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Of Great Quotes and Good Men

And why Bush is worse than Clinton.

by James Leroy Wilson
September 25, 2003

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Of Great Quotes and Good Men_James Leroy Wilson-And why Bush is worse than Clinton “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke

The above quote by the intellectual founder of conservatism, the man who cherished both tradition and liberty, both intellectual depth with realism, haunts democracies like the impending Social Security bankruptcy haunts America. What sounds like a good idea might not be so good after all.

Yes, in most areas of life the statement is true. But not in all.

Consider Lord Acton’s famous remark about power: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Well, parents have power. I don’t think it “tends” to corrupt them. Parents make mistakes, of course, but few are intentionally abusive of their power. If anything, parental responsibility tends to ennoble those on whom it’s been given.

Of course, Acton is referring to the political use of power. That certainly tends to corrupt. What I am suggesting, however, is that Acton’s statement simply isn’t true without the caveat that he’s talking about political power.

Power is the trust of other people, and children can not help but trust their parent(s). And they would tend to trust all adults, especially those with whom they are familiar. All adults have power over children, but most don’t abuse it.

A third quote, of unknown origin, is “The road to hell with paved with good intentions.” This one is too confusing to even wrap one’s mind around. The word of Jesus Christ on the subject of “Hell” is the Aramaic word for “Gahenna,” which refers to a garbage inferno just outside Jerusalem, to which executed criminals were often dumped. According to what Jesus said and his hearers understood, can one put oneself into this state of criminality with good intentions? In some rare cases, maybe. But can one’s soul be damned for torture throughout all eternity in the traditional concept of hell for good intentions? Doubtful.

But can good intentions cause war? Yes. Which brings us to William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous quote: “War is hell.” He’s certainly right; war creates the fires, the death, and the stink of Gahenna.

Gen. Sherman’s pillaging and violence against civilian populations in his campaign against the Confederacy in the American Civil War, definitely upped the ante on that hell; such brutality was rarely seen in modern Christendom. Democracies tend to do that. They define “equality” down so that we’re all entitled, not to the rewards of the freedom of being left alone, but to being disposable; a means to the ends of the politicians and generals. Especially foreign peoples, which explains how a democracy-believing American Christian believes that aerial bombings of foreign civilians can be justified in so-called, extra-Biblical, “Just War” theory.

I don’t know if Gen. Sherman was justifying himself with this statement, or damning himself. What I would suggest is that good intentions can lead to war. Also, that political power can corrupt, if not one’s “intentions,” then certainly one’s judgment. And that makes a difference.

When it comes to politics, the only possible “good” a “good” man can do is use politics to defend liberty. As Lord Acton put it: “liberty is the highest political end of man.” If the evil can not be solved or even limited by the political means, then the political responsibility of man is to “do nothing.”

Let us, for instance, assume three things: that George Walker Bush is a “good man;” that he has always had “good intentions;” that he wants to do “something” (as opposed to nothing). For some of us, that’s a huge assumption. But let’s take his stated faith in Christianity to be sincere, and that he actually believes that enlarging the size and scope of the federal government is a good idea, (which he did as long ago as the 2000 campaign), And that he takes seriously, coming from a privileged family with a tradition of public service, a “responsibility” to give back to a nation that has blessed him so much. All of that, I can believe.

So what has he done for America? Involved us in at least one expensive and unnecessary war in Iraq. Created a “War on Terror” whose reach goes far beyond the terrorist group responsible for the 9-11 attacks, for the apparent benefit of no one except an enlarged class of federal cops, bureaucrats, and spies. Enlarged federal domestic spending at a rate not seen in 35 years - thereby impoverishing future Americans through inflation and high taxes. Prevented job growth, and threw people out of work, with steel and lumber tariffs. And hammering more nails into the coffin that holds the Constitution - this time incarcerating American citizens indefinitely without due process.

A good man tries to do “something” using political means, and he ends up corrupted. Stubborn in his policies, particularly foreign policies against people who didn’t elect him. In denial about his failures. Unwilling to resign, not even pressured to resign like failed CEO’s. Desperate for re-election and a “place in history.”

Good men taste political power, and their “something” ends up being worse than nothing. This is why Burke’s statement is dangerous. Good men ought not to be tempted into going into “public service,” or government, precisely because that is where most of the evil is generated. The very logic of the political means prevents any other conclusion. Politics, like crime, seeks to benefit some at the expense of others through violence.

I don’t know the definition of a “good” person, but I would expect, as the minimal requirement, that he would reject, if he really thought about it, the socialist/mercantilist ideal that it is good to benefit some at the expense of others through violence.

Unfortunately, decent Americans are force-fed lies throughout their lives about how it was the government that gave them everything good, including their freedom. So many good men enter politics, and always leave it worse than when they came in.

While many people genuinely do appreciate the “tone” of the President’s administration in comparison to the pure hate that naturally springs forth from Democratic politicians these days, we ought to look at the big picture. If we measured politicians against Acton’s standard of liberty, we’d have to conclude that G.W. Bush is a worse President than Bill Clinton. Clinton’s couldn’t do anything with a Democratic Congress, and he and a Republican Congress were able to at least control spending for a few years. Under an all-Republican government, spending and deficits are completely out of control. Clinton’s numerous and ill-advised military adventures do not combined - whether talking about life, destruction, or expense, - equal Bush’s singular catastrophe that is Iraq.

Clinton, we believe, was a cynic and a criminal. He was made for politics, and politics for him. “Good men” like Bush are so out of their element that not only do they fail to redeem politics, they use politics to do even greater damage that mere crooks are able to do.

Far better to avoid the political power and use one’s influence in the free market and society as a whole. Leave politics up to the crooks. The more crooks in politics, the fewer good men there, and the more good men in society and the market, the fewer crooks. The moral imbalance would weigh in freedom’s favor at the expense of politics.

So don’t be loyal to “ethical“ politicians, or make excuses for the atrocities of “good” people in politics, people of your partisan persuasion or religious faith. Tell them they should have become accountants or teachers or clergymen or entrepreneurs instead. Because only in honest, non-violent activities can actual good be done.

Comments (3)

Post a Comment

Chris writes:
January 13, 2008
Excellent piece -thanks.

santos from Land of the Free writes:
January 30, 2008

JBatchelor from TX writes:
July 5, 2008
You have some great points and I can agree with some of them. I have a question though. What happens when a terrorist organization finally smuggles a nuclear weapon into the country and uses it? I guess then we'll be saying, "we should have said pretty please don't do that." There is a place for diplomacy and a place for action. Unfortuneatly, Republicans ignore diplomacy and Democrats ignore action. I'm happy with our current system because neither stay in office more than eight years...generally speaking. If we could put term limits on all offices then we would finally get somewhere.

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