Statesmanship is an exercise in prudence, not ideological purity. It is more a wisdom than a political philosophy. Statesmanship is fact-based and historically informed (which are the same). In order to identify prudent public policies, authentic statesmanship insists on objective historical indicators, not mere philosophical consistency. The statesman knows that the logic of history and of corrupt human nature are not the same as the logic of ideology.
The statesman understands, and therefore seeks to avoid, the two most common errors of governance: (1) the fallacy of misplaced malleability, and (2) the myth of solution.
(1) The fallacy of misplaced malleability seeks to impose the vision or the ideal inside one’s head upon the external world, trying to force reality into the shape of one’s thought rather than conforming one’s thoughts to the parameters of reality. The enterprise is perfectly futile because it presumes that human institutions can be changed at will to fit patterns inside our heads. They cannot. Human institutions arise from human action; human action arises from human nature; and human nature is notoriously unfixable. No matter how badly we might think it needs fixing, government is not sufficient for the task. Only the grace of God can alter human nature. To assign that supernatural task to government is the rankest idolatry. Trying to do what can never be done, and continuing to try for ages upon ages to make the impossible possible, is a fool’s errand. No society and no citizenry can be well served by a government that wastes its precious and limited resources trying to do what cannot be done.
(2) The myth of solution is the arrogant notion that if we apply ourselves hard enough or acutely enough then we can solve the world’s problems, or, if not the worlds, then at least our own.
But statesmen know better. They know that none of the problems that plague us have any political solution and that turning to government to solve them is a desperate waste of time, of which we all have too little. Sin, death, ignorance, disease, prejudice, oppression, and poverty cannot be fixed. Indeed, concerning the last named problem, we have the Lord’s own words on it: “The poor you will always have with you,” He said (Matt. 26: 11). That statement does not mean we are to accept poverty, whether for ourselves or for others. It means that though we resist poverty and try hard to ameliorate its diabolical effects, we can never finally put it behind us. That is not a counsel of despair but of prudence: We cannot do what we cannot do. Better to do what actually can be done than to waste resources and to raise false hopes in the pursuit of economic folly and political impossibilities. Do what you can; be prudent and humble in your assessments; and aim for the possible, not the perfect. Political perfection is not to be had, not in this universe.
Politicians fall into the fallacy of misplaced malleability and the myth of solution because they are political rationalists, not political realists, much less statesmen or political virtuosos. They forget that political moves that are possible, even easy, intra-mentally might be utterly impossible extra-mentally, that is, historically. Political rationalists habitually underestimate the difficulty of moving from where we are to where they think we ought to be. By theorizing for a world that is not, that never was, and that never will be, they make themselves irrelevant to the world we have -- the world into which Providence has placed us. That’s at best. At worst, they are downright disastrous.
When it comes to tracking the maze of postmodern confusion, the political rationalists are failures.