Metaxas opens his chapter by discussing basic qualities important for our leaders, such as competence, experience, intelligence and an ability to "get the job done." (Metaxas, 150)
For example, government leaders need to be well versed in the Constitution, since it is the law of the land. They need to understand the 18th century definitions of the words in the Constitution, because that is how the Founding Fathers expected it to be interpreted. Experience obviously goes far, as well as providing "the proof that is in the pudding."
Concerning morality, I'll let Metaxas speak...
"We need leaders who themselves love the country and the freedoms of this country more than they love themselves and their own careers or reputations or 'legacies'." (Metaxas, 153)
"...the character of our leaders is important because it affects everyone..." (Metaxas, 154)
"When the founders were advocating for liberty, their single-most quoted source was the Bible, which of course tells us something about their thoughts on the importance of virtue." (Metaxas, 155)
"...the second-most-quoted source was the French political philosopher Montesquieu, who wrote 'bad examples can be worse than crimes...More states have perished because of a violation of their mores than because of a violation of their Laws.'" (Metaxas, 155)
Metaxas uses the word picture of parenting to explain this concept, that children are affected by the behavior of their parents. That reminds me of another word picture that I discovered when my children came into the world. It is that of a mirror. Whenever my children did something wrong, all I could do initially was see myself. Why? Because more and more I saw my children as a mirror, reflecting back behaviors, good or bad, that they had learned from me. It was always a humbling moment that I needed to change me, and apologize to them, before I could help them see that what they did was wrong.
"The founding generation understood this well and often looked back to the Romans for examples of civic virtue." (Metaxas, 155) And thus begins the fascinating story of Cincinnatus, a virtuous Roman after whom George Washington patterned himself...which unfolds into one of my favorite stories of Washington, which Metaxas tells in a most moving way. As always tears welled up in my eyes, like the men in the room with Washington.
You've got to get Metaxas' book for all the stories...but I will share this. Washington's speech (that is recorded in If You Can Keep It) was full of the following words. As you read the list, think of the number of times you've either heard this or seen it happen in our day:
- patient virtue
- sacred honor (Metaxas, 165)
Can it be that the further we have strayed from thinking of such things, the further we have strayed from what is necessary for ordered liberty bequeathed to us by our founders? And that in neglecting the cultivation of these virtues have we unwittingly undermined our entire way of life? (Metaxas, 165)
From before Plutarch wrote his Lives, human beings have known that heroes inspire us to do what is right when temptation would tempt us otherwise. So in a government like ours, leaders who exemplify virtue do much to help those they lead in self-government. (Metaxas, 167)
But...what if our leaders aren't exemplifying virtue? What can we do about it?
Thus begins a mini-biography of the heroic William Wilberforce, told in Metaxas' dramatically spell-binding style. (For more read Metaxas' full biography, which I reviewed here.) In this synopsis Metaxas shares some great insight for us from the life of Wilberforce who struggled to end the slave trade in the late 18th and early 19th century Britain.
Wilberforce understood the idea that the law itself is a 'teacher' and will lead people toward what it prescribes and away from what it prohibits. But he knew that a debased culture cannot be stemmed through legislation alone. Indeed, if one wishes to make certain laws, one must change the culture first, else those laws will never be passed. (Metaxas, 173)
And that is exactly what we've been talking about through Metaxas' book, the difference between the 18th century worldview and the 21st century worldview. So...how do we do that? How do we return to an 18th century mindset of virtue? Again, we look at Metaxas' suggestion through the life of Wilberforce.
"He became known not as a pious moralist but as someone who seemed to really express love toward the political enemies who were everywhere around him, especially on the bitter issue of the slave trade." (Metaxas, 174)
Oh, and by the way, after many, many, many years, Wilberforce turned the tide of the culture into one of greed to philanthropy...and the slave trade came to an end! (Metaxas details it all!)
...what is most important in this issue of the character of a nation's leaders is not merely that the virtuous behavior of leaders encourages a culture of virtue in general-however terribly important that is-which in turn enables the people to govern themselves more effectively. What is more important is that if at any point in a republic of self-government the people begin to distrust their leaders as somehow corrupt or as more concerned with themselves than with those they serve, the whole skein of self-government begins to unravel and is fatally threatened. (Metaxas, 176)
Thus we find our country unraveling today over perhaps the most bitterly contested election of all time. Not that this is specifically addressed in Metaxas' book since it was obviously written and published before America somehow ended up with the two least moral candidates to consider for the presidency in the history of America.
Now what? How do we vote? For me personally, I know who I won't vote for. Hillary has proven that she does not embrace a single idea that the Founding Fathers stood for. A vote for Hillary guarantees the loss of freedom. She does not stand for freedom for America. Remember Benghazi. Shameful. Secure e-mails. Not. These and more guarantee the proof that we are not safe under her rule because after all, she seeks big government, which is tyranny.
Today the world headlines have announced that Britain has voted for self-government. They are tired of being a pawn at the hands of a few elite making all their decisions.
Back to America and today...looking ahead to November. That leaves me with three choices: not to vote (which guarantees Hillary), vote third party (which guarantees Hillary), vote Trump (ack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) I don't like him either. He's certainly not moral either. He has no tact.
I am not the only voter who shares this quandary. Most definitely this a heavy burden that is on the shoulders of those who who deeply and compassionately care for freedom and virtue. Upon our choices hinges either the guaranteed loss of our republic, and therefore our freedoms, or perhaps, many say, that there is a hope...for hope.
This is definitely not a year for bragging about whom we are voting for. Instead this is definitely the year (though it should be done every election year) to humbly pray for guidance, to humbly pray for our nation to seek virtue, to humbly pray for good. Also it is the time to be a Wilberforce and influence our culture with lovingkindness to embrace good, to guide them to see good, to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Also many who deeply care for virtue and freedom are arguing for doing the difficult choice because of the hope of keeping the door of freedom open a bit for the greater hope for freedom in the future.
As I've considered that position, I'm reminded of another time, two times actually, when our Founding Fathers faced a crisis over morality. During the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Founding Fathers hotly contested the ending of slavery. The southernmost states held firm for their states' rights to own slaves. Their northern neighbors insisted that slavery must end because they indeed saw this as the moral issue of the day. Even Virginia's delegates insisted that slavery must end. Slavery was absolutely immoral. Yet without 100% agreement among the delegates, they could not push forward with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (and again at the Constitutional Convention in 1787) and all would be lost. Finally a compromise was reached. Because the southern most states refused to budge, their northern neighbors reluctantly left the slave issue as it was. They hoped that if the door to freedom was opened a bit now for the general population, the rest of the population would eventually receive their freedoms. At the end of the 18th century slavery was on the way out. It had already come to an end without legislation in the northern states because it was not productive. Quite frankly, neither was it productive in the south, and the founders knew that. They were all in debt. They honestly thought it would soon die out, and rather soon at that. Also they were not capable of freeing slaves of their own choice due to old laws in the books in their colonies/states. I think the Great Awakening later in the 18th century changed their thinking on all that. So they hoped for the future of slavery dying out on its own. However they had no idea that the invention of the cotton gin was around the corner. Eventually freedom for slaves finally came but it took an awful war between the states.
Then there is the...vote for morality by writing in a worthy candidate. Believe me, I'm deeply considering that one too.
Will any of us keep our freedoms? Will the right of self-government perish? Can we keep it? There are many things to consider. We must not decide this lightly. Most of all, we must pray for guidance and for our country and for our electorate and candidates to change to faith and virtue.
If You Can Keep It is available for purchase at your favorite bookstore, including through Amazon. By the way, I receive no commissions. I did, however, receive a free copy to review before the launch date which was June 14th. I blog because I'm passionate about this topic and I've been sharing bits and pieces of this information over the years. Because many of my readers have asked me questions about resources for this topic before, I want to make If You Can Keep It known. It's highly relevant for today, for adults as well as students. You can read more about it at Metaxas' website.