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Burtka Revives Mirrors for Princes

State of the Union: A new volume from Johnny Burtka — Gateway to Statesmanship — may yet inspire the next generation of American leaders.

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On February 2, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute hosted an event at the Heritage Foundation to launch Johnny Burtka’s upcoming book, Gateway to Statesmanship: Selections from Xenophon to Churchill. His speech about the book was followed by a discussion between Burtka and Elbridge Colby, former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, and moderated by ISI’s Vice President Daniel McCarthy.

Burtka, the current president of ISI and a former executive director of The American Conservative, cited his interest in reviving the “mirrors for princes” genre of literature as the reason behind putting together his book. This type of book, which has not been widely seen since the Renaissance, was designed to provide leaders and rulers with advice and instructions on how to best wield their power. In looking to and reading the mirrors for princes literature of antiquity, Burtka suggested that it could “raise the odds that one or several heroes will emerge in politics, but also culture, business, and education, that can help to restore the happiness, the safety, and independence of Americans.”

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Colby agreed with Burtka’s sentiment. He argued that teaching and education has lost the qualities from back when the mirrors for princes genre was popular, but that this type of “advice literature” still remains relevant for leaders in our government today. 

“One of the things that you touched on is that this tradition really is not a, you know, the book is not a philosophical treatise. It’s practical advice,” he said to Burtka. “And the thing that I love about some of these authors, they understood that people involved in politics are busy people, right?... But here, now you have a roadmap.”

McCarthy, a former editor-in-chief of The American Conservative, noted, “The great thing about this book is that it illustrates the way in which the generation of today, including our panelists this morning, can stand up on the shoulders of giants. That there is, in fact, a great tradition and transcendent one that can be drawn upon.”

Burtka’s efforts with Gateway to Statesmanship go hand-in-hand with the mission of ISI, which is to educate American students about the traditions of liberty and the feats of western civilization throughout history. ISI does this through exposing their students to impactful and shaping literature similar to what Burtka includes in Gateway to Statesmanship

Colby aptly referred to a person who simply ruminates on philosophy and ideas but believes himself too intellectually superior to try and affect change as “the guy standing on a stylus.” While the act of writing a book to fill the centuries-old gap in mirrors for princes literature is definitely an intellectual task, Burtka’s commitment to actually instilling the values he preaches is evident in his work as ISI’s president. 

Gateway to Statesmanship will be available for purchase on February 20, 2024.

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