West on Statesmanship, part 1

While following the Covenant with Black America web site on the upcoming Presidential Forum at Howard University, I peeped at Cornel West’s latest blog on the site. West writes the following: 

We are facing a crisis in the quality of leadership in our country. Our people and our country need more statesmen (and stateswomen), as statesmanship is qualitatively different than the garden-variety leadership that we’re experiencing. 

Statesmen take seriously the ability to be themselves, as opposed to the many spinsters who are willing to pose and poster, to pander to a particular group, rather than be real. Opportunism is pervasive and has left us with just a few folk who will not allow themselves to be grinded up by a mechanical formulaic structure. There are some who are shaping the climate of opinion; they’re our thermostats and not thermometers. They’re not satisfied with simply recording, but shaping the dialogue. Our brothers and sisters who are engaged in that kind of education elevate the citizenry of this country. 

The continuing challenge at hand for statesmen and stateswomen is to operate above the political fray, to preserve their integrity. True statesmanship is rooted in the hopes and aspirations of the people, and is also informed by the voices of the people.  

Throughout our history, ordinary people who believed enough in themselves to try to transform the cynicism and the threat to statesmanship have been the crux of social movements. As a people, we are capable of producing great social change. Look within and you will realize that YOU are the leaders you’re looking for.     

So, how many statesmen and stateswomen are in the house?

I have the greatest respect for the former-University-Professor-status-at-Harvard-professor. But I find his comments to be contradictory. Allow me to attempt to manifest the contradiction along the following lines of thought. 

As one who attempts to look at politics through the lenses of a Christian worldview, I immediately recognize the problem of someone being an “explicitly Christian” politician. The nature of Christian living and true politics are at odds. Politics generally forces the politician to make negotiations, deals, and agreements with which he may not have full agreement – full in both the ethical and conscience senses – in order for his own initiated bills (that are intended for the good of his constituents in his election districts) to gain enough support to be passed into law. For the Christian politician, making certain deals, (or greasing palms), would violate conscience; (i.e., A Christian politician could not knowingly support pork legislation in another politician’s district knowing that such spending is taking away from the available dollars to spend for the good of the many. Yet supporting the pork bill might be the only way to pass legislation to de-fund pro-abortion clinics. Christians cannot weigh a “greater good” option.) That is the nature of politics—of political dealing. If a Christian were going to attempt to apply Christian standards to every legislative initiative and never make a “greater good” deal, he probably would not last as a politician for more than one term for he more than likely would be labeled as a narrowed-minded fanatic by his colleagues, and thusly being largely unsuccessful in moving forward his own legislation because of his ethics, he would be voted out of office by the very people who had placed hopes in him. (I digress, but if one could run for office on an explicitly Christian platform, one could preach the Gospel as his platform and win office, or at least demonstrate that his platform is derived from the cultural implications of the Gospel and win office, for that what it would mean to be explicitly Christian.)   

Politics demands being part of a political machinery, even if one is not motivated by opportunism. Therefore, this idealistic statesman invoked by Dr. West faces a dilemma. He must be a radical outside of the political process, such as a Marx, Malcolm X, or King, or he must become a tyrant who uses the sword to stand against opposition to his non-conformists ideas, or he must be an ineffective politician who fails in office because he cannot be part of the machine in any way. West should understand this based on his Harvard experiences: When, in practice, he tried to rise above the ubiquitous institutionalized academic domestication of Black nationalistic thought, he came into conflict with much of the Harvard faculty and administration. Instead of garnishing a social movement, West pulled his colorful parachute cord and landed at Princeton. However, to his great credit, he continues in his quest for (democratic and slightly nationalistic) reforms from the platform of the CWBA. But he is still part of a machinery at Princeton; it is impossible for him to be or do otherwise. If this is true for Prof. West, what then of his idealistic statesman?  

I think we need to reread Leviathan, The Republic, The Politics, and when we have finished, remind ourselves that the answers within each one of us are always evil. We need an Answer outside of ourselves to address the problem within ourselves, or at the least, trust that our governments and governors are being righteously Governed. 

One response to “West on Statesmanship, part 1

  1. Good analysis. Do you think that PBS would be interested in holding a Republican forum on the Covenant as well? Or better yet, would the Republican party even be interested in talking about such issues?! Anyway, looking at the options in your post, what then are ought a Christian politician do to reform American politics? Given the number of professing Christians in the political realm, is there room for another Wilberforce on this side of the pond?

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