Daniel J. Mahoney has written a timely book. As the American public on both ends of the political spectrum seem to be weary of politicians’ wayward rhetoric and actions, Mahoney has given readers, and hopefully present and future politicians, a recollection of honorable statesmen of the past three centuries.
“The Statesman as Thinker” reads like a modern version of “Plutarch’s Lives,” discussing the lives, works, and political philosophies of great statesmen. In the same vein as Plutarch, most of Mahoney’s selected statesmen are expected, but not all. The author utilizes statesmen of the West: America, Great Britain, and France, and, one influenced greatly by the West, then: Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic.
It’s the Czech Republic choice, and the final statesman, that makes the book even more intriguing. The author discusses what some may consider “The Usual Suspects” with Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Charles de Gaulle, and their impact on political thought and their contributions to their particular countries and civilization in general.
Great Men, Not Perfect MenMahoney makes clear that each great man had their flaws, as all individuals do. The strength and virtues of these statesmen, and their ability to think clearly and to convey their thoughts clearly to their audience, provide aspiration for today’s leaders. But it’s their flaws, and their incorrect perspectives at times, that should provide today’s leaders hope that not all is lost when they fail or prove to be shortsighted.
A Modern Plutarch Work
As aforementioned, “The Statesman as Thinker” plays up to the idea of Plutarch. The subtitle of the book proves as much: “Portraits of Greatness, Courage and Moderation.”
Just as with Plutarch’s subjects, none of these individuals were without trial and difficulty, some more than others. Those challenges helped form their perspectives on the world. It’s these challenges and their ability to adapt and overcome that facilitated their ability to be a thinker. As the author suggests, it is the ability to think, and think outside of the norm, that made them exceptional leaders.
There is a legitimate worry that today’s politicians have hardly become statesmen and are even further from being thinkers. For Mahoney, his examples prove necessary to help steer leaders of every age and geographic locale more toward statesmanship and less toward ideologies.
A Book for Future LeadersThis is a quick read covering the ideas of “the great and the good” and what makes a statesman. Readers will briefly get a sense of the subjects presented and what made them great. The author understands that these are brief presentations of wise, influential, and complex statesmen, which is why he provides “suggested readings” at the end of each chapter. Truly, each subject is worth discovering and dissecting at a deeper level.
“The Statesman as Thinker” is an enjoyable read full of great information about each person. It also provides the reader with a sense of gratitude for those who came before and a hope that a replication of sorts can be accomplished.
As is made clear with the six historical figures, they were all separated from each other by either time or space. This fact should be an indication that just because all six are no longer alive doesn’t mean their influence on present and future statesmen has died.