“Power Awaits Direction:” Consciousness and Obedience
Virginia Arbery, Ph.D.
This evening I aim to guide us through some reflections on the meaning of power, that strong word that makes our safer democratic words like security, welfare, and utility sound like puny undeveloped poor cousins. Power, the will to dominion, is the father of words, the begetter of action, the superintending mind presiding over well-wrought plans. Power protects the order that is, not the conventional but the isthat inheres in being, by making it evident in changing particulars; power re-enlivens order making it new again. It rearranges relationships so that order once again can be served. Power listens to the voice of wisdom; thus, it is awake and ready to obey its promptings. Power re-inspires, leading through respecting its followers’ freedom, rekindling their own initiatives, and awakening the creativity at the core of their humanity.
Dante reminds us at the beginning of the Commedia of the danger in not being wakeful, in falling asleep and losing consciousness. Without consciousness we are in danger of becoming powerless. Without consciousness, we lose our way unaware of how we got to that impasse where monsters threaten us: “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself in the dark wood where the straight path is lost…I cannot clearly say how I had entered the wood; I was so full of sleep just at the point where I abandoned the true path.” Dante is powerless to fight the leopard, lion, and she-wolf whose “greedy will” “allows no man to pass along her track.” Without inner power, he is unable to move, immobilized within the lake of his fear. When Virgil rescues him and commands him to go with him down on a journey through hell, a journey that his epic ancestors Odysseus and Aeneas–and St. Paul–have already taken, when he promises Dante that together they will proceed up through purgatory to the home of the blessed where “another” will lead him, Dante embarks on a direction that will change his life.”It is another path you must take,” his master tells him, and Dante obeys. Having been stirred to move in the right direction, the one that leads to a well ordered will, Dante is saved from the respective injustices the beasts represent. His new found confidence shows that without power there is no justice, though, typical academic that he is, when thinking more about the invitation to go to hell with Virgil, he begins to un-will what he wills. Nevertheless, Dante is moved to overcome his cowardice by his skillful poet-guide. At the moment when the unnamed other guide is said to be the beautiful Beatrice, Dante’s fear is superceded by desire. The train of command is an impressive lineup. Beatrice is obedient to the commands of Lucy who, in turn, obeys Mary who first alerts the other ladies of his need and thus to their responsibility. Mary’s argument to Lucy was that “your faithful one has need of you.” Mary commends him to Lucy, “enemy of every cruelty,” who alarms Beatrice, who in turn enlists Virgil’s help, who then repeats to Dante Lucy’s words to her: “Why have you (Beatrice) not helped him who loves you so?” All parties to the rescue of the miserable wayfarer take responsibility. But ultimately, in this divine scenario, the perilous landscape is altered by love’s power or grace.
In the first two cantos of The Divine Comedy Dante depicts the paralyzing effects of unjust power and the liberating effect of a just power. This evening I am interested in first drawing our attention to the good of power in an ontological sense. In order to see the negative side to a capacity we must first identify its positive meaning. I wish to rectify the slant of that famous reductive statement, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In this preference for the good, I follow the insight of Augustine in hisConfessions that “evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains at all.” The good that adheres in power is the good of stewardship precisely demonstrated in the triad of Mary-Lucy-Beatrice, but I will suggest, eventually, that fatherhood, particularly God the Father, is the archetype at stewardship’s origin. In this affirmation of paternal power, I aim to rescue begetting from its embarrassment, from the dishonor it has suffered for some time.Unfortunately, I suspect that my chosen path of inquiry will sound at odds with the view of our esteemed fellow of the Institute, James Hillman who, in his insightful book, Kinds of Power: A Guide to Its Intelligent Uses, takes to task those who tend toward an exclusivity among the pantheon, who slight Mother Earth, hence exemplifying a narrowness that locks itself up in a false safety but which moves toward a tyrannical kind of power, one that affirms one faith, one path, and all the absolutes that accompany that one path.
Let us go back to that earliest of epics, the Iliad, to suggest how the nature of power unfolds. In the Homeric world, we are given rich images of the hierarchy among kinds of power. At the beginning, you’ll recall, Father Zeus plans how best to give glory to Achilles, a concession that Zeus knows he owes to Thetis, Achilles’ mother. Achilles’ power would have been a threat to Zeus’ own if he, the head of the Olympians, had followed his amorous inclinations and begot Achilles upon the lovely sea-nymph Thetis. Instead, she is consigned to a mere mortal, Peleus, a demotion that the goddess holds over Zeus when she asks for her son’s elevation above King Agamemnon. Knowing that he has in a real sense been cheated out of his divine fatherhood, Achilles releases his wrath and displays a range of mortal power that is unparalleled in literature. Paradoxically, it is a wrath that follows obedience. He obeys the goddess Athene who commands him-following Hera’s order to her–to refrain from killing Agamemnon and to give back the scepter he has seized from him. In staying his anger, he agrees to delay his reprisals against Agamemnon for taking away his war-prize, Briseis, whom he loves.Indeed it is by enduring this insult that Achilles augments his stature. Though he lacks the political power symbolized in the royal scepter, one passed down to him through his fathers and bestowed by Zeus himself, Achilles possesses the full power of the hero. He embodies excellence both on the battlefield, where he redirects the Achaians, nearly defeated in his absence, to a splendid success over the Trojans. His soul’s excellence shines forth as well when he acts out the consequences of having accepted, with full consciousness, the choice to die young in order to achieve consummate lasting glory. The acceptance of his place within the order of things is revealed fully in Achilles’ magnanimous reception of the old king Priam. Priam, whose son Achilles has so brutally dragged around the walls of Troy, is filled with wonder as he gazes upon the beauty of Hector’s killer. The two esteem each other’s excellence; and Achilles, obeying Father Zeus, releases Hector’s body to the grieving father. It is one of those scenes in literature that changes forever the way we think about the noblest exercise of power-it must be tied to the largesse of compassion.
What is the source of Achilles’ power? Destiny, fate? His will? It is true that Zeus’ plan, the divine direction he gives to the scheme to help Achilles’ choice be realized, is devised in compliance with fate. Even Zeus cannot defy fate. But the poem would in no way have its lasting power over us children bred in the long shadow of Nietzsche’s will to power, if it did not reveal the tenacity of the human will. Only the will can effect or realize action, can bring it about. When we see Achilles’ long inaction, on the shores of the sea playing his lyre as he broods, we see a powerful choice not to take charge, not to command until the time is right. His willfulness is one of the great criticisms leveled against Achilles, but it is precisely in Homer’s depiction of his immovability when the embassy comes to him and when the ships are almost lost– it is in this stubbornness–that we also see his largeness of soul, his enormous will under control. Everything has been expanded by his waiting, and when he finally chooses to enter the action after the death of Patroklos, nothing can hold him back. When he takes command, he acts in freedom and with Zeus’ blessing. Let me clarify what I mean by acting in freedom. Hannah Arendt writes that “Action, to be free, must be free from motive on one side, from its intended goal as a predictable effect on the other. This is not to say that motives and aims are not important factors in every single act, but they are its determining factors, and action is free to the extent that it is able to transcend them”(Between Past and Future, 151). Duns Scotus distinguishes the will as that human faculty which follows judgment (at the end of deliberation), the knowledge of the right aim, and then commands its execution. So action, though it needs both intellect and will to be executed, springs from something to which both answer-let’s call it, along with Hannah Arendt, principle. This transcendent driving or inspiring aspect of principle is beyond the intellect, compelling assent and governing the will to act on its behalf.Principle takes root in the willing soul. So in the action of the Iliad we see the largeness of nobility and glory, just as, we might say, in the action of the American Revolution we see the very landscape and boundaries of political liberty, or in the Civil War we see the governing principle of equality ensconced in the Declaration four score and seven years before.Principles are durable, universal, and great men exercise their power well when they answer to them. Thus principles transcend the human will. Augustine explains in his City of God, the greatest Roman book about political power, that a will is well-ordered when it obeys the higher commands issuing from a divine source. When the creature obeys its Creator all levels of power’s exercise, of commanding, act justly. Or, as Cicero argues four centuries before Augustine in De Republica, the just man acts according to right reason that is right to the extent that it conforms to the Eternal Reason. A powerful man, in the first instance, then, is a man obedient to that origin of power whose truths or principles call him to action.
Power’s origin is biblically rendered in the story of the Garden, when Adam, made in God’s image, is given command over all creation. Power to rule is located first in the power to name.Such power is more than that energy found in nature where raw force is often exhibited. Properly understood, power is intelligent, wedded to knowledge and purpose, and it is patient in its deliberation. Romano Guardini in his important book, Power and Responsibility, A Course of Action for the New Age (1951), argues that “if human power and the lordship which stems from it are rooted in man’s likeness to God, then power is not man’s own right, autonomously, but only as a loan, in fief.Man is lord by the grace of God, and he must exercise his dominion responsibly, for he is answerable for it to him who is Lord by essence. Thus sovereignty becomes obedience, service. (Heraldic motto of the English kings, “I serve.”)… Sovereignty, then, does not mean that man imposes his will on the gifts of nature, but that his possessing, sharing, making is done in acceptance of each thing’s being what it is-an acceptance symbolized in the ‘name’ by which he tries to express its essential quality”(15). From this biblical perspective, man loses that right order when he asserts his own will over that of the Father. The notion of hamarteia in Greek tragedy and thought mirrors this biblical account of what Gabriel Marcel calls a broken world. At the core of the human misuse of power is not that we are not gods but that we want to be; this contest against divine power is pride, or hubris. Pride, the primal affront to right order, releases sovereignty from co-operating with the divine realm so that it can will to dominate creation. The shift radically changes man’s use of power.He still has it; he must rule, “but the order in which that sovereignty had meaning is destroyed.” “Ever since,” Guardini observes, “history takes its course in a world that is marked by disorder.” The exercise of power, the fulfillment of man’s nature, becomes vexed, to say the least.
Since the Fall, power’s exercise often relies on the arts of Hermes, best seen in the human order in the character of Odysseus, the man of many ways or turns, the polytropon, whose guile and trickery preserve him so that he can resume his rightful place as father, son, and husband on the disordered island of Ithaka, ten years after the sacking of Troy, twenty years since the war’s beginning. In Book Five Homer sings of the exhausted Odysseus washed ashore on the island of the Phaiakians after twenty days of being pummeled about in Poseidon’s raging sea. In his nakedness, he crawls under a pile of leaves where he sleeps.He is like the burning log in a black ash heap put there by a man who “saves the seeds of fire, having no other place to get a light from, so Odysseus buried himself in the leaves.” But he is buried so that at the right moment his fire or spirit with all its power will fully ignite. This will happen, of course, when he can direct his full strength and perfect aim at his highly culpable victims, the suitors who have wasted his home’s substance, keeping his wife hostage and his son spiritless. His rightful assumption of power is not manifest until, all things made ready by his designs and his obedience to the helpful goddess Athene, Odysseus finally strips off his rags in front of the suitors stating “Here is a task that has been achieved without any deception.” This will happen, of course, when he can direct his full strength and perfect aim at his highly culpable victims. The poem means us to see the killing as a commendable use of power-it would be irresponsible not to kill the suitors. And what Athene asks of Telemachos at the beginning of the poem is accomplished in concert with the power of his father’s strategy and strength.
Disguised as Mentes, Athene charges the boy, who has never known his father, to act as he would. “Kill the suitors,” she says, and Telemachos knows what he must prepare himself to do. He sheds his inertia, feels power for the first time when he experiences what it means to have a father. Whereas, at the outset of their meeting, Telemachos had told Mentes, “Nobody really knows his own father,” at the close, Telemachos has confidence once he knows that he has indeed been begotten by Odysseus. The goddess-stranger’s argument is not biological, rather it appeals to his nobility, “The gods have not made yours a birth that will go nameless hereafter, since Penelope bore such a son as you are” (223). Her purpose, announced and approved by Father Zeus, is to “stir up” the son who until now has been powerless in light of the overwhelming strength of his uninvited guests. She means to give him “confidence” (with faith-so he can act with faith.). The Greek word is menos, or life spirit. Athene’s first success in her purpose is to evoke from Telemachos the story of his household’s takeover. As Telemachos relates the story to a compassionate listener, he begins to acquire the power he will need to become a man of purposeful action. The boy who complained that the greatest men who have the power in the islands and all those who on rocky Ithaka are holders of lordships, all 108 of them are “after my mother for marriage, and wear my house out.”-all eating up my substance, who,” waste it away; and soon they will break me myself to pieces,” the ineffectual teenager with the absent father, who imagined himself like the meat grazed on his father’s rocky hillsides, the pigs, lamb, goats and oxen cut up and carved day upon day for nearly four years to the usurping, ever greedy squatters, begins to take charge.
Next, Athene shames Telemachos. Stop clinging to your childhood. “You are no longer of an age to do that.” Or have you not heard what glory was won by great Orestes among all mankind, when he killed the murderer of his father…?” (297, Book I) The overall curriculum for Telemachos is predicated on him leaving home-the opposite motion of his father’s desire for nostos or homecoming-so this “big and splendid” boy can hear and learn from the stories about his famous father, already being sung about. l. These are imaginative encounters with his father, and they prepare him to understand his father’s power, a kind which is remarkable for making hard choices, often strangely deceptive ones. The stories of Nestor and Menelaus in Books Three and Four, the example of their own respective households, will be just the right primary texts whose stories of Telemachos’ father are not secondhand because they shared with him a firsthand knowledge of the war and the departure. This journey, along with a good deal of confidence building by Athene, which proceeds by shaming him into action, is built on his deeply ingrained sense of the forms of civility. His wit and spirit are quickened, giving him a bold voice in assembly and a new authority over his amazed mother.In one sense, Telemachos has been empowered to speak up because his own manhood is being exacted of him for the first time. The young student is opened to that which he desires to know-he sees in Mentes his father, feels him more closely than he ever has imagined him before. No one has expected nor wanted him to take charge. Telemachos response to Mentes is gratitude: “My guest, your words to me are very kind and considerate, what any father would say to his son. I shall not forget them.” and Homer adds, “his heart was full of wonder.”
Let us return again to Guardini to take stock of what has unfolded about the meaning of power. He writes that “to the essence of power as a specifically human phenomenon belongs its ability to give purpose to things.” He explains that properly speaking, two elements must be present for there to be true power: (1) “Real energies capable of changing the reality of things, of determining their condition and interrelations and (2) awareness of these energies, the will to establish specific goals and to launch and direct energies towards those goals.” An important footnote to Guardini’s explanation to power is that it cannot operate in a slothful person. Acedia is one of the deadly sins. Guardini adds “All this presupposes spirit, that reality in man which renders him capable of extricating himself from the immediate context of nature in order to direct it in freedom.” (2-3) Another comment I might add is that a spiritless person cannot get out of his situation. He is stuck. Like fear, sloth enslaves, leaving one not free; a wonderful example of indolence is seen on Circe’s island where Odysseus fears being unmanned should he sleep with the charmer. This is precisely the same situation Odysseus will be in on the island of Kalypso later. His very soul is hidden from him. He lives in an unconscious state. Kalypso would keep him hidden in her “hollow caverns” just as his mother would, whose name, Antikleia means “against glory,” while his nursemaid Eurykleia, whose name means “wide-famed,” would shout out to the world-Odysseus has come home!
Odysseus’ story illustrates Guardini’s distinguishing point about power: “Power awaits direction: unlike the forces of nature, power becomes part of a cause-and-effect relationship, not through necessity, but only through the intervention of an agent.” “…/W/hen man’s spirit is brought to bear upon the forces given by nature, an element of free choice enters the relationship. The spirit can direct them to whatever end it wills, and everything depends on whether this end is constructive or destructive, noble or base, good or evil. In other words, there is no such thing as power that, in and of itself, is valuable or significant. Power receives its character only when someone becomes aware of it, determines its use, and puts it to work. This means that someone must answer for it” (4).So, as we saw hinted at in the previously described scenes, both Odysseus and Telemachos claim responsibility at the right time, that is, at the time their united powers can achieve a common purpose: to reorder and rectify the relationships of the household. It is one of the beauties of the Odyssey that the assumption of power in concert is at the very moment that full fatherhood and sonship are revealed. (The other important revelation being, of course, that himself to the circumspect Penelope. But I think it is important here to recognize that the father-son relationships are in place before the husband-wife one is.)
We see the ramifications of human responsibility in the conversations between Zeus and Athene both at the beginning of Book One and at the beginning of Book Five. Here and in the underworld and during his visit with Nestor and Menelaos, Odysseus’ son and Odysseus are made to contemplate the horror of Agamemnon’s murder by Aegisthos and the responsible reaction to it by his son Orestes who kills his uncle. Through his experiences, Odysseus learns the quality of different minds (noon), a knowledge celebrated by the poet in the poem’s invocation. The homecoming is dangerous, but the poem’s action seems not directed so much at the hearty displays of the dangers-though they indeed are robustly retold by Odysseus to the Phaiakians, but rather for the sake of the understanding of human judgment that it will yield. We will hear about those fools who ate the cattle of Helios. The comic epic will sing of them along with the resourceful Odysseus who can delay his belly. Man is free. He can overcome his fears to effect the good. He can delay his appetites to enjoy a more human pleasure-such as, repartee with his wife. He can play, taking delight in the creative, peaceful world that the proper use of power allows.
Our contemporaries often throw up their hands lamenting that technology, or the size of things, the remoteness of relatives, the impersonal character of daily existence make it impossible for us to be in charge of our families let alone big corporations, the nation, or the world. Guardini cautions against this fatalism. He reminds us that “every act of doing and creating, of possessing and enjoying, produces an immediate sense of power.” All vitality is a power exercise. Knowledge is a grasping. Power becomes a floating amorphous specter of its ominous dangers when it is not owned, no longer sustained by “personal awareness.”So many persons among us no longer have the feeling that they are personally acting. Such a person “no longer seems master of the act; instead the act seems to pass through him, and he is left feeling like one element in a chain of events.” Guardini reminds us that the sovereignty of God is not likely to be acknowledged; the ontology is lost and thus our confidence in the human power. “Instead, there is a growing sense of there being no one at all who acts, only a dumb, intangible, invisible, indefinable something which derides questioning.”
But listen to what issues from this feeling of helplessness. Guardini says there is a vacancy, a void, at not being known as a person-when he is ignored, denied, violated.The emptiness “hardens to an attitude, and into this no man’s land stalks another initiative, the demonic.” (8) The horror in this concession to the dark powers is precisely that it distances the person from the soul’s center. As Hannah Arendt points out in her observations of the trial at Nuremberg, evil turns out to be banal. The actors are distanced from the evils they execute, as if their deeds were independent of their own choices. It is this emptiness of will, then, that opens up to the horrors following on the heels of the assertion of powerlessness. From Eichman to J. Alfred Prufrock to the fifteen-year old in Santee, California, great violations are perpetrated coolly, without disturbance to the psyche, indeed with a smile. The smile is the mask of the demon, we might say, sardonically laughing at our denial of the truth that, as Guardini states, “No deed can remain outside the doer” (64).
Fatalists and nihilists will put the blame on God for the confusion and suffering caused by man’s own inaction.It is God’s fault that there is evil in the world, they charge, a version of the old Platonic discussion which asks (1) are there gods, and (2) if there are, do they care? Here again the Odyssey can provide direction.When we enter the world of the poem in media res, we hear Zeus expressing his astonishment that “mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they rather who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given.” (Book I. 32-35) Such a miscasting of responsibility on the gods for human misery is “shameful” in Zeus words. At the moment, Zeus is thinking of Aegisthos, Agamemnon’s brother who takes Clytemnestra to his bed in the king’s long absence and who plots with Clytemnestra his murder upon his homecoming. The usurper Aegisthus “answers for” or pays for his own mistakes when Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, kills him. He was even warned by Hermes, a god whom both Achilles and Odysseus piously listen to, for they know his instruction is Zeus’ own word.
It is this point that the crafty Athene moves her father’s mind from Aegisthos’ just deserts to focus on the unjust deserts of Odysseus who unduly suffers from Poseidon’s anger. Her successful intervention on Odysseus’ behalf underscores the view that a fundamental justice governs Zeus rule. He will heed the plight of those who are pious. Athene’s tack of artful, appealing to his integrity. She charges his father with heedlessness, taking no responsibility for the fact that the pious Odysseus is at the point of longing to die. She demands to know, “Why, Zeus, are you now so harsh with him?” The literal translation of this line is “Why, Zeus, do you will pain to Odysseus?” So she is saying something like, “Why do you “Odysseus” Odysseus-or why do you make him literally mean his name? And in that classic Homeric response, Zeus chides her, “My child, what sort of word escaped your teeth’s barrier?” He goes on “How could I forget Odysseus, the godlike, he who is beyond all other men in mind, and who beyond others has given sacrifice to the gods, who hold wide heaven?” Zeus blames Poseidon for his relentless anger over Odysseus’ blinding of his son, the Cyclops Polyphemos, an unlovable offspring if there ever was one. But taking charge over what might be considered a private family matter, Zeus intervenes and determines that Poseidon has no right to go so far in his anger; indeed he must “Put away his anger for he acts apart from the immortal gods.” This treatment of Poseidon is in sharp contrast to the ineffectual Ithakans in assembly, who fail to bring an end to the suitors’ excessive and misplaced retribution for Odysseus losing all his men.The will of the whole is the good of the whole order-both human and divine. No one, not the Cyclopes nor Poseidon can be a law unto himself. Without corporate responsibility, such a distortion of familial autonomy or of a group, such as the suitors, which defines itself as righteous, would be the case. “We’re a significant group, therefore our cause is just” is not a tenable argument for the exercise of power.
Now the virtues of fatherhood are exactly what assist the responsible use of power in protecting the community from bullies and miscreants.In the last few minutes of my talk, I would like to focus on the progressive undermining of fatherhood as the archetype for power. One of the major thrusts of modern political thought, from Thomas Hobbes on, proceeds from an attack on paternal power. We have not yet recovered from that attack, and to the extent that we do, we will be able to assume responsibility for power in the new age. We’ll look briefly at Hobbes and then Locke, and maybe glance at Rousseau. Unlike Aristotle, Hobbes makes no distinction between maternal and paternal power. Hobbes examines the relationship of parent over child determined by which parent is either more powerful in their physical strength or mental acumen. There is no natural honor due the father in his mere act of begetting, of seeding life. Indeed, maternal power is actually, at first, more effectual, since her milk preserves the infant’s life.
A brief backdrop to Hobbes’ world is perhaps in order here. Leviathan was published in 1651, just two years after the English, for the first time, executed their king, Charles I. Now kingship, as you know, was invested with an image of fatherhood, of stewardship in the image of God the Father. The king’s physical body was more than merely his own; it represented the body politic. Hobbes seeing the disaster of English Civil War, the death to the body politic, offers an alternate image of rule, the behemoth Leviathan. Contract or agreement now becomes the cement of social order, and man, whose natural freedom is expressed as “unimpeded movement,” is willing to transfer some of his natural rights to Leviathan for his self-preservation. His motive: the fear of violent death. “The passions that incline man to peace are the fear of death, the desire for such thins as are necessary for commodious living, and a hope by their industry to obtain them.” The great supporting passion that staves off death is the passion for power. Nearly every significant word is translated by Hobbes into a desire for power-love, honor, glory, prudence, eloquence, friendship, the arts, the sciences, and so on, are all defined in terms of power.So, whereas in the older classical and Judeo-Christian view, man’s summum bonum was happiness ordered to the divine, Hobbes’ definitive impetus for man is his desire for power: “So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination for all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”
In Part II, XX, Hobbes writes of dominion paternal, the domestic consequence of his larger philosophic views. There he writes that in the condition of mere nature, where there is no contract, the dominion belongs to the mother. Feminists should not grow too enthusiastic over this superiority of the mother.What Hobbes, who is clear that men and women are equal in their capacities, means is that “where there are no matrimonial laws, it cannot be known who is the father unless it be declared by the mother; and therefore the right of the dominion over the child dependeth on her will, and is consequently hers.” Her power over the child lies in her being the source of nourishment, and the child’s obedience is strictly a matter of calculation. But, “if the mother be the father’s subject, then the child is the father’s.” Not only is filial piety thrown out in this accounting but also conjugal love. Thus Hobbes says those who attribute dominance to the father’s power “misreckon it.” “For there is not always that difference of strength or prudence between the man and woman as that the right can be determined without war.” In this loveless, dubiously fathered world, where man and woman are naturally at war, and where the consciousness of necessity shuts out all higher concerns, what do you suppose happens to the dominion of the Creator? Why, of course, it answers to Leviathan, which defines divine meaning and assumes all sovereignty. Surely man cannot serve two masters. The older order is thus replaced by a humanly made one because it is safer, offering the greater welfare, one infinitely more secure. We won’t fight over religious beliefs if they are defined by the state (China), and peace, after all, is the greatest good. Besides, this order is much more convenient than ones based on notions of paternal power, antiquated since Hobbes. For this idea of “convenience,” let’s turn to Locke and his Second Treatise (1688-9).
For Locke, like Hobbes, men and women are by nature equal. Since paternal power is a term that makes no sense, he replaces it with parental power. This domestic leveling is part of a much larger argument that, like Hobbes’, is aimed at undoing the divine right of kings and freeing up the possibilities of political liberty. While one may or may not agree with this political revisioning, the substitutions of power for divine right, in Hobbes, and convenience, in Locke, reduce the meaning of the good as what was bound to the forms of beauty, justice, nobility, and honor to what is necessary, comfortable, and profitable. The inconveniences of Mother Nature are most efficiently and productively overcome by a new emphasis on property and labor. Nature is there to be used just as parents are by their children who need them. Children live with an eye to inheriting property, and the worth of someone is gauged by how much they produce from their property. Government exists to protect property.In my view, one of the most consequential statements after Bacon’s “Knowledge is power,” and Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” is this one from John Locke: “So little power does the bare act of begetting give a man over his issue.” Our present day legal battles over who owns and uses precious bodily fluids are the reductio ad absurdum that follow from this minimalization of fatherhood. In one powerful stroke, Locke reduces the graciousness in the act of being given life to a mere physical fact. The aspect of inspiriting, so essential to power, is deflated. When we look back at the long term effects of this attitude, World War I and World War II, and observe the spirits crushed by the loss of confidence in truth, the holy, justice, and love, by the loss of conviction in principle. With the pale substitute of success, we know that humanity is at stake.From Locke’s perspective, Telemachos’ concern about knowing his father is beside the point-just get your substance back, boy, and Achilles’ umbrage at not being Zeus’ son even more ridiculous.
Now I wish I had one paper here instead of two. I hope that I have, at any rate, given our subsequent fellows in the lecture series, something to raise their mighty fists against. Let me conclude by offering what I find as positive signs seen over fifty years ago by the prophetic Guardini, signs that we find vitally being worked out on many fronts-intellectual, spiritual, politically and bodily. Progressivism, for one thing, is over as a strong imaginative concept. The world is now seen as limited once again. Utopia and ideology-we might add in light of 1989-have also lost their glamour for us, except in the academy. Surely Guardini was right to predict that globalization. The Nation-State, we might add, has lost its hold over our imaginations. This largeness diminished it may make room, if we make it happen, for a more human scale where initiative can awaken and purposeful energies can be vitalized. A less atomized world makes the human scale possible again. “Knowledge and technology are breaking up the natural forms”-which means they can be used beneficially or for destruction. The breaking up of tradition may mean that we will depend more on “personal insight and will.” Man no longer sees the body and the soul as separate-as split, an important turn Guardini was surely right about. “Everywhere things reveal themselves as far less fixed, more fluid and more amenable to human initiative than the 19th C ever dreamed” (75). Surely, in the realm of uncertainty, there is greater room for play, for regeneration, for action that moves in a direction obedient to the authentic voices, the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln wrote invoked in his Second Inaugural. But there is also room for greater risk, and along with humility and asceticism as psychic ballasts to protect us from the old sins of pride and sloth, perhaps we need greater courage.
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