leader who symbolizes everything that is good in his nation.


3. A Dream

A statesman has a clear understanding of what his nation and people can become. He knows exactly where he wants to lead them and how to get there.

Fears believes that foresight is one of a statesman’s most crucial talents, as he must be able to identify issues on the horizon and devise remedies that are useful not just in the near term, but also in the long run. Not only does the statesman consider the here and now, but also the world that future generations will inherit.

4. The Ability to Form a Consensus in Order to Realize That Vision

A politician may have a strong set of beliefs, a moral compass, and a vision, but his attempts to alter policies, laws, and the course of history will be largely in vain if he lacks the capacity to establish agreement around his vision.

A statesman, who is once again a free leader of a free people, must enlist the support of those who work for him in government, and their desire to do so is based on the pressure they feel from their constituents to support the statesman’s vision. As a result, a statesman’s capacity to establish consensus ultimately depends on his ability to persuade his compatriots of the validity of his worldview.

The statesman does not rely on fancy commercials or public relations initiatives to capture their hearts. Fears claims that advertisements and propaganda are the weapons of despots. Rather, the politician uses the written, and particularly the spoken word, to his advantage. He is a skilled orator. His lengthy study of great literature and historical teachings has given him the ability to communicate intelligently, persuasively, and well-reasoned arguments to the public.

Because a statesman follows his moral compass rather than opinion surveys, his ideas are generally out of line with popular sentiment at first. Rather than adjusting his discourse to that attitude, he appeals to the finest in his nation. He recognizes that, although their ideas may be buried deep inside them, strong speech may bring them to the surface and activate them. His remarks have a lot of power since he really believes what he’s saying. And he doesn’t fill his countrymen’s hearts with hollow promises; instead, he keeps his word and accomplishes what he says he’ll do.

When you contemplate these four characteristics of a democratic leader, it may appear as if one never existed, since if he had, everyone would agree on his lofty status in history. Even those who agree on these parameters, however, would argue on what values the statesman should uphold, what constitutes a moral good and wrong, and, most significantly, what constitutes appropriate tactics for achieving his goals.

Pericles of Athens, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill, according to Professor Fears, are the three greatest politicians in history. The notion of freedom was the core of all three men’s principles: democratic liberty, equality before the law, and individual liberty—the ability to live as one wishes. And these folks saw an opportunity to extend this liberty to the average man. Despite this, they all courted controversy with some of the actions they saw essential to attain their goals. Churchill has been chastised for events such as the Dresden bombing and his support for imperialism (he did not believe that national independence and freedom were the same thing, and thought that British colonists would have more freedom and liberty under colonial rule than if a country was turned over to a small clique of its own that would rule with tyranny). During the Civil War, Lincoln also suspended the privilege to habeaus corpus.


Some believe that such measures, regardless of the eventual purpose, cannot be justified. But Dr. Fears, who leans libertarian based on his lectures and publications, sees the bigger picture, arguing that every statesman must make priorities, which might sometimes entail “saying no to one people’s dreams for the sake of another.” In other words, even though the techniques of the leaders he admires were not always savory in the short term, what mattered most to him is that in the long run, they resulted in greater freedom for more people.

So, who do you consider to be the greatest statesmen in history? Do you believe we now have genuine statesmen among us? If not, which of these attributes are missing among politicians today?



A statesman is a person who has the qualities of a true statesman. There are four qualities that make up a true statesman. These qualities are wisdom, courage, justice and humility. Reference: greatest statesmen in history.

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