Ancient to Modern: the Changing Face of Power
Larry Allums, Ph.D.
In an official statement carried by the New York Times on Friday, March 16, the Prime Minister of China, Zhu Rongji, “apologized today [March 15] for a deadly schoolhouse explosion in a rural province and softened earlier denials that children at the school were making fireworks.” 38 students between the ages of nine and eleven were killed in the explosion, reported by government officials earlier to have been set off by a “lone madman.” The Prime Minister’s televised apology and near-reversal of official position were a rarity, but more significant than the statement itself are the reasons attributed to it by the Times writer: “Mr. Zhu’s nationally televised apology, highly unusual for a Chinese leader, reflected the extent to which the government’s attempts to contain conflicting accounts of the blast had been undermined by citizens’ rapidly spreading access to the Internet and other information channels and by an increasingly self-assertive press.”
Reports from China’s so-called “shadow media” and internet “chat,” according to the Times article, foiled an attempted cover-up and “threatened to tarnish Mr. Zhu’s reputation as a straight-forward, frank-speaking leader.” Mr. Zhu ended his revised, highly public statement by promising “to all the people of this country that we will learn from this incident and will never allow students and minors to participate in activities that are potentially dangerous and could cause the loss of life. If such a thing happens again, not only will the county governor, the village chief and the township mayor be sacked and held criminally responsible, but the provincial governor will also be disciplined.”
With its very literal level of suffering, this story is almost instantaneously symbolic of the changing face of power in the 21st century. Stories like it are accumulating, and they all give the lie to Henry David Thoreau’s rather puffy-sounding opinion of the media in Walden 150 years ago: “And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter-we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea” (84-5).
Thoreau the philosopher comes across as a crank in this passage because he’s speaking from an “old model” in which the reader is a passive receptor of information without any means of response except “letters to the editor.” In fact, he sounds unforgivably callous. In spite of the very real possibility that the Chinese Prime Minister’s statement was meant more for show than for substance, his promise that the government will learn from past mistakes and that reforms will be instituted from top to bottom in the political hierarchy is part of a growing body of evidence that “globalization” is forcing us to re-conceive traditional ideas about how organizations and institutions work in the world, indeed how entire societies exist. Perhaps the most important premise of such “global thinking” involves a radical shift-a sea change-in the way power must be regarded: new technologies, revising the foundations of the Industrial Revolution and realpolitik, are diluting the “power of power” through their decentralizing, democratizing influence.
According to this view, power formerly concentrated in individuals or small groups with enormous ambition, from the Roman Triumvirates to Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot, is being transfused inevitably and indiscriminately to huge, aggregate, but geographically and politically disconnected groups by virtue of new, emergent forms such as the Internet, described in 1999 by General Electric Chairman Jack Welch as “the single most important event in the U.S. economy since the Industrial Revolution” (quoted in Michael Lewis, The New New Thing, 248).
The understanding invested in this new model is that power will now be shared because the new technologies, of which communications technology with its rapid delivery of information is the chief component, have ushered mankind into a new age: of increased facility in the movements of peoples, of a new kind of “enlightenment” based on shared and easily accessible knowledge, of a worldwide recognition of and consensus about human rights, of an increasing irrelevance of the excluding boundaries of race, class, gender, and nationalism.
A notable document heralding this shift to a new model of power is one that Dr. Bainard Cowan mentioned last week, Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization, first published in 1990 and still popular among the hundreds of new studies on successful business practices that have come and gone since then. Although written with the corporate world in mind, Senge’s book applies to all organizations existing within the new dispensation of global awareness, especially in its proposal of an alternative to “authoritarian hierarchy.” Senge declares his intention on the first page: “The tools and ideas presented in this book are for destroying the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces. When we give up this illusion-we can then build ‘learning organizations,’ organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together” (3).
Unabashedly optimistic, Senge’s theory is centrally tied to globalization: “As the world becomes more interconnected and business becomes more complex and dynamic, work must become more ‘learningful.’ It is no longer sufficient to have one person learning for the organization, a Ford or a Sloan or a Watson. It’s just not possible any longer to ‘figure it out’ from the top, and have everyone else following the orders of the ‘grand strategist.’ The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization” (4). Again, Senge is speaking to the corporate world, but it seems Thoreau-like-isolated and provincial-today not to consider his evangelical ideas in relation to any institution, from the smallest non-profit to the mightiest nation.
Senge’s study is particularly careful in addressing the knottiest problem that the concept of globalization presents: how one can develop a sense of interconnectedness with the vastness of the whole without losing a sense of one’s own significance as an individual. The answer to this global quandary lies in what he calls “systems thinking,” the fifth and most important of his five disciplines and the “cornerstone” of the learning organization-comprised, remember, of large numbers of people commensurate in their ability to learn and therefore to shape the future of the organization. “Systems thinking” is the key because it is “a discipline for seeing wholes” and “a framework for seeing inter-relationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots'” (68). Pursuing the other disciplines-which are personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning-within the context of the fifth discipline, Senge maintains, will result in an organization’s competitive advantage and an individual’s self-fulfillment within it because he or she will experience what we all desire: commitment to something outside and larger than the self. The concept of the learning organization is so radically new, Senge claims, that it may even represent a “profound evolution in the nature of work as a social institution” (5) and-why not ?-unlock business’ potential “to fundamentally improve the injustice that exists in the world” (Edward Simon, quoted in The Fifth Discipline, 5). This approach truly imagines the re-invention of corporate power.
Senge’s ebulliece is entirely in keeping with the emergent model of globalization in the 21st century. According to one of its extrapolations, the 20th century was especially bloody because it marked the last, desperate gasp of autocratic power with its appalling tendency toward purity, and the demonic fury of its death throes occurred even as the earth was groaning in travail with the birth pangs of the new paradigm now in its infancy: Yeats’ “rough beast” slouching toward Silicon Valley or, speaking politically, toward the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva.
Carlos Fuentes dramatizes something like this movement in his latest novel, The Years with Laura Diaz, a recounting of the 20th century in Mexico through the eyes of a woman, Laura Diaz, who in 1939 listens to a summing-up of what Hitler and Stalin are about to visit upon civilization and then what is to come after them: “Nazis and Communists are not the same thing. The difference is that Hitler believes in evil, evil is his gospel-conquest, genocide, racism. But Stalin must say he believes in the good, in the freedom of labor, in the disappearance of the state, and in giving to each according to his needs. He recites the gospel of the civil god…. Hitler recites the gospel of the devil” (252). “Life has to be changed, Rimbaud said. The world has to be changed, Marx said. They are both wrong. We have to diversify life. We have to pluralize the world. We have to give up the romantic illusion that humanity will be happy only if it recovers its lost unity. We have to give up the illusion of totality. The word says it all: there’s only a slight difference between the desire for totality and totalitarian reality” (277).
Fuentes implies that the bloody horrors brought about by grand abuses of power during the last century, of which the Third Reich and Stalin’s purges were the most cataclysmic, reverberated around the world and preceded a vast shift in the human enterprise marked by a re-centering of the human drama in the ideals, so visibly emerging today, of openness, access, and participation. Power puts on new parts, and its changing face may signal a new “arc of democracy”-if I may appropriate Dr. Virginia Arbery’s phrase from the discussion last week-or the latest revision of the vast democratic experiment begun by the ancient Greeks in 5th century BC Athens. Or to regard it from another angle, perhaps the changing face of power today is the extension into its next great phase of a spirit that began to assert its coming dominance strangely, with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Tet offensive in 1968, both of decisive importance in bringing the Cold War to a close and serving notice to both American imperialism and Russian hegemony.
During the following two decades, that “spirit of the age” turned out to be seemingly irrepressible, preparing for the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, the destruction of the Berlin wall, and the triumph of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in Poland, all in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and South African Independence in 1994, among other high points in human history achieved during that interval-all this now followed by the West’s seeming determination to address the wrongs of its past through apologies, reparations (most recently for the Tulsa riots of 1921), and prosecution of crimes against humanity previously unsuspected, uninvestigated (such as IBM’s alleged complicity with the Nazi war machine), or committed under the justification of raison d’etat and protected by “sovereign immunity” (such as those of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the international effort to bring him to justice).
And most recently, this cleansing zeitgeist in its latter stage is on the trail of Henry Kissinger, whose nemesis Christopher Hitchens, like an electronic inquisitor, has globally labeled him a war criminal and loudly called for his prosecution as a necessary act of closure before America can in good conscience assume its position as sole superpower and model nation of the world. Hitchens writes in the February 2001 issue of Harpers: “There is now no reason why a warrant for the trial of Kissinger may not be issued in any one of a number jurisdictions and no reason why he may not be compelled to answer it…. Many if not most of Kissinger’s partners in politics, from Greece to Chile to Argentina to Indonesia, are now in jail or awaiting trial. His own lonely impunity is rank; it smells to heaven” (34)
All such signs endorse optimism like Peter Senge’s and point to the end of a long phase, roughly coincident with the interval we call modernity, in Western conceptions of power-centralized, hierarchical, and grounded in self-interest, whether enlightened or not. Two weeks ago, Dr. Virginia Arbery introduced us to this modern understanding of power in the thinking of Hobbes and Locke, both of the 17th century; a seminal forerunner of Hobbes and Locke was Niccolo Machiavelli, whose most famous work, The Prince, written in 1532, first articulated the principles of power by which so many modern figures have ruled. It is not, of course, that Machiavelli invented these principles or that bold rulers have ever since consciously adopted the Machiavellian “style”; but it is still sobering to see them dispassionately elucidated as in a manual of leadership, and still shocking to consider them alongside the beautiful models of power from the ancient world that Machiavelli so effectively cast out. The Prince is one of those books that change the world by the violence of ideas, articulating once and for all “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”
In Chapter 15 of The Prince, Machiavelli says that since it is his “intention to write a thing which shall be useful to him who apprehends it, it appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real truth of a matter than the imagination of it; for many have pictured republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil. Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” Machiavelli then reminds the prince that his advice is for the security of the state and all who live in it: the prince, he writes, “need not make himself uneasy at incurring a reproach for those vices without which the state can only be saved with difficulty, for if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.”
The Machiavellian “take” on power seems sinister, but why? The reasons go deeper than an apparent justification of raw but cleverly disguised force and have to do with his appeal to a “real world,” with his distinction between “real truth” and “imagination.” The ancient philosophers and poets whom Machiavelli attacks, both Greek and Roman, invariably connected the exercise of power to standards outside instinct or mere desire, for instance to the four cardinal virtues-courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom-assuming that their pursuit would guide the souls of the powerful in the right way. In his Republic, Plato has Socrates insist to the young men gathered around him, the brightest and best of Athens, that the ruler of the good city, whom Socrates designates the philosopher-king, must be first educated in virtue before assuming the role of leader; otherwise, how can he know either what his city ought to be or how he ought to exercise power in its behalf? Even though by the end of the Republic Socrates concludes that the good city such as they have set forth in their all-night conversation has never existed and probably will never exist, he doesn’t reject his image of the good city and in fact says that it ought to be taken as a model by anyone who wants to attain goodness of soul.
Machiavelli advises his own prince that adopting standards of virtue inherited from ancient images will by all odds be harmful both to him and to the state very simply because they do not work in the real world. This is in itself a radical revision, but Machiavelli’s precepts of power disturb us in the deepest regions of the psyche because in their distinctions between image and reality, they deliberately shear away the exercise of power from any higher constraint upon it, any transcendent guidance of its potential made actual. For Machiavelli, the perpetuation of the state is the telos, the end, of power, and the prince is necessarily in service to that, but there is no connection of the state to any presence or intention higher than its own. Its greatness and destiny are self-defined, as are its standards of conduct. It is true that the prince is attached in service to something larger than himself-true that he may have to defer private desires in the performance of that service-but the state itself is the final measure of the good.
Machiavelli’s strategy in The Prince is to attack the image, to plunder its power. The forerunner of the modern psychologist, sociologist, and how-to writer, he replaces the image with its pale simulacrum, the case study-examples from history, and ordinary history at that. Applied to any institution or organization, Machiavellian precepts of power are radically secular, free of any considerations of transcendent or divine direction, with mission statement and goals, to use language popular today, devised by the leader, the CEO, the Director, perhaps the Board of Directors or some governing Committee. According to Machiavellian thought, every organization is justified in its very existence, responsible for its own success and survival, and for that reason free to pursue its own devices, its competitive advantage and profit.
To see how radically Machiavelli revises ancient ideas about of power, one need only glance briefly at another text-this one a poem-with which he was most familiar, the Aeneid,Virgil’s great epic of Rome, which was enormously influential throughout the Middle Ages and a mainstay of liberal education until the 1960’s, when it was branded as an imperialist book and began to be removed from university curricula. The Aeneid was commissioned by Augustus Caesar, prime architect of the pax Romana, and it occupied its author Virgil until his death in 19 BC. It is an extended image of the origin and founding of Rome by a small remnant of survivors from the Trojan War after their city, Troy, is sacked and burned by the Greeks following ten years of siege. This rather desperate band of fugitives is led by Aeneas, a fair warrior in his own right but by no means pre-eminent among the Trojans, even though his mother was Venus, the beautiful Goddess of Love.
It is a powerful story, filled with shadows and light, about the transformation of Aeneas from a man beset by anxiety about leading a fragile group of exiles toward an unknown destination to a leader chosen by the gods to found a city that will one day rule the world. Once caught up in the narrative, one is thrilled to watch Aeneas respond to the revelations as they appear to him: little by little, he becomes first aware and then convinced that his actions and choices are to have consequences far beyond his mortal ability to discern, that his mission is not only larger than he is but also bound up with a divine intention that will shape the destiny of mankind. The culmination of his search comes when he journeys to the underworld to meet the shade of his father, who shows him the souls of all his future descendents, those destined to become the heroes and villains of Roman history. At the dramatic peak of the entire epic, Aeneas’ father calls him “Roman” three hundred years before the first city will actually be called Rome, and by that Aeneas fully understands for the first time that all the work of his founding, all the trials and doubts, all the suffering and disappointment, are for a future time long after he himself is dead and buried. In spite of this deferral beyond the grave, Aeneas hereafter thinks of himself as “the man whom heaven calls.”
The far-reaching, centuries-long influence of the Aeneid is the consummate example of the power of the image to transform history, which is the stark record of Machiavelli’s “real world.” The most common epithet for Aeneas is “pious”-“pious Aeneas” because the guiding principle of his life is piety toward the vision of Rome that he has been given by the gods. It is not Rome’s history that he knows; perhaps if he had been granted a glimpse of what the vision to which he devotes himself would actually turn out to be, he would have forsworn his piety and lived more for himself, or more for the establishment of a less exalted city than Rome was intended to be, the Rome always present in his dreams. He would have gone after a “real,” not an “imagined” Rome. Indeed, this is what Machiavelli has against the power of the image, what he means by “imagined but unreal republics and principalities”-what Athens and Rome were supposed to be, according to the poets and philosophers, rather than what they really were. We don’t know whether Augustus Caesar got from Virgil the poem of the pax Romana that he wanted, at a point in time when the prophecies presented to Aeneas in the underworld of a just and lawful Rome had become a checkered history shot through with abuses of power, but readers of the Aeneid today find it difficult if not impossible to accept the idea that an entire people’s destiny is connected to a divine intention-that Virgil’s great epic is anything more than a fantasy story or a piece of propaganda that buttered his bread. By contrast, as Hannah Arendt writes, the Aeneid was “proof” throughout the period of Rome’s greatness of what stood at “the heart of Roman politics”: a “conviction of the sacredness of foundation” (Between Past and Future, 120).
Much closer in time to us than Virgil, Shakespeare gives us another poetic image of the exercise of power in relation to a transcendent ideal in his second tetralogy of history plays, which treat the period of England’s transition from the middle ages into the modern world, from the civil wars engendered by the misrule of King Richard II through the usurpation of King Henry IV in 1399 to the assumption of power by King Henry V, most famous for his victory over the French at Agincourt in 1415 and his confederation of France and England into a great power. Shakespeare understood Machiavelli-understood the role that power is to play in the new age of national sovereignty-but depicts this decisive moment in English and Western history in terms of power’s relation to transcendence, as if to dramatize the possibility of such a relation even in the harsh climate of modernity. Henry V finds himself in a precarious situation, the second king in a new succession brought about by his father Henry IV’s usurpation of the rightful king, Richard II. In a plan to reunite England, mired in civil wars spawned by his father’s brutal seizing of power, Henry V provokes a war with France and thus directs the commonwealth toward an external enemy.
It is a risky venture that ends in extraordinary success, and Henry’s almost arbitrary intrusion into France might seem a Machiavellian gamble that costs thousands of lives, most of them French, were it not for Shakespeare’s portrayal of Henry’s conviction that God intends England’s greatness as a leader and model among modern nations. Dedicating himself in prayer the night before Agincourt and ascribing the credit to God for England’s amazing victory the next day, Henry V stands as Shakespeare’s modern incarnation of Aeneas, a pious leader who places his power in the service of a divine will for an entire people and the whole of Europe. (It is notable that as late as the 1930’s, Winston Churchill was quoting Shakespeare as part of his History of the English Speaking Peoples.)
Is Shakespeare’s depiction convincing, so much nearer to us than Virgil’s? Hardly, to be truthful; the common reading of Henry V today is that his invocations to God are lip-service justifications for brute power in the interests of nationhood. One more poetic example may get nearer to the Machiavellian roots of our secular imaginations-this one from Milton, who was born eight years before Shakespeare died and composed his masterpiece Paradise Lost from 1660 to 1665, little more than a decade after the supreme British revolt against hierarchical power and divine right, the deposing and execution of their king, Charles I, whom Virginia discussed two weeks ago. In Paradise Lost, Satan is the prototype of the talented prince who assumes that his “power to hurt” is unconnected to anything outside himself and exercises it as though ex nihilo in his revolt against God. Satan’s rebellion is undertaken with complete confidence because it is attempted in a kind of feigned ignorance, a cynical refusal to acknowledge the possibility that a hierarchy exists in the created order by which he would be bound to answer to a higher power.
Toward the end of Book V of Paradise Lost,before the creation of the world and after God first announces the sovereignty of the Son to all the angels, Satan convenes the third of the sons of heaven over which he has authority and suggests that they find a way to “cast off this yoke.” “Will ye,” he asks, “submit your necks, and choose to bend the supple knee?” If, as Satan argues, all the angels are “equally free,” who can “in reason then or right assume Monarchy over such as live by right His equals, if in power and splendor less, In freedom equal?” Of all the assembled angels, a lone voice, that of the archangel Abdiel, dissents, calling Satan’s protest against God “blasphemous, false and proud”: “Shalt thou give law to God, shalt thou dispute with him the points of liberty, who made thee what thou art, and formed the pow’rs of heav’n such as he pleased, and circumscribed their being?” In fact, Abdiel says, showing his acceptance of the mystery that God and the Son are one, Satan owes his very existence to the Son himself, “by whom as by his Word the mighty Father made all things, ev’n thee, and all the spirits of heav’n by him created in their bright degrees….”
Abdiel’s case against the arbitrary exercise of power is grounded in the image of a hierarchy evident in creation and of a faith that human reason may discern it. The mere image of hierarchy not only suggests an automatic restraint on power but also dictates what higher power any lesser power ought to serve. Satan, however, will not accept Abdiel’s argument and reasons on his own, thusly: “who saw when this creation was? Remembers’t thou thy making, while the Maker gave thee being? We know no time when we were not as now; know none before us, self-begot, self-raised by our own quick’ning power…. Our puissance is our own, our own right hand shall teach us highest deeds, by proof to try who is our equal.”
This justification of rebellion against hierarchy exposes Satan’s poverty of imagination and marks him as having the wholly modern consciousness: he establishes his autonomy to act by citing what he knows as fact and wrenching himself violently away from any obligation or responsibility. And this modern consciousness in time yields the modern predicament: autonomous power soon creates its own hierarchies, establishes its own values, designates its own “hit-men,” and consolidates its own domain. InGravity and Grace, Simone Weil calls this movement of the psyche “setting aside”: “We set things aside,” she says,” without knowing we are doing so; that is precisely where the danger lies. Or, which is still worse, we set them aside by an act of the will, but by an act of the will that is furtive in relation to ourselves. Afterward we do not any longer know that we have set anything aside. We do not want to know it and, by dint of not wanting to know it, we reach the point of not being able to know it” (191-2).
This appears in a chapter called “The Ring of Gyges,” an allusion to the ancient story of the slave who discovers a magic ring that makes him invisible and allows him to assassinate the king, marry the queen, and assume absolute power, with the implication that any of us might do the same. Taking the story a step further, Simone Weil suggests that Gyges comes to translate his invisibility to an unconnectedness between act and consequence: “This faculty of setting things aside opens the door to every sort of crime…. The ring of Gyges who has become invisible-this is precisely the act of setting aside. Setting oneself aside from the crime one commits. Not establishing the connection between the two” (192).
Simone Weil was doubtless thinking about the Nazi regime, comprised of experts at self-justification, like Milton’s Satan. But she also raises the question as to whether the same kind of “setting aside” is not at work in any context in which purpose and power are not connected to some transcendent ideal or principle, to some allegiance to a purpose aimed at the higher good, beyond the self-established values of the individual, the group, the institution, the corporation, the nation. The difficult question for us heirs of Machiavelli is not so much how we can discern the higher purpose but whether it exists.
Today, in this new age of globalization, occurrences such as the Chinese Prime Minister’s public self-correction and books such as Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline imply that the new forces at work-forces of a new spirit of consciousness and its technological manifestations-will diffuse the will to power by imposing the kind of interconnectedness that Simone Weil associates with the voice of God speaking to the human soul. In the fully globalized world, Gyges with his ring is rendered impotent, and the spread of learning organizations will almost instantly unmask abuses of power. Perhaps it is that in the evolutionary drama of the human race, we have entered upon an age in which the will of God-the transcendent ideal-becomes manifest in a strange, new, and unsuspected way: through the development of technologies that catch Gyges in the act, rendering him visible to the suddenly witnessing world, in fact eliminating the invisibility of the tyrant, as Henry Kissinger is finding out.
There is perhaps no better measure of the present shift in thinking about power than in Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega Y Gasset’s seminal work of 1930, The Revolt of the Masses. Ortega views with alarm the advent of the mass man, enabled by modern progress to replace nobility with vulgarity. The danger in the masses, he says, is that they purport to have ideas, but the “‘ideas’ of the average man are not genuine ideas, nor is their possession culture…. Whoever wishes to have ideas must first prepare himself to desire truth and to accept the rules of the game imposed by it. It is no use speaking of ideas when there is no acceptance of a higher authority to regulate them, a series of standards to which it is possible to appeal in a discussion. These standards are the principles on which culture rests” (71-2). Contrast this lament for a lost nobility with Senge’s enormous faith in the capacity of those same masses for serious thought, for a new way of learning that “may be a tool not just for the evolution of organizations, but for the evolution of intelligence” (367).
Still, one wonders whether this enlightened “revolt of the new masses” against outdated conceptions of power is naïve, whether Thoreau was in fact right about the limited power of reality to move the soul. Collectively, can we achieve our destined greatness apart from the ordering images of figures such as Aeneas and Henry V responding to a summons sacred and not profane? Without images such as Milton’s Satan, can we avoid the Satanic forgetfulness of our proper places in an ordered whole apart? Machiavelli’s original plundering of the ancient images in the name of the modern project continues today in the flat efficiency of the news report and in the sociological, imageless language of Senge: “tap the potential,” “expansive patterns of thinking,” “shared vision.” The very label “learning organization” seems, by Virgilian standards, a barbarism. Technology is a potential blessing for which the school children of China can be thankful, but during this charged time of its full emergence, can we avoid what philosopher William Barrett calls “the illusion of technique”? Perhaps it is only through recovering the lost power of the image that we will come rightly to pursue Senge’s “collective aspiration” in a globalized world.
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