Statesmanship and Ethics

The notion of statesmanship is often neglected and underrated when it concerns administrative ethics, but its real value is significant. Individuals who have been recognized to achieve the level of statesmanship led their countries forward and with their efforts aimed at the common good. Usually, statesmen’s decisions are ethically challenging and may provoke a major debate, this is why every person who aspires to statesmanship must rely on principles that would help them make the right decision. The most relevant of these principles are the Biblical principles, which have been the cornerstone of Western civilization for hundreds of years and which continue to guide people in their judgments. Thus, it is extremely important to understand whether statesmanship can contribute to modern public administration, to address the ethics that accompany decisions made in this area, and to discover the Bible’s perspective on these issues.

One of the reasons why statesmanship is rarely discussed is that the modern democratic public administration implies a bureaucratic apparatus that is not conducive to the emergence of leaders ready to exercise independent political will. Such systems are effective in their prevention of authoritarians from seizing state power, but on the other hand, they hinder the way for politicians that may challenge the existing status quo. Modern states have evolved to such an extent that today the title of a statesman is hard to attain and is not particularly necessary. The authority modern leaders have is already significantly limited, and such historical figures as Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, who became statesmen due to the fact that they possessed enormous power, cannot exist today. They could do anything mostly not being accountable to governmental bodies or the general public, something which is impossible to imagine in modern circumstances. Of course, there still remain areas by advancing in which modern politicians gain a statesman status, but they are quite rare.

These areas include periods of war and major crisis, during such times, the country’s leaders frequently receive additional powers that allow them to make decisions that would otherwise be impossible without the consent of others. Consequently, there are occasional instances of modern leaders who manage to take extraordinary measures in leading their country forward and earn the title of a statesman. For example, President Obama was faced with the Great Recession, and with the Recovery Act resurrected the GDP “By mid-2009, it was growing again, up 2.6 percent in the second half of that year” (Bernstein, 2017). He took extreme measures, which inevitably led to debates about whether it was ethical to spend so much money on tackling the crisis that might have resolved itself without any assistance. This question remains open, but Obama’s determination to act in a difficult situation and the positive results of his policies suggest that he can be considered a statesman. Thus, it can be concluded that statesmanship in modern public administration should occur only during challenging times since the conventional state of affairs can be maintained with standard democratic procedures.

The issue of ethics is always thoroughly studied by actors active in the sphere of public administration. Ideally, public officials must always follow the notion of the common good and choose the most reasonable solutions to existing issues. Yet, the understanding of the common good varies, so the elected officials often make decisions according to the set of ethical principles that aligns with that of their general voter. The recent pandemic brought along many issues that required making decisions that could be considered ethically right by some and wrong by others. For example, President Trump’s initial refusal to impose strict social distancing guidelines, closures, and cancellations, according to some journalists, contributed to the COVID-19 death toll (Saletan, 2020). His decision was motivated by his principles that the federal government cannot dictate to people what to do, this is why he supported anti-lockdown protests that took place in several states which implemented such restrictions (Thomas, 2020). Such instances show that public administration officials’ ethical reasoning behind certain choices may cause major debates about whether it was morally right or wrong.

Online social media have significantly contributed to creating an environment where officials have to sound very politically correct while expressing their opinion, which shows the role ethics play in modern public administration. Moreover, opinions expressed many years ago can still cause a public outrage to occur, and often politicians have to apologize for it, for example, as did Joe Biden for his remarks made in 1998 (BBC News, 2019). On the one hand, it encourages civil society to hold politicians and officials accountable for their words and actions. So civil servants can receive feedback, adjust their messages, and understand better the current needs of society. On the other hand, severe public castigation of officials in media may cause these individuals to become resentful or create an environment where only one particular line of thought or ideology is welcomed. In the case of the latter event, this will lead to the complete eradication of the freedom of thought and the establishment of only one set of ethical principles as only permissible. Nevertheless, ethics plays a major role in public administration, as it allows citizens to control the elite and always assess their actions and statements against their ethical code.

The Bible’s perspective on the notion of statesmanship can be inferred from parts that describe astounding feats of leadership, for example, that of Moses. After departing from Egypt, Moses had to lead Israelites and wander in the desert for forty years before God would allow them to enter the Promised Land. During these years, Moses demonstrated his great capacity for leadership because, despite all the hardship endured there, he managed to turn a group of slaves into an organized nation. Moses is a wise and educated man, “So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 New Revised Standard Version Bible). He presents the laws to his people, “Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances” (Exodus 24:3). Thus, Moses can be considered an ideal Christian statesman, the one who is smart, faithful to his principles, the one who puts the welfare of his nation before all else.

Western civilization is based on the ethical principles stated in the Bible, and their importance for public administration is immeasurable. The behavior of public officials is always judged against the principles written in the Bible, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). This message must be essential for every public administration professional’s view of their role since their primary goal is to serve others as they were elected by the people to govern them. Another important quotation is “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath…” (Exodus 20:4). This can be read as a reminder to the public not to create any replacement for God; history shows that when such Gods appear in the form of authoritarian leaders, people become the main victims. Thus, it can be concluded that any form of governance, namely in the Christian countries, is inextricably linked to the ethical principles described in the Bible.

Statesmanship is no longer as relevant as it was in ancient times or even several centuries ago since the existing democratic regimes give very limited powers to their leaders. Nevertheless, there are still opportunities for a politician to become a statesman, for example, by leading their country through the challenging times of wars and crises. The decision a statesman makes frequently causes a lot of controversies, but it is necessary for the survival of their country. The notion of statesmanship is inherent to the Bible, and Moses may serve as an ideal image of a wise Christian statesman. The ethical aspects of modern public administration are widely discussed, and there are usually no issues that would bring together people that adhere to different sets of ethical principles. Hence public officials must always recognize that their words and actions may not align with the moral rules of some people, which may lead to scandals. Ethics that has influenced Western countries’ public administration is largely based on the Christian principles, described in the Bible. Thus, the statements and actions of the public officials are always judged against the moral principles established by the Bible.


BBC News. (2019). Joe Biden apologises for 1998 remark on lynching. BBC. Web.

Bernstein, J. (2017). Obama’s lasting economic achievements. U.S. News & World Report. Web.

New Revised Standard Version Bible. (1989). Web.

Saletan, W. (2020). The Trump pandemic. Slate. Web.

Thomas, P. (2020). ‘Great people!’ Trump backs anti-lockdown protesters filmed harassing reporter in Long Island. The Independent. Web.

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