The Ancients Versus the Moderns
The question we ask of power has changed tremendously. For the ancients, the principal question was, “Who rules? Who is fit to rule? What makes someone a wise ruler?” Their assumption was that the wise ruler would (or could) do no harm. You can see in Plato’s fantasy of a philosopher king the final synthesis of Power and Wisdom.
Are we moderns standing on the shoulders of giants, or are we accusing them of being monsters? In either case, we moderns have changed the topic of conversation. For us, concentrated power corrupts the self and destroys the community; we think it cannot do otherwise. History is said to be the story of the ascendancy of power and the vanquishing of the weak. Consequently, we ask, “What are the limits of rule?” By asking this question, we want to know what procedures, instruments, and institutions are in place such that, if the individuals holding power start to misuse it or abuse us, we can throw the bums out.
Over the past couple days, I have been examining the nature of authority and our need for good authority. Yes, our need for good authority. If we are social animals (Aristotle’s first premise) and if, as social animals, we need to cooperate with each other in order to get by and if realizing common good requires some form of coordinated action, then it follows that some figure or figures will have to be making requests, drawing up guidelines, issuing directives, offering counsel, and so on. We are obedient in those cases where we follow directives with “our whole heart.”
Murmuring is the throaty rejection of wholeheartedness. In speaking of murmuring, St. Benedict cues us into the first signs of disobedience. In the first case I mentioned yesterday, I wrote that “The member who is murmuring has not been properly educated. Hence, his murmuring is unfounded and without reason.” In this post, I insist that the ancient question, the “who rules?” question, applies to the case of the murmurer who has no warrant for his murmuring. In the next post, I examine the second and third cases with an eye to making some sense of the modern question of the limits of rule. I take it the second and third cases are concerned with our reasons for throwing the damned bums out–with chucking poor leaders in case 2, corrupt institutions in case 3.
Pascal and Child-Rearing
“[T]hat is my place in the sun!” Here is the beginning and the image of the usurpation of the earth.
Pacal, Pensees, 295
In my addled brain, I imagine Pascal directing this pensee to the quizzical parent and the murmuring child. The philosophical drama I wish to conjure up will be the scene of education.
The child points and says, “That is my place in the sun! That is mine, I possess it, I want it, and I have no intention of sharing it!” (My philosophical child is whiny but eloquent.) Over time, the good parent–good in virtue of embodying good authority–will have to educate the child in the burdens of the self, the claims of the other, and the ways of desire. “The Latin word educare,” I wrote elsewhere, “retains the agrarian sense of ‘rearing,’ ‘bringing up,’ and ‘leading forth.'” In this sense, the good parent is someone who brings up by leading forth.
What must she do to give the child a good moral education?
- Well, she will have to teach the child to distinguish needs from wants. Needs would be that which one cannot do without provided that one aims to survive and flourish whereas wants are like accessories.
- The child will have to learn that others exist and that they make claims upon us. The world is animated; as such, it cannot be put in her mouth and consumed in one gulp.
- The parent will have to teach the child self-possession. (Getting kicked in the teeth is one way the world serves this lesson up for us ready made!)
- The child will have to learn to move from the “lower” to the “higher.” Good desires are refined and civilized; higher concerns and commitments are radiant. E.g., over time, the child’s desire for a tootsie roll is transformed into the desire for dark chocolate. In such cases, when a parent says “no” to junk (trinkets, porn, etc.), she also implicitly says “yes” to nourishment (art, love, etc.). Admonition, in like cases, is the via to encomia and chanting.
Here is the beginning and the image of the love of the earth.
Day 1: “Why We Need Good Authority.” I describe the structure and quality of good authority and good obedience. As the title suggests, I also make the case that we can’t do without good authority if we want our lives to go well.
Day 2: “On Murmuring as a Clue to the Problem of Authority.” I cue into murmuring as a primal urge of dissafection and alienation. I then lay out 3 possible explanations for someone’s murmuring.
Day 3: “On Murmuring, Education, and Love.” I examine the first case. A person’s murmuring stems from her improper education. What does good education look like?
Day 4: “On Murmuring, Bad Authority, and the Abdication of Responsibility.” I explore the second case. A person’s murmuring is a sign that the authority figure is not exercising legitimate authority.
Day 5: “On Murmuring, Alienation, and Institutional Failures.” I discuss the third case. A person’s murmuring implies that an institution isn’t working.