skip to Main Content

Statesmanship and Democracy in a Global and Comparative Context

Statesmanship And Democracy In A Global And Comparative Context

One of the most pressing and central problems in a democracy is that of political leadership. While it appears that democracy is a universally-lauded form of politics, there is no clear consensus as to the type of leadership which a democracy requires or needs. Given the dynamic and difficult landscape of the twenty-first century, the question of the type of leadership needed for future democratic polities is an essential one. Democracies have always exhibited a love-hate relationship with their leaders. The very fabric of democracy seems to enshrine a predisposition against great leadership or statesmanship. And yet history suggests that democracies cannot exist without such great leaders.

This question is of great importance during the twenty-first century given the increased attention to the importance of deliberation and participation in democratic politics as well as the rising call for exceptional leaders that embody the requisite twenty-first century skills. Democratic theorists have suggested that the vitality of democracy is perhaps less dependent on questions of leadership and much more dependent on the degree to which citizens deliberate and participate in politics. In this deliberative democracy model, statesmanship appears to be replaced by a conception of the leader as manager or delegate. For democracies not only to survive but to thrive, what type of leadership is required?  Furthermore, in light of the substantive differences that exists in various political cultures, traditions, and nation-states, is it possible to discuss a global conception of statesmanship that can be generalized?  Or is it only possible to speak about localized and parochial conceptions of statesmanship, understandings that are related to particular legal and cultural arrangements?

This chapter investigates the dynamic interaction between the teaching and learning of statesmanship and democracy and the current context within which this teaching and learning occur. The guiding principle of this assessment is that the teaching and learning of democracy and exceptional leadership within their current 21st century context is a symbiotic two-way process in which both factors are equal contributors. Attempts that over-emphasize aspects of current context on the teaching and learning of democracy and statesmanship at the expense of other aspects of this context are limited and unproductive.

To consider the symbiotic and dynamic relationship between teaching, learning, and context, this chapter is divided into three interrelated sections. First, consideration is given to the context within which democracy and statesmanship are taught and learned. This context is one that is both global and local.  This section is followed with an exploration of current discussions regarding the teaching and learning of democracy and statesmanship within the current context.  Lastly, the chapter concludes with possible pedagogical implications and applications of the symbiotic relationship between the teaching and learning of democracy and exceptional leadership in light of a local and global context.

The Global and the Local: The Current Teaching and Learning Context

In the world of real estate, there are three fundamental maxims for every buyer and seller: location, location, location!  These maxims are equally applicable for the craft of teaching and its expected outcome of learning.  The location in which teachers and learners are situated provides a fundamental orientation to their educational experience.  This locational context is not merely geographical.  It is historical, moral, cultural, social, and psychological.  Education presupposes an understanding of human nature and of the human condition. It requires teachers who have an intimate understanding of their pupils and of the culture in which they exist.  Education cannot ignore the context in which students live, the circumstances in which they mature, and the society into which they are eventually released.

The notion of the global has become one of the most central aspects of today’s teaching and learning context.  What global itself means – along with its many derivatives – is difficult to know.  The literature is replete with conceptualizations and operationalizations of this term with very little agreement concerning its definition.  Deardorff notes, for example, that one derivative of this term – intercultural competence – has had “various iterations, but there has not been agreement on how [it] should be defined” and, therefore, “further research is needed to delve more deeply into the terminology used in the actual definition of intercultural competence.”[1] Hunter, White, and Godbey suggest that another derivative – global competence – is an essentially “contested” concept.[2] The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), a leading American liberal education think-tank, argues that the 21st century teaching and learning context has been “dramatically reshaped by…global interdependence, cross-cultural encounters, and changes in the balance of economic and political power” providing a world for today’s students that is characterized by “disruptions rather than certainty, and of interdependence rather than insularity.”[3]  For the AACU, this context is due to the shift from an America-centric world to a global-centric world.  This, however, only provides one with the apparent consequences of the global but not its essential definition.

Whatever global and its derivatives mean, there is no doubt that globalization has brought both apparent and actual changes to how one understands one’s life and existence.  Bauman has noted that the global phenomenon has resulted in “progressive spatial segregation, separation and exclusion,” “existential insecurity,” and the “bifurcation and polarization of human experience.”[4] The apparent existential uncertainty which the global has fostered may be due in part to what Hunter identified as a possible and tangible expression of being globally competent, “an open mind while actively seeking to understand cultural norms and expectations of others, leveraging this gained knowledge to interact, communicate and work effectively outside one’s environment.”[5]  The openness and otherness which the global appears to demand may lead to the decontextualization of individuals from a key aspect of their frame of reference – the local.

Hunter, White, and Godbey offer perhaps one of the most lucid observations concerning the intimate relationship between the global and the local.  These authors have argued that global competence is predicated upon “a person [developing] a keen understanding of his or her own cultural norms and expectations: A person should attempt to understand his or her own cultural box before stepping into someone else’s.”[6]  The implications of this suggestion for teaching and learning are enormous.  At the very least, this would entail the rejection of initiatives meant to remove the local context and dimension from the teaching and learning of political science.  The local, alongside the global, should be considered as a central disciplinary category for teaching and learning.  For the purpose of this chapter, such a suggestion would also lead to a serious discussion concerning the relationship between particular and universal conceptions of democracy and statesmanship and how these understandings could affect the teaching and learning of these topics.

Democratic theory is a broad research field and, consequently, can be taught from various theoretical and contextual perspectives.  While some scholars may teach democratic theory while at the same time rejecting democracy itself, a large segment of the research literature suggests that democratic theory is taught with an advocacy focus that seeks to educate students to be good democratic citizens.  The context for this citizenship may be either global, local or both.  A large concern of much teaching about democracy is that of cosmopolitanism.  Scholars in this genre appear to be in agreement that democracy is inherently cosmopolitan given either its tacit commitment to individuals as moral persons possessing rights or its composition by diverse individuals and communities.  Both understandings of cosmopolitanism suggests that democracy should be blind to any one particular difference either through its recognition of universal rights or its acceptance that difference is the common quality of all peoples.  Banks, Merryfield and Duty, Dilworth, Pike, Benhabib and Zajda, for example, all emphasize the importance of educating students for global and cosmopolitan democratic citizenship.  Such educational strategies are advanced under the mantra of “teaching democracy” or “educating for citizenship and democracy” or “teaching multicultural and global citizenship” given the transition from a nation-based politics to a more interdependent and cosmopolitan world.[7]  Democratic theory and its teaching in such approaches is focused upon developing curricula in which students can learn empathy, a global identity, and a more worldly sensitivity to difference or to the legitimacy of the moral claims of the other.

Democratic theory education focusing upon deliberative democracy attempts to foster a deliberative ethos and attitude within students, one that will become a part of their day-to-day lives as citizens.  There are various approaches to deliberative democratic education.  Some focus on peace education and controversial issues pedagogy as means for students to learn the practice of peaceful dialogue amidst the strong ethical and political differences that often characterize democratic polities.[8]  Other scholars advance a critical curriculum and pedagogy that highlight issues of social justice and racism to empower students with the requisite critical background to engage oppressive institutions and narratives within democracies and thus produce more open and fruitful dialogues.[9]

The last thematic strand within the teaching of democratic theory is that of democratic participation.  Scholars have longed argued that a robust democracy presupposes high levels of citizen participation in democratic governance as well as civil society.  Consequently, educational initiatives in this strand focus on civic engagement initiatives as well as “hands on learning” or “experiential learning” curricular options at colleges, universities, and K-12 education.  Scholars such as Battistoni, and Hauser and Grimm argue that service and community-based learning are essential “to a more engaged and knowledgeable citizenry” since these foment the requisite civic character for a flourishing democracy.[10]  While these initiatives focus on the types of actions citizens should perform, their ultimate goal is to transform the character of students and future citizens.  Such educational programs envision the character of students as being apathetic, unengaged, rigid, unsophisticated, and parochial thus requiring a re-orientation.

A brief survey of the teaching democracy literature leads one to reflect upon the purpose of the various curricular efforts highlighted.  There is no one clear and distinct purpose to which all of these efforts are indebted except to the making of citizens that espouse some universal understanding of democracy and democratic citizenship.  This global understanding of democracy appears to ignore local manifestations of democracy that are critical of its universalist manifestation.  One finds such goals as civic education, the formation of civic character, the appreciation of human dignity, the enhancement of citizenship, social justice and equity, contestation of the status quo, progress, civic engagement, inculcation of democratic values, and the betterment of citizens.  The overarching and underlying vision of these initiatives appears to be a universalist understanding of democracy that fits well in parts of the world but not so in others.

The teaching of statesmanship or exceptional leadership is as complicated as that of democratic theory but for different reasons.  First, statesmanship itself is also a contested concept with no clear scholarly consensus concerning its definition.  Second, there is a lack of clarity concerning the relationship between statesmanship, great leadership, exceptional leadership, and management.  While this chapter presupposes the synonymous use of statesmanship and great/exceptional leadership, this is not necessarily the scholarly consensus.  Thirdly, statesmanship suffers from an over-reliance on a purely local context approach and lacks any universal understanding of the term.  In other words, someone’s “statesman” may also be another’s “tyrant.”  Lastly, there is a fundamental tension between democracy and statesmanship.  What are the implications of these issues for the teaching and learning of statesmanship?  And how do these implications relate to and affect the teaching and learning of democracy and statesmanship?

The Political Criticism of Statesmanship and Its Response

Contemporary democratic theorists’ focus on citizenship is a reflection of a growing suspicion of statesmanship as an elitist threat to democracy. Both conservative populism and liberal participatory activism seek to have citizens reclaim politics from statesmen who appear out of touch and therefore illegitimate. For example, Robert Dahl contends that a democracy can develop only if all members “perceive themselves as about equally qualified to govern” and only antidemocrats have the “hidden assumption” that “only some people are competent to rule.”[11] According to democratic theorists, statesmanship is antidemocratic by nature, with a strong leader who threatens to become an “imperious overlord.”[12]  Statesmanship now appears as an alternative to democracy rather than a primary feature of it: the idea of democratic statesmanship is one that is no longer compatible with a democratic politics.

The critics of democratic statesmanship claim that they are only invoking a long-standing tradition of republican or participatory democracy. Benjamin R. Barber cites Machiavelli, Rousseau, and Jefferson as believers in the sound judgment of the populace, ascribing to them that “the individual is foolish, the multitude wise.”[13] These thinkers that Barber cites did not expect statesmanship from the people. For instance, Machiavelli urged leaders to side with the people against the “great” because the populace is more easily “satisfied and stupefied”; while Rousseau conceded the existence of great leaders as a “necessity” that is unavoidable but not desirable.[14]  Jefferson asked for citizens to participate in politics in order to promote the best of them to partake in politics rather than make them statesmen.[15] For all these thinkers, statesmanship was not desirable because it was a danger to democratic governance.

For more contemporary democratic theorists, statesmanship is incompatible with democracy itself, whether the statesman is weak (unsuccessful and corrupt) or strong (successful and responsible). For Barber, in our democratic and technological age, it is not only possible but more just and satisfying for citizens to learn politics by actually doing it themselves. Citizens should participate in politics not as a matter of rights but in order to develop their political capacities, such that “leadership is a matter of effective citizenship.” To reinvigorate democracy, citizens consequently must release themselves from the tutelage of statesmen regardless of their strength.[16]

In response to Barber’s criticism of statesmanship, Bruce Ackerman has developed a new concept of liberal statesmanship that respects and promotes “neutral dialogue” or “constrained conversation” where “nobody has the right to vindicate political authority by asserting a privileged insight into the moral universe which is denied the rest of us.”[17]  In other words, the statesman’s role is to be a fair arbiter of politics; and he can act only when the “acts of citizenship” result in great fundamental changes in the political regime. When citizens themselves decide for great changes, the statesman must engage in “acts of higher lawmaking” that alter the regime. But these “acts of higher lawmaking” can only be legitimatized when citizens have acted first. In fact, the concern for Ackerman is when statesmanship attempt “acts of higher lawmaking” when they lack a popular mandate because of the confidence of their own abilities.

But it is this confidence that concerns democratic theorists. Mark E. Warren challenges the notion of a liberal statesman by asking these theorists to develop a “democratic conception of authority” that would involve first and foremost an effort to “chasten authority.”[18]  Simply put, citizens must gain confidence necessary to challenge authority, while statesman must lose the confidence to exercise it. This challenge to statesmanship requires a “psychological capacity to view certain goods as contestable,” especially those that are traditionally reserved to statesmen. Once citizens are able to realize their full capacities, they will be able to govern themselves without any need of the statesman.

These critics of democratic statesmanship perform a valuable service in reminding us about the need for a more active citizenship in politics. However, their opposition to statesmanship is misplaced, for statesmanship can aspire for a deeper and broader political participation from its citizens, and a confident statesman can aspire for a more confident citizenry. For the democratic statesman gains his authority through recognized merit and effort and not from some class or blood distinction, thereby reminding citizens that all persons are free and equal by nature, including the statesman.

Furthermore, the statesman acts through democratic institutions, which includes institutions that have popular control over their leaders. The statesman is bound by the rule of law and not some tyrant who can rule arbitrarily. Finally, the statesman does not automatically defer to popular demands and neither should he ask the public always defer to him: the statesman must explain himself and his policies to the public. This public explanation and persuasion of the public is a type of education for both the statesman and the populace. Thus, contrary to democratic theorists’ concerns, the democratic statesman is neither a theoretical nor practical threat to democratic politics.

The Philosophical Criticism of Statesmanship and Its Response

Behind democratic theorists’ political criticism of statesmanship is a philosophical one that rejects reason. For these critics, the statesman relies on a political judgment modeled on reason, which itself constitutes an antidemocratic prejudice.[19]  This attack on reason makes statesmanship unjustifiable, such that the American presidency is condemned as “the embodiment of disinterested rationality.”[20]  For democratic theorists, the standard for political judgment is only temporary communal agreements instead of one rooted in reason and reflection. Barber even goes as far as to argue that the “arbitrary whimsy” of political judgment is more often the fault of individuals than of the “popular will,” in spite of democracies being famously condemned for latter for their poor judgment.[21]

Statesmanship is also said to be incompatible with democracy because it engages in abstract philosophical or expertise thinking rather than a political one.[22]  The statesman is more concerned about theoretical consistency than political urgencies that require immediate attention. By making “a fetish of some particular strategic formula,” the statesman risk failure.[23]  They also think problems can be solved, that citizens should not be allowed to deliberate, and that expertise is a better guide to politics than common sense. This leads to a type of politics that is inflexible, intolerant, and ultimately antidemocratic.

This concern about the political judgment of statesmanship also reflects the growing displacement of older sources of political knowledge by political science. Expertise in politics has gradually come to be identified with political science as studied in our universities; and as political science becomes more scientific, it develops a corporate character and set of interests.[24]  This kind of scientific expertise alone is now considered authoritative in public policy and in academic publications. However, when experts are in agreement among themselves, it is difficult to translate their technical knowledge into a language that is comprehensible to politicians and the public. The result is elites’ imposition of public policies that may be beneficial to the populace but are rejected because these policies have not been presented properly to them.

Again these critics of statesmanship provide a valuable service in pointing out the problems of a political judgment rooted in a reason that is abstract, inflexible, and more concern about consistency than political reality. Although this characterization of reason may reflect some contemporary manifestations of statesmanship, it does not account for them all. What may be missing in the scientific aspect of political knowledge is the understanding that there is a type of cognition specially tailored to political judgment. This position implies that statesmen, because of their greater experience in political matters, develop an intellectual ability to possess better political judgment than those who lack such experiences.[25]

The classic articulation of political judgment that is neither philosophically abstract nor deferential to expertise is the idea of prudence from Aristotle. For Aristotle, prudence is the faculty that applies general principles to particular circumstances that require action and decision: it is a mode of reasoning that steers “a middle way between abstract, technical reasoning and willful self-assertions.”[26] This pre-scientific understanding of politics does not make a sharp distinction between theory and practice, as do democratic theorists or modern political scientists in their account of reason; and because it is concerned with action, prudence therefore is a virtue especially reserved to statesmen.[27]

Aristotle lists both theoretical and practical concerns of the prudent statesman. At the beginning of the Politics, Aristotle argues that the state is a type of partnership that aims for some good common to its members.[28]  But what is distinctive about the state is that it aims at the ultimate good that embraces all lesser goods, such as the family or business. This ultimate good for Aristotle is happiness as he writes in the Nicomachean Ethics (1095a14). These theoretical considerations guide the statesman in contemplating about the means to realize these goods. Without any “abstract” reasoning, which democratic theorists detest, neither statesmen nor citizens will be able to agree upon universal and timeless goods for which they will aim.

The practical concerns for the statesmen that Aristotle lists in the Rhetoric are five areas that are generally at the heart of public policy debates: “revenues and expenditures [finance], war and peace [foreign policy], defense of the territory [homeland security], imports and exports [trade], and legislation [constitutional law]” (1359b19-23). As the state has assumed the role of social services, perhaps we could add welfare and education today. It is important to note that Aristotle goes on to stress the importance to learn both historically and comparatively of how other states resolve these practical matters. If prudence requires theory’s guidance for its ends, then it requires a study of practical matters to understand how to deal with politics’ means.

Because the common good is comprehensive to statesmen, it makes them “master builders” to use Aristotle’s analogy. These master builders do not have detailed knowledge of all the crafts required to build a house, but they know how to coordinate and integrate the activities of expertise into a political whole. Furthermore, the statesman must not only be able to evaluate the excellence of the final product of each expert but know how to use it to the overall success of the project. Although the statesman is an inferior to the knowledge of the expert, he is superior from the standpoint of evaluating the overall health and happiness of the state.

This happiness as the ultimate good for the state is the primary preoccupation of the statesman and of political science. For Aristotle, happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue (Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b14-15); and statesmen must give special attention to virtue since this makes citizens good and law-abiding (Politics, 1280a31-b12). This account of happiness is more expansive than the one which we are accustomed to, e.g., “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as stated in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence’s formulation implies that politics has no business to achieve a substantive vision of happiness but instead should focus on supplying the means for citizens to achieve their own versions of it. For this type of regime, the primary purpose of politics is about means rather than ends.

This account of politics is reflective of democratic theorists’ desire to empower citizens at the expense of statesmen to achieve their own version of happiness. But this desire is founded upon the misconception that equates expertise with statesmanship. Democratic theorists’ objection to the reason of statesmen is not an objection to reason itself but to an abstract, inflexible type of expertise that is reflective of an administrative state that reduces citizens to customers. But Aristotle offers a different account of reason that is concerned with both ends and means, theoretical and practical matters, and steers between abstract thinking and willful assertions. The cultivation of prudence in both citizens and statesmen should be one of the pedagogical aims of the democratic state.

A Pedagogical Technique for Statesmanship

Besides prudence, two other generic attributes should be incorporated into a pedagogy of democratic statesmanship: commitment to the public good and the establishment of social networks. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but only a starting point to stimulate discussion about what kind of objectives we should aim for in the education of students. In what follows, each objective is briefly discussed along with possible pedagogical implementation techniques for the classroom, techniques that encourage these attributes in today’s students.


As stated previously, prudence is concerned with both ends and means in its attempt to make sound moral judgments in concrete situations. It is the capacity and willingness to engage in ethical inquiry when circumstances require, tolerate moral ambiguity, and balance between a commitment to core principles and an appreciation of recurring tensions. It is an attribute that is learned from cumulative experience rather than from philosophical reason.

Weber’s addresses this matter directly when he argues that the pursuit of ultimate ends must be tempered by an “ethics of responsibility.”[29]  This ethic requires an attitude of detachment towards events and people and the ability to evaluate them with composure and confidence. Although politics is born from passion, it must be disciplined by the exercise of human judgment. Responsible statesmen must have an understanding of the complexity of political action and appreciate the fallibility of human planning and unintended consequences.

Specifically, the prudent person must understand that rules are imperfect reflections of their animating purposes.[30]  To follow a rule faithfully requires a second-order competency to discern the purpose of the rule and the integrity and self-restraint to pursue that purpose. The prudent person therefore must understand when rule-departure is more effective than the official responsibilities of rule-following, e.g., selective enforcement of statutory obligations. Flexibility, openness to further inquiry, and postponing matters if possible are qualities we should seek to cultivate in the development of prudence.

The Commitment to Public Good

Since the statesman live within a community, he has a dual responsibility in fulfilling his obligations to the public good as well as to enlarge this vision of the public good when required. The ability to reconcile partial and general perspectives is critical for this attribute and is a standing test for the integrity of someone committed to the public good. For example, members of Congress owe their allegiance to both their constituents in their districts and to citizens of the entire country. Likewise, government administrators have obligations to both their political supervisor as well as to the statutorily created mandates of their office. The only political office that escapes this dual responsibility is the judiciary appointed for life; otherwise, all political actors are confronted with this dual obligation.

Creativity, imagination, and engagement with other institutions and actors are key components to reconcile these dual obligations when they come into conflict with each other. The inability for the U.S. government to pass meaningful environmental legislation or immigration reform could be interpreted largely as a failure of creativity, imagination, and meaningful engagement with the world. The partial, domestic perspective of the U.S. continues to dominate the conversation about these issues and have created a framework of unsatisfactory solutions. The need to expand the perspective to include other actors and institutions, especially international ones, is critical to resolve these problems. How statesmen are able to reconcile these perspectives in enlarging their commitment to the public good will require ingenuity and imagination rather than reworked policies and political clichés.

The Establishment of Social Networks

The establishment of social networks requires more than “friending” people on “Facebook”; rather, it demands the ability to identify the problem and create the appropriate social structure to resolve it. The statesman must make the difficult decisions about access, supervision, and resolutions: which citizens should be included in the process and which ones will be excluded, who should be responsible to monitor the interaction and collaboration among citizens, and how to determine whether the problem has been resolved are some of the preliminary decisions required to establish an effective social network.

Social networks should not be confused with institutions, although knowledge of the latter is essential for political efficacy. Social networks arise and disappear as circumstances dictate. In this sense, they are flexible mechanisms that invite multiple perspectives to resolve these problems. But once the problem is resolved, the social network should disappear; otherwise, it will become ossified and a barrier to resolution to tomorrow’s unknown problems.

The cultivation of democratic statesmanship requires the teaching of prudence, the commitment to the public good, and the establishment of social networks. In all three of these attributes, the student should learn to balance between general and partial demands whether in terms of ethics, perspectives, or problem identification. The need for certain classical works on these subjects, as found in political philosophy, has to be balanced against contemporary demands and problems as articulated in the media and academia. Thus, a syllabus on statesmanship that solely focuses on one subject matter – strictly works on political philosophy or contemporary events – fail to provide the students the material to synthesize them into a meaningful manner. Having both universal and contingent exposure will steer the student into prudential thinking.

A second critical component to a student’s education is consideration of an international perspective to be balanced against a nationalist one. Although Banks et al. have called for a cosmopolitan citizenship, which is beneficial to develop a student’s commitment to the public good; it has to be balanced against concerns of the particular and specifically of his state. Simply put, there is no global or international perspective that one can adopt universally; rather, students at best can engage in the perspective of other countries or transnational movements (e.g., Islamic radicalism) in order to identify problems that affect the politics of their own state. Students therefore must be exposed to perspectives outside their own nationalities in order to enlarge their own understanding and commitment to the public good.

Finally, students should engage in some meaningful service learning to develop the skills of establishing a social network. Specifically, students should have to identify a problem, propose a plan to resolve it, and then write a reflection piece to assess it. The student should be forced to use the appropriate social networks either available to them or have to establish one. The process should be sequentially ordered and evaluated at every stage. Whereas previously the student learns through traditional methods of education, this component requires students to learn by doing. Not only will they learn how to develop and/or use a social network, but they also will be able to apply the lessons of prudence and the commitment to the public good in a concrete situation.

In conclusion, students can cultivate these virtues – prudence, the commitment to the public good, and the establishment of social networks – to be both good citizens and statesmen. Although democratic theorists’ concerns about democratic statesmanship are unfounded, they do provide a useful service in pointing out what to avoid in our classrooms. However, in a democracy, the false dichotomy between citizen and statesman should be replaced with an understanding that prudence, the public good, and social networks are necessary educational components for both citizens and statesmen. The choice is not either-or but both.

The Role of Historical Context in the Pedagogy of Democracy and Statesmanship

When teaching students about democracy, globalization, and statesmanship, history provides many tangible examples which reflect the theoretical debates regarding these issues.  Moreover, history provides instructors with actual patterns of events with which to test and evaluate the validity of particular ideas and suppositions.

First of all, history most certainly reveals that the use of the term “globalization” to describe recent political, economic, and social phenomena is highly problematic.  The world has been a global community for centuries (one can even argue the world has been global for several millennia).  The speed of travel and communications has unquestionably increased, but leaders (democratic and others) have always had to think and make decisions within a global context.  In other words, although the speed with which statesmen have had to make decisions has considerably accelerated, leaders always have had to think and make decisions with other people, other governments, and other cultures in mind.

For example, even a cursory look at the intellectual and political climate of the mid-eighteenth century reveals that the American Revolution took place within a thoroughly interconnected trans-Atlantic world experiencing a number of radical changes. In the years surrounding 1750, new political ideas and ideals flowed back and forth across the ocean with great regularity. The historian R. R. Palmer pointed out many years ago that revolutionary leaders and philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic essentially drew from the same “community of ideas” and, thus, Palmer famously labeled the second half of the eighteenth century “the age of democratic revolutions.”[31]  Susan Dunn makes this point in her book Sister Revolutions: French Lightening, American Light.[32]The American Revolutionary War also spanned the world.  Indeed, by the end of the conflict in 1783, American, British, French, and Spanish forces were fighting in North America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Southern Asia (mainly in naval actions on the Indian Ocean).  The following decade, the new Washington Administration had to decide how to react diplomatically to Europe’s democratic revolutions and the titanic wars they spawned (conflicts which also spanned the globe).[33]

Turning to democracy and the pedagogical issues involved, students of course must be taught that there are certain fundamental principles at work within any functioning democratic system.  The most obvious trait of a working democracy is the commitment of its leaders to respect the will of the majority in free and open elections.  But a functioning democratic system is more complicated and additional ideological principles must be in place.  For instance, it is vital in any democratic society for all citizens to be treated equally before the law.  And the civil and property rights of individuals and minorities must be respected.  Without these latter principles in place, mere pseudo-democracies emerge with a “tyranny of the majority” being the most likely result (this was what James Madison so greatly feared at the time of the U.S. Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 after he had seen state assemblies violating the individual property rights of many citizens).

Although these very general doctrines need to be taught, students must further be instructed that differences in local customs, culture, and historical backgrounds means that democratic systems will emerge (and have emerged) in different ways in various parts of the world.  To put it another way, there is no standard or uniform democratic system of government and there likely never will be.  Thus, the multifaceted interplay between core principles and varying local conditions must be acknowledged by instructors when they teach students about democracy and its principles.

Students, moreover, must have a firm grounding in the America’s democratic experiment in order to properly judge other global democracies. To repeat Hunter, White, and Godbey, one can only competently evaluate the global when that person has developed “a keen understanding of his or her own cultural norms and expectations: a person should attempt to understand his or her own cultural box before stepping into someone else’s.”[34]  Therefore, students must be taught about America’s democratic principles and ideals, and the historical events that unfolded during their implementation.

U.S. history is replete with examples of democracy and democratic statesmanship in action. Several illustrations, though, will serve to explain why and how certain democratic trends developed and why a global and local perspective are so crucial to understanding the operation of democracies in general.  As mentioned above, many scholars argue that democracies can only survive when their citizens are thoroughly engaged in public life and participate at various levels in their society’s daily governance; hence, the numerous educational initiatives in many schools (from kindergartens to universities) are teaching young people the habits of civic engagement.  While most of these curricular efforts seek to create a universal perspective regarding civic action, a local perspective is also needed in order to truly understand democratic trends.

The example of the American population on the eve of the Revolution forcefully illustrates the great power of an aroused and informed citizenry; but the events of this era also demonstrate that unique local circumstances present within late-colonial America also led to independence and the creation of a democratic United States.  In the 1760s and early 1770s, Americans from all walks of life protested – sometimes formally through protest petitions and sometimes violently through mob actions – the tax and commercial policies of the British government in London.  Scholars who have explored these events have found that the ordinary Americans who took part in these protests were keenly aware of their ancient rights as Englishmen and thought about such issues as what it meant to be citizens and members of a larger self-governing community.  In fact, Pauline Maier in American Scripture  has discovered that in 1775 and 1776 (before July 4, 1776) dozens upon dozens of townships – led by local citizen committees – across the colonies wrote their own “declarations of independence,” which stated their attachment to their customary liberties under the British Constitution, the long train of recent abuses by the British government, and that George III had ruled against his American subjects and thus had forfeited his crown (just as James II had forfeited his crown in the 1688-89 Glorious Revolution).[35]

In exploring why ordinary Americans were able to precisely articulate the ideological reasons undergirding their actions, Maier argues that, while these people were certainly unread in Locke, Montesquieu, and other constitutional writers, they had long possessed a habit of self-government.  Indeed, over the course of the eighteenth-century, a significant percentage of the white male population in America had voted for representatives in colonial assemblies, attended and participated in town meetings, and served in local governmental offices, such as justices of the peace and as county judges.  These experiences, however, were highly unique to colonial British-America.  British and French citizens, on the other hand, had no such experiences in local leadership and self-government, and thus their democratic reform movements of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries unfolded in a very different manner.  Comparing these different experiences can produce fruitful insights into not only the general human desire for self-government, but also the need to recognize local conditions in any democratic revolution.

Exploring patterns of democratic statesmanship through the American experiment is also illuminating.  Abraham Lincoln’s experiences as the sixteen president, particularly in how he led the nation beyond the institution of slavery, helps us to see important dynamics in how an exceptional leader can guide a democratic nation toward a fuller realization of its stated ideals.  As before, instructors must be sensitive to the interplay between universal democratic principles and unique local conditions and circumstances.  Abraham Lincoln entered the presidency in March 1861 determined, above all, to preserve the Union, which was already fractured with the secession of seven states from the South.  But Lincoln also possessed a vision of the United States as a land free from slavery.   Indeed, he steadfastly held to the principles articulated by Jefferson in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, particularly “that all men are created equal.”[36]

Nevertheless, at the war’s start Lincoln avoided raising slavery’s abolition.  His initial reluctance concerning bondage was guided by two political realities: first, he wished to keep the slave-holding “border states” (Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) firmly in the Union column and, second, he realized the public opinion was completely unprepared for abolition.  Indeed, citizens would neither support nor sustain an abolition policy if enacted at the war’s start.  Although Lincoln is regarded by scholars as a strong war-time president, he never forgot that he led a democracy and therefore had to work through democratic institutions in order to achieve his goals.  And, through extraordinary leadership over the course of the conflict, Lincoln did eliminate slavery.

Indeed, he achieved his ends through a variety of democratic strategies and means: first, he skillfully guided public opinion (at least in the North) toward his vision of an America without slavery through well-crafted and articulate “Letters to the Editors” in newspapers, public letters to political supporters, and speeches (e.g., the Gettysburg Address of November 1863 where he spoke about a “new birth of freedom” in the United States); second, he used executive authority in an adroit manner, particularly in his role as military commander in chief.  Most famously, Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation” in January 1863 where he freed slaves in the rebelling South in order to undercut the Confederacy’s ability to make war upon the federal government.  And, finally, Lincoln lobbied Congress to approve the enlistment of African Americans as soldiers in the military.  The president politically sensed that black military service would provide the ex-slaves with a greater claim to political equality and civil rights (in addition to simple legal freedom) after the war.[37]

These specific examples of American democracy and statesmanship in action illustrate that scholars need to instruct students in democratic theory with great care.  By understanding the general and local issues involved in all situations, students can better grasp the complex factors involved in democratic movements.  Exposure to the American experience, moreover, helps students better understand their own political system as well as provide them with a basis for judging or evaluating other democratic systems across the globe.



[1] Darla K. Deardorff, “Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization,” Journal of Studies in International Education 10 (2006): 242, 253.

[2] Bill Hunter, George P. White, and Galen C. Godbey, “What does it mean to be globally competent?” Journal of Studies in International Education 10 (Fall 2006): 268.

[3] Association of American Colleges and Universities.  College Learning for the New Global Century (Washington

D.C.: Association America Colleges and Universities, 2007), .2.

[4]Bauman, Zygmunt. Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998),  2-4

[5]Hunter, W.  Knowledge, skills, attitudes and experiences necessary to become globally competent.  UMI

Dissertation Services (2004), 130-31.

[6] Bill Hunter, “What does it mean to be globally competent,” 279.

[7] Bank James A. “Diversity and Citizenship Education in Global Times.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 57-70 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Merryfield, Merry M. and Lisa Duty, “Globalization.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 80-92 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Dilworth, Paulette P. “Multicultural Citizenship Education.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 424-437 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Pike, Graham. “Global Education.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 469-480 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Seyla Benhabib,  “Cosmopolitanism and Democracy: Affinities and Tensions,” The Hedgehog Review 11:3 (Fall 2009): 30-62; Zajda, Joseph. “Values Education and Multiculturalism in the Global Culture.” In Global Values Education, edited by J. Zajda, H. Daun, xiii-xxiii. Heidelberg: Springer, 2009.

[8] Roth, Klas. “Peace Education as Cosmopolitan and Deliberative Democratic Pedagogy.” In Global Values Education, edited by J. Zajda, H. Daun, 49-64 (Heidelberg: Springer, 2009); Bickmore, Kathy. “Peace and Conflict Education.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 438-454 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Hess, Diana and Patricia G. Avery, “Discussion of Controversial Issues as a Form and Goal of Democratic Education.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy,  edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 506-518 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008).

[9]  Tyson, Cynthia A. and Sung Choon Park, “Civic Education, Social Justice and Critical Race Theory.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy,  edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 29-39 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Osler, Audrey. “Human Rights Education: The Foundation of Education for Democratic Citizenship in our Global Age.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn, 455-467 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Zipin, Lew and Alan Reid, “A Justice-Oriented Citizenship Education: Making Community Curricular.” In The SAGE Handbook of Education for Citizenship and Democracy, edited by J. Arthur, I. Davies, and C. Hahn (eds.), 533-544 (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2008); Parker, Walter. Teaching Democracy (New York: Teachers College Press, 2003); Lakes, Richard D. Youth Development and Critical Education (Albany: SUNY Press. 1996).

[10] Battistoni, Richard M.  “Service Learning and Civic Education.” In Education for Civic Engagement in Democracy, , edited by S. Mann and J.J. Patrick.  Bloomington: ERIC, 2000), 30; Hauser, Gerard A. and Amy Grim, Rhetorical Democracy (New York: Psychology Press, 2003).

[11] Dahl, Robert. Democracy and Its Critics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 31, 4.

[12] Barber, Benjamin R. “Neither Leaders Nor Followers: Citizenship Under Strong Democracy.” In Essays in Honor of James MacGregor Burns, ed. Michael R. Beschloss and Thomas E. Cronin (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989), 17.

[13] Barber, Benjamin R. The Conquest of Politics: Liberal Philosophy in Democratic Times (Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1988), 209; Dahl. Democracy and Its Critics, 25-26.

[14] Machiavelli. The Prince (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), chapters 7, 21; Rousseau. The Social Contract (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), Book II, chapter 6.

[15] Jefferson, Thomas. Writings (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1306.

[16] (Barber, 1984, 235-37; 1989a, 119).

Barber, Benjamin R. Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (Berkeley: University of California  Press, 1984), 235-37; Barber, “Neither Leaders Nor Followers: Citizenship Under Strong Democracy,” 119.

[17] Ackerman, Bruce A. Social Justice in the Liberal State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 10.

[18] Warren, Mark E. “Deliberative Democracy and Authority,” American Political Science Review 90: 1 (March 1996): 46-47, 50-51.

[19] Barber, “Neither Leaders Nor Followers: Citizenship Under Strong Democracy,” 126.

[20] Wolin, Sheldon. The Presence of the Past (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989), 118.

[21] Barber, Benjamin R. “Liberal Democracy and the Costs of Consent.” In Liberalism and the Moral Life, ed. Nancy L. Rosenblum (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 198.

[22] Barber, “Liberal Democracy and the Costs of Consent,” 14; Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics, 75; Walzer, Michael. Interpretation and Social Criticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 393; John Rawls, “Justice as  Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 14 (1985):, 230.

[23] Ackerman, A Social Justice in the Liberal State, 303.

[24] Ricci, David M. The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).

[25] Beiner, Ronald. Political Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Steinberger, Peter J. The Concept of Political Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993).

[26] Richard S. Ruderman, “Aristotle and the Recovery of Political Judgment,” American Political Science Review 91.2 (June 1997): 409.

[27] Lord, Carnes and David K. O’Connor, eds. Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 1-48.

[28] Aristotle. Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 1252a1-5. Subsequent citations of The Politics and the Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) will be in-text.

[29] Weber, Max. “Politics as Vocation,” Weber, Selections, ed. W. G. Runciman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978).

[30] Schauer, Frederick. Playing by the Rules: A Philosophical Examination of Rule-Based Decision Making in Law and in Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[31] Palmer, R.R. The Age of Democratic Revolutions: A Political History of Europe and America. 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959-64).

[32] Dunn, Susan. Sister Revolutions: French Lightening, American Light (New York: Faber & Faber, 1999).

[33] Ferling, John E.  Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[34] Hunter, “What does it mean to be globally competent?” 267-285.

[35] Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (New York: Knopf, 1997).

[36] Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

[37] Foner, Eric. The Firery Trail: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010).


Also see “Teaching the American Political Tradition in a Global Context

This was originally published in the same with title in The Liberal Arts in America (Southern Utah University Press, 2012)

Lee Trepanier and Gerson Moreno-Riano and Phillip HamiltonLee Trepanier and Gerson Moreno-Riano and Phillip Hamilton

Lee Trepanier and Gerson Moreno-Riano and Phillip Hamilton

Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science at Samford University; Gerson Moreno-Riano is a Professor of Government at Regent University; Phillip Hamilton is a Professor of History at Christopher Newport University.

Back To Top