Ethics And Power

Chaitanya Jyothi Museum Opening, 2000

In the Name of The Father, and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit, Amen.



Like As A Hart
Psalm 42:1
University of Redlands Choir, 1956
Rod Stephens,  UofR Choir Member and Digital Re-Masterer

In my first year of graduate school, for a class in Christian Ethics, I composed a brief essay approving USA moves in SE Asia (Viet Nam) based on a Brit’s Summer 1965 essay in the NYT Magazine titled something along the lines of Thank God For The Pax Americana.

The Professor, who also was Faculty Dean and something of a celebrity, graded my effort B something, I think, and remarked that while he could not agree with my assertion or its premise, he understood the background for making it.  Today I would not apply for admission to that institution much less find tolerated there a paper of that nature I wrote there then.

Time and thought have not changed my estimate there made.  Christian Ethics, my subject then, in a specific geopolitical context, comprises the use of power in furtherance of one’s actual interests.

Power does not have adjectives, such as just, unjust, beneficial, soft, cruel, etc.  Power is God.  Who is one to know what adjectives to affix to power?  Justice is using the power one has, however much or little (Parable of the Talents), to steward one’s actual — as distinguished from imagined or imposed — interests.

So the issue, if you will, is What is my actual interest? rather than How can I avoid being accused of bad-doing?  This truth holds true for individuals, groups and nations, up and down the line of human endeavor without exception.

Lord Acton’s comment on power and corruption is malarkey.  Reinhold Niebuhr’s sanctimonious intonations of it put him in the same corral, piled deep with the stuff.

But if we might discuss this point until we found that we nearly agreed, and if we do agree thoroughly about the impropriety of Carlylese denunciations and Pharisaism in history, I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong.   If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases.   Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility.   Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.   [False!]  Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.  There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.  [TRUE!]  That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.  You would hang a man of no position like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III of England ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan.  Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason.  I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.

Plus, we do not have titles of nobility in the USA, thank God!

Update 1: Over the past two years the increasingly skeptical citizenry of the United States and Europe has been treated to a stream of op-eds and television appearances lamenting the looming collapse of the liberal world order, to be accompanied by a surge of illiberalism, nationalism, and fringe politics. Rarely, however, does such hand-wringing stray beyond shopworn comparisons of the “complex interdependence” of the glorious past and the parochialism and narrow-mindedness of the current era. In truth, we are not witnessing a dramatic systemic change driven by conniving external forces, but a meltdown of political authority in the West caused by the relatively straightforward indolence of its political class. Our troubles are less about liberalism’s decline or the ascendancy of left or right politics. Simply put, the citizenry in the West has been frustrated for decades with its elites’ inability to deliver workable solutions to the problems of slow growth, deindustrialization, immigration, and the overall decline of self-confidence across the West.

The legitimacy, and hence stability, of the international system rests to a degree on the ability of the leading powers to deliver at home—or, simply put, to govern. The increasing volatility of international politics is in part a byproduct of systemic dysfunction across the West at the level of domestic politics. Americans and Europeans alike are running out of patience with the governing class. In Europe, the government’s inability to control mass migration or develop effective solutions to domestic terrorism are two important drivers of the growing public discontent. In the United States the middle and working classes have been frustrated for decades with the government’s inability to remedy de-industrialization, urban decay, and declining economic opportunity.

Glenn Reynolds comments: And in both places, as the “elite” has grown demonstrably less competent and honest, it has also grown visibly more contemptuous of the people it purports to govern. That contempt is, I think, the most poisonous part of the whole equation.

My essays on the question of authority are here.

Update 2: ‘KNOWN WOLF’ TERROR SCANDAL: CIA Knew About 9-11 Hijackers, Didn’t Provide Intel to FBI


Kitsap Live Steamers
Kitsap Live Steamers

2 thoughts on “Ethics And Power

  1. An old man and his engine. Power is God! Wonderful to think that he has been building things since he could hold a hammer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *