[April 28, 2021] One hundred-one years ago, in April 1910, Theodore Roosevelt spoke about citizenry in a Republic. His speech in Sorbonne Paris is popularly known as ‘The Man in the Arena.‘ An oft-repeated theme of my leadership blog deals with individual responsibility, and Roosevelt won great acclaim for his emphasis on personal duty and accountability.
If anything, Roosevelt was a man of action. His safaris in Africa, his combat role in the Spanish American War, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, negotiating peace in the Russo-Japanese War, and establishing National Parks, he epitomized a man on a mission to place the United States in a position of world leadership.
“The success of republics like yours and like ours means the glory, and our failure the despair, of mankind, and for you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme.”
His ability to distinguish clearly between a democracy and other forms of government was striking. However, his main contribution was to demonstrate that an informed, responsible, duty-filled citizen from democratically elected nations is necessary, the foundation of a prosperous country.
“Under other forms of government, under the rule of one man or very few men, the quality of the leaders is all-important.”
In contrast, one-man rule governments require excellence in the leader himself, not in the people. He says that the average citizen’s quality is unimportant because that citizen is an almost negligible quality in working out the greatness or disappointment of that type of nation.
“Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one.”
In his speech, Roosevelt also warns those who come from privileged circumstances, that there is a strong temptation to intellectual laziness, nihilism, and cynicism. That such men are less worthy of respect, who hold the attitude that a great society cannot be achieved since humanity is too flawed.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better …
In his most famous line, Theodore Roosevelt gives us his philosophy of the idealism of a man who acts, not out of fear but out of self-knowledge, that our society will not survive without him.
… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt was certainly that man in the arena.