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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Real Problem for the Rich Man Today

In the spirit of Petronius's invitation, I'm more than happy to discuss some philosophy and human nature in an effort to return to our roots. I could have also titled this post, "Good Leader, Bad Leader and the Rich Man today."

The discussion so far has focused on money. Money is nothing more than a unit measure of means. A rich man has great means, and places some of those means in the care of stewards beneath him who are supposed to be accountable for their use.

Thus, at some point, the rich man is no longer wielding great means by abstract capacity alone, but also wielding people to control those means and direct them. This greater power, not just over things, but also over people is where the modern rich man has his struggle. It is in the type of pleasure one derives from animating other men to act that temptation is the strongest and where the cut is made between a good man and a bad one.

I want to show that this is the cut made in all of history. King David, old testament Joseph, and even Our Lord Jesus have been documented to not take pleasure in men wildly advancing their leadership for the sake of showing power. In King David's case, it was in chiding his aide to spare the life of a detractor. In Joseph's case, it was in the treatment of his brothers and the instructions to the stewards. In our Lord's case, it was in his restraint of St. Peter and the healing of the temple guard's ear. All of these are cases where the leader who has people acting on his behalf, tells the servant that an abusive exercise of power was wrong. There is therefore a continued example in salvation history of the leader being responsible to tame his minions from exuberant displays of loyalty.

A contemporary example is in the movie 300, wherein Leonides is approached by a hunchbacked Spartan. His chief captain threatens to strike the hunchback down, but Leonides orders him to stand down. An evil leader would be pleased that he has a man that would kill another in order to advance the leader. That's the difference I'm getting at. The good leader does not allow his underlings to wield the leader's power for the sake of demonstrating the power.

There does appear to be an affirmative duty on the leader to make these corrections. Human nature seems to suggest that the underling wants to do anything to please the leader. Thus, the leader is required to instruct the underling in the limits of the leader's power. In King David's case, David pointed out that his detractor may well have been sent by God to make David humble when instructing his underling not to strike the detractor. In Our Lord's case, it was that violence was not the means of advancing salvation. In the case of Leonides, it was that the military command had not been given. Thus, the good leader abhors underlings who run amok smacking people for the sake of advancing the leader's name.

The contrast to the evil leader is striking when measured by this standard. Xerxes, for instance, in 300, had numerous underlings willing to do whatever it took to show Xerxes that they advanced his power. Xerxes is perhaps an extreme example as he even went so far as to demand that his underlings worship him. But that's the thing that gives a clue as to what the temptation of the bad leader is: taking satisfaction in having people fight in their name. For Xerxes, the underlings fought for the glory of Xerxes. The image in the movie 300 of the characters made into tools is instructive as well. They didn't guillotine a guy, rather a man with guillotine arms did the head chopping. The abused crowd of the Persian army in that film shows that the evil leader sees his people as instruments of power. Xerxes had obvious pleasure in having blindly obedient underlings serving not just his whims, but the perceived whim.

Our Lord's example is the strongest here. He tells St. Peter that those who live by the sword die by it. In other words, using power to force loyalty to a leader or silence opposition is what leads to death by the same means. Force doesn't make an idea right. Given that Our Lord denounced it, such must be the method of hell.

You have to take these images and compare them to the building of an ideological empire in today's world. Does it make the foundation of an empire righteous that is was built by the destruction of critics? Does the leader have an affirmative duty to hear the criticism and allow those people to speak, as did King David? What makes the rich man good? What makes his kingdom good in the eyes of God? Does the use of economic power today rival the use of the sword?