I have an article published this morning on Crisis magazine, a reflection on the nature of authority. As is the custom, I will post it here after a few days, but feel free to peruse in the meantime.
Speaking of authority, today is the memorial of the Protomartyrs of Rome, those untold numbers of early Christians put to death in the most horrific of ways by that abuser of all things authoritarian, and very image of anti-Christ, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, born as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (‘red beard’), usually known simply by his first name. For reasons that are historically complex, but likely simpler on a spiritual level, Nero, a corrupt tyrant and sexual deviant who had his own mother executed, developed a deep and abiding hatred for Christians, blaming the burning of Rome on them (while there is evidence that he may have hand in starting the conflagration).
These early Christians were known ironically in Roman circles as ‘atheists’, for refusing to worship the gods of Rome, and it was for their ‘atheism’, which we know was really their theism, their faith and love in God and His Christ, that they suffered. Their agonies in the year 64 A.D., just after the aforementioned fire, are described in the annals of the historian Tacitus, as well as recounted by Saint Clement, the third Pope. Here is Tacitus:
Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.
To ‘glut one’s man’s cruelty’ is an apt way of putting it.
It is tradition also that Saints Peter and Paul, whom we commemorated yesterday, were also victims of Nero’s persecution. Misuse of authority indeed. As Lord Acton put it, power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, which is a big part of the reason we no longer live under Caeasari Augusti like Nero, worshiped as gods, whose divine decrees could not be gainsaid.
Even lesser power than Nero’s tends to corrupt, for authority tends to make us think more of ourselves than we really are in truth (the defining principle of pride), a difficult thing to control even in the best, perhaps especially in the best. Seek the lowest place is wise advice from Christ Himself, supplemented, as I have quoted before, with Saint Philip Neri’s own counsel, amare nesciri, ‘love to be unknown’; further, love to be despised and thought little of. This is humility, to see ourselves as we really are, which means how we stand before God Himself. For that a man is, and nothing more, as Saint Francis declared. A rather sobering thought, worthy of a lifetime of meditation.
My brother mentioned to me last night an individual who works in shipping and receiving in an auto parts depot where trucks deliver. Well, this individual deliberately makes the truckers wait, idling frustratingly in line after they have spent many hours on the highway. He could just move them forward more aptly and efficiently, but does not do so, for, as this individual with a little smidgen of authority put it, ‘it makes him look busy’. When asked at a deeper level, why, he just replied, because I can.
Our world, especially our government bureaucracies and unions with iron-clad jobs impervious to the free market, is filled with such petty tyrants, who misuse what authority and power are given them.
I try, oh, I try to given Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, wish him well in his own large exercise of authority, and am heartened by a number of his policies and decisions. So I am saddened by the latest of his early morning ‘tweets’, responding to a pair of news anchors who in some way disproved of his policies, I believe in this case his health care initiative. In this early morning ‘tweet’ (how I despise that word, and the whole notion of encapsulating one’s thoughts in such trivial bites), the Commander-in-Chief ridiculed one of the female news anchors, Mika Brzezinski, mocking her ‘low I.Q.’ and revealing that she was ‘bleeding badly from a facelift’ when at his Floridian Mar-a-Lago resort earlier this year.
This in logic is referred to as ad hominem, refuting another’s argument (as false and abusive it may be in its own right) by maligning their character or, in this case, their brains and looks, and this of a guest in what is Trump’s own private property. Rather low, and in this case eminently unchivalrous, as even many Trump supporters are forced to concede.
I have only met a few really rich, or even famous, people in my life, but my limited experience is that they do not take criticism well, for they are used to be being feted, fawned and fussed over, living lives of extreme comfort, thinking far more of themselves than what they really are, which is likely a big part of the reason for Christ’s warnings about camels and eyes of needles.
Alas, I worry about the whole conservative cause, seeking to rebuild society, when it ignores the wide and deep intellectual content that would make its case so well and soundly. The airwaves and media are filled with blustering voices trying to shout their way into truth. And here we have rich and feted Donald Trump, not habituated to criticism nor defiance, tweeting his own way ironically into ridicule.
Of course, this whole tweet could itself be ‘fake news’, and I await an explanation or an apology. But in the meantime, one must clarify what one can.
Yes, alas, authority is a difficult thing to exercise. We may hope that Mr. Trump begins to seek and pray for counsel, and that he keeps his volatile passions and brittle ego off his apparently ubiquitous and ever-at-hand cell phone. With such erratic behaviour, he is not doing the reputation of own I.Q. (whatever that mysterious thing is), nor his own authority, any favours.
Holy Protomartyrs of Rome, orate pro nobis!