These days, America is storm-tossed by endless political debate, the 24-hour news cycle, haranguing, and even physical combat over Trump’s government. I wonder why people don’t want to calm down? Trump has done nothing to harass U.S. citizens. Sure, he’s ramped up deportations of illegal aliens, but these are not citizens nor individuals endowed with constitutional rights. The threat of two wars may be looming–“may be” are the operative words. But, ach, why does anyone put themselves through such an aggravating and inconclusive thing as politics?
A clear thinker would point out that a community’s common good is the goal for any true politician. He strives to implement policies intended for the general welfare, public order, moral behavior (as much as the law can prudently enforce), and the defense of life, liberty, and property. Many competing avenues exist on to how to produce the public good, which we see in schools of philosophy and economics: Austrian Economics, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, capitalism, capitalism, communism, fascism, Islam, monarchy, constitutionalism, democracy, etc. All these modes claim to effect the best possible society.
Those of my dear readers who may have chanced upon another blog of mine, Aquila et Infans, know that I have been reading C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. The novel is very powerful. In particular, it highlights certain excesses which we see in our own times. I have less than 100 pages to go, and the evil organization, which has the precious abbreviation N. I. C. E., has thoroughly appalled me by their tactics and even more by their vision for mankind. Lest I give away too many spoilers, let me speak generally about what their horrifying fault is. Pride, a most diabolic and insane pride runs through the veins of the top members. Their pride consists in thinking that they can recreate mankind according to their own conceptions. Rather than discovering what man is and then deciding how to benefit mankind through understanding human nature, they attempt to force their silly notions upon human society and work from ideals which destroy people’s way of life and even their very being. Aristotle claimed that virtue was found between two extremes or vices. Humility places man exactly where he is. Pride puffs man up or deflates him beyond reason. The latter is certainly a form of pride, and may be seen in the vices of despair, materialism, and melancholy. (If cheerfulness is a virtue, as St. Francis de Sales claimed, then melancholy may surely be listed as a vice!) But, the people of N. I. C. E. do not miss the mark–αμαρτιζειν, if you will–by undershooting. Their arrow of arrogance flies far above the target and lands no where near it! Rather than follow the Master’s words: “The poor you may always have with you. You may do good to them whenever you wish,” they think that might eliminate poor persons as deadweights, which, to their mind, is the benefit of famine and war. Natural things have germs; therefore, we ought to destroy the forests and replant them with artificial trees. Sex is disgusting; therefore, let people coddle artificial replicas of their lovers rather than each other. Everyone else’s reason–especially the lower classes–is inferior and corrupt; therefore, let us lie and distort the truth. And the frightening thing is that we see reflections of these attitudes in modern times! Margaret Sanger believed that blacks were inferior and ought to be eliminated. And so, we have the establishment of Planned Parenthood. In the movements advocating sexual freedom, no-fault divorce, and gay marriage, we see the destruction of the family–that natural environment for the rearing of children and mutual love. People also assert the right, formerly held only by God Himself, to determine which infants will live and at what time one ought to die. To reference couples with their replicas, what else is pornography and the sex industry? To many a modern, man exists not in nature, but above it. So, what is the use of speaking of human nature? Or the nature of man? Or the nature of woman? In these times, it is more often heard that man created God in his image than that God created man out of the slime of the earth. The zeitgeist holds that man can make himself whatever he wishes to be. How many ills would be cured if a men tried to be men and women women! A fish is not happy on dry land nor a wolf in the Pacific Ocean. Neither is a man happy when he tries to be a god.
A while back, I had the pleasure of completing Loeb’s edition of Demosthenes’ speeches. One is struck by the utter simplicity of the problems facing Athens. The correct path can often simply be found by letting conscience guide one’s decision. Very few speeches of Demosthenes rely upon persuading Athens to accept the better of two good choices. The moral force of one position usually suffices to deny the other path as a legitimate choice.
And that scenario allows Demosthenes’ speeches to excel. Whenever he perceives the corruption and cowardice of his political enemies, he unleashes beautiful and trenchant rhetoric condemning their position. His greatest opponents happened to be Athenian agents of King Philip or peace-at-any-price orators who attempted to lull Athens into false security concerning Philip’s ambitions. But, Demosthenes always countered them with evidence of Philip’s greed and treachery, claiming that true peace could only be built upon truth and justice. Eventually, Demosthenes did convince Athens to act, but it was too late to prevent the Macedonian conquest of the Greek world. At any rate, one simply must read Demosthenes’ “On the Crown,” his most stunning rhetorical achievement.
I wish that politics were as cut and dried in our own day. On the one hand, sometimes simple problems do come before Congress. On the other hand, politicians themselves introduce complications, are beholden to different special interest groups, and the world itself is much more complex than just fifty years ago. This makes deciding the right course so much more difficult. Yet, I can still wish for a modern Demosthenes to arise so that he can defend the rights of the citizens and denounce injustice.
Patrick Henry was at least a little similar to Demosthenes.