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Thought for the Week – 19th November 2023

Power or Virtue

I recently read an extract from a talk given by Rory Stewart on the goal of politics. Stewart is a former Conservative MP and cabinet member; he stood for leadership of the party (and the job of Prime Minister) when David Cameron stood down. He resigned from the party over disagreements about Brexit. He is now an academic and broadcaster.

Stewart suggested that there are two competing visions of how politicians should work. One is typified by the 16th¬†century thinker, Machiavelli, who believed that the first duty of any leader is to achieve and maintain power. If a politician never has power, they will never be able to lead. By contrast Stewart drew on older ideas, derived from Greek philosophers, who believed that the goal of any life was to pursue “virtue”. Here the politician is to prioritise doing what they believe is right, the greater common good, over the pursuit of power.

I suspect most of us borrow from both camps; I can play power games, albeit not very well. However, it seems to me that the Christian view must be that virtue trumps power; it is the former that should motivate us and our leaders, not the latter. You will have your own views on where current leaders, both in this country and abroad, stand on power versus virtue.

Rev David Poyner