Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who Said Power Corrupts?

I love history. I believe it leaves clues...

I believe that there are lessons we were all meant to learn... and when we haven't learnt the lesson, we are doomed to repeat it. I also believe that each time we have to repeat a lesson, the lesson itself will grow steadily more severe each time it must be repeated.

So I want to take you back a bit through time.

Bear with me. I'll explain why this little trip through time is important to this particular time in our history in a minute.

First, let's travel back to the 17-1800's.

In 1887, Bishop Mandell Creighton received a letter from historian and moralist, first Baron, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, better known as Lord Acton (1834–1902), that contained the following sentence:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
A little further back, in 1770, in a speech to the UK House of Lords, William Pitt, the Elder, The Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778 stated:
"Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."
Now let's fall all the way back in time to a period described as the "birth" of "western" philosophy -- the era of Plato whom is estimated to have been born 428 or 427 BC – and whose death is estimated to have been 348 or 347 BC).

The 5 Stages to the Fall of an Empire, as Described by Plato

According to Plato, a state which is made up of different kinds of souls, will overall decline starting first...
  1. from an aristocracy (rule by the best)

  2. to a timocracy (rule by the honorable),

  3. then to an oligarchy (rule by the few),

  4. then to a democracy (rule by the people),

  5. and finally to tyranny (rule by one person, rule by a tyrant).
He (Plato) once asked which is better - a bad democracy or a country reigned by a tyrant? He argued that it is better to be ruled by a bad tyrant (since then there is only one person committing bad deeds) than be a bad democracy (since here all the people are now responsible for such actions.)

Now one more teeny step back in time... to Socrates.

Socrates stressed that "virtue was the most valuable of all possessions; the ideal life was spent in search of the Good. Truth lies beneath the shadows of existence, and it is the job of the philosopher to show the rest how little they really know."

Socrates, often credited with founding western philosophy and who was put to death by the democracy of Athens in May, 399 BC, was Plato's teacher and mentor; Plato, like some of his contemporaries, wrote dialogues about his departed teacher.

Socrates often said his (Socrates') own wisdom was limited to an awareness of his own ignorance.

BUT, and this is important, just like today where current politicians quote former Presidents and rulers, twisting the words to suit their own purpose and/or partisan politics... so, too, has Plato been accused of doing the same with his dialogues quoting Socrates.

Plato (understandably so) seems to have hated democracy. After all, it was the Athens "democracy" that sentenced his mentor, Socrates, to death.

In Plato's 5 stages as described above, what happens when you skip the "aristocracy" rule stage and jump straight to the "democracy" stage...?

Think about it.

The USA is the ONLY NATION in the entire world that has risen (with great speed) into such a powerful nation without beginning from royalty/aristocracy roots.

Flash forward in time to our humble beginnings...

George Washington learned how to survey land at the tender age of 16 and started his own surveying business when only 17 years old, so he was in essence an entrepreneur ...a business man.

George Washington himself rode at the forefront of many battles on the battlefield, escaping injury many times. In one particularly long and fierce battle, four bullets ripped through his coat and two horses were shot from under him. He very much earned his rank as Colonel, and later General. So he can also be described as a military man.

George Washington has long been perceived as an honest man, a common man, a business man, a military man, in one way or another, he can represent each one of us...

Neither philosopher, nor King, George Washington became our first President.

By unanimous vote...

Upon George Washington's death, Henry Lee, who had been with Washington in the Revolutionary War, wrote that Washington was "...first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

General Lee read this eulogy in Congress. Everyone shared his feelings.

Where it took, in many cases, thousands of years for other governments born of aristocracy to rise to a powerful nation among nations took this nation, with a government elected by the people, for the people... a small handful of years by comparison.

There is an important new lesson here for philosphers of the future.

Historians of the future will have a great debate over whether this nation began as either:
  • A timocracy?
  • Or a democracy?
And embedded in history dating all the way back to the 3rd century BC, there is an old lesson we might also be doomed to repeat -- today -- in the here and now.

As Obama signs yet another multi-Billion-dollar Bill pounding us all into a debt which MUST be repaid, both in our lifetimes and for generations to come, one has to wonder how close to Plato's final stage are we?

Obama liked to pretend he didn't break any promise with respect to "earmarks" in the GIANT Stimulus Bill (which Pelosi already practically admitted will fail without yet another Stimulus Bill to follow it)...

And now, he admits, yeah, this new "budget" Bill is not perfect... rationalizing and justifying why he will be signing it (stuffed with 8500 earmarks) anyway.

Here is a man who during his campaigning declared he would wipe out "earmarks" and instead, now stands before us declaring what the rules will be to play the "earmarks" game.

There is a lesson mankind forgot to learn in the past.

And it's been repeated...

And repeated...

Getting far more severe with each repitition.

Could it be our destiny to break the cycle? learn the lesson that nations before us ignored?

Before we cross that line -- the line between democracy and tyranny -- it is oh-so-very important that we remember this:

"We surround them."

Watch the Glenn Beck show on Friday, March 13, 2009.

If you can't be home to watch it (at 4 pm Central Time/3 pm Eastern)... be sure to Tivo it or DVR it.

PS: There is another lesson missed, buried all the way back to Socrates time. It was missed by him. It was missed by Plato. It has been missed by nation after nation after nation ever since... taught wrongly in schools since the dawn of western philosophy. And we hold the key to unlocking and learning that lesson now. Do you know what lesson it is?

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