Strength Without Foolishness

 

I’m not always completely enamored of my small hometown’s local newspaper… But today’s edition of the Rutland Herald had a pretty great editorial opinion piece (warning: paywall) that I felt was worth reprinting here.

 

While the editorial doesn’t reference the tarot in any way, tarot enthusiasts will easily connect with the idea that the Cardinal Virtue of Strength (card VIII or XI) cannot stand alone by itself and be successful (without consequence). Here we can reflect on the idea that the Cardinal Virtues are inter-dependent…Strength requires Temperance, Prudence, and yes, even Justice to be effective, valuable, and credible. It also requires all these things in order to avoid wreaking havoc and desolation, and in order to selflessly and humbly foresee the best outcome for the future of others under one’s care and responsibility.

 

Read the piece for your self, noting that it refers to present and past political figures as well as historical precedent…

 

How to be strong

September 16,2016

 

The unprecedented hacking of U.S. political organizations, apparently by Russians, confronts the nation with a challenge to the integrity of its political system and deepens the cyber warfare that has embroiled Russia and the United States in worsening conflict.

 

It also puts to the test what it means to be strong.

 

Donald Trump has expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin because Putin, in Trump’s view, is a strong leader. But what does it mean to be a strong leader?

 

Stalin was strong. Hitler was strong. The new president of the Philippines is showing unprecedented strength by unleashing mobs of vigilante killers to gun down suspected drug dealers or anybody else arousing their ire.

 

Putin has shown he knows how to be strong, quashing dissent, imprisoning or murdering opponents, invading neighbors, using his KGB-style tricks of subversion to sow unrest among his adversaries. The strongman doesn’t have to negotiate with parliament or Congress. He doesn’t have to stoop so low as to run in a legitimate election. If you are strong, you show it by winning 90 percent of the vote.

 

Strong leaders of this sort have wreaked havoc in human civilization since the beginning, and they are still doing so. They may have a run of success for awhile, but their success generally contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. If you are Hitler or Mussolini, madness or assassination awaits you. If you are Hugo Chavez or Muammar Gaddafi, then your vainglory and incompetence eventually leave the foundation of your power to rot.

 

Meanwhile, humanity endures the endless pageant of foolish strongmen who tout their strength in order not to seem weak. There are endless historical examples showing that, absent other values, strength, at best, is an amoral virtue.

 

"Achilles," a Roman sculpture at the Villa Reale

“Achilles,” a Roman sculpture at the Villa Reale

 

It was to transform the pageant of tyranny that Americans seized power from their king and began their experiment in democracy. Democracy requires a different, more profound, kind of strength. It requires leaders who are confident enough to share power, not just with like-minded allies, but with opposing factions. It requires leaders with a willingness to constrain their own power in order to forge the kind of consensus needed to allow the people as a whole a role in governing themselves.

 

A strong leader knows how to endure criticism without becoming spiteful. A strong leader knows how to embrace his or her entire community with the knowledge that one is strengthened, not weakened, by respecting others. A strong leader does not need to strut and preen and denigrate others. It is a weak leader who feels the need to do so.

 

Strength by Antoine-Louis Barye

“Strength” (c. 1854) by French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye

 

Putin compensates for Russia’s weakness as a second-rate power by seeking to sow discord among the democracies that provide a counter-example of true strength. Russia’s efforts to hack into America’s elections alert us to the nature of the battle we are engaged in with Russia and also to the need to maintain the integrity of the democratic process.

 

That Trump finds Putin’s kind of strength more admirable than the strength derived by our democracy and inhering in the office of the presidency is profoundly alarming. That he would go on Russian TV to denounce the U.S. president, as he did with Larry King, is reminiscent of an incident from World War II.

 

The American poet Ezra Pound was living in Italy during the war, and Mussolini’s fascist government paid him to go on Italian radio to denounce Franklin Roosevelt and the Jews, which he was happy to do. U.S. military forces arrested him for treason, and later authorities confined him to a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for 12 years.

 

To go on Russian TV to criticize Obama is not the same as going on Italian radio during World War II, but it is reprehensible in the same way. It is not the action of a strong leader. It is the action of a weak man grasping for power who has little understanding of the source of real power in a democracy.

 

 

 

 

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