Monday, October 27, 2008

One Ring to Rule Them All

~from First Things by Kurt Luchs: Frodo in a World of Boromirs
It is no longer shameful to lust after power so long as one lusts for the good of the people. In the words of Boromir, speaking of the One Ring, “For you seem to think of its power only in the hands of the enemy: of its evil uses not of its good.” The only rejoinder, in Frodo’s words to Boromir, is that “we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.” Yes, it’s that simple. And as you ascend the levels of authority, from city to state to nation, it only becomes more true.

There are several reasons. One, already alluded to, is the corruption of power. No matter for what noble ends power may be sought, at some point it always becomes an end in itself, and then the jig is up . . . but the power and its abuses live on. This is why even the most flagrantly failed government programs are nearly impossible to kill...

...Still, some might counter, our modern world is so much more complex than the ones the early Christians or America’s founders inhabited. Surely the unique challenges of these complicated times require more government mediation? Actually, no. And modern science helps explain why. Complexity theory teaches that as systems become more complex, they become more inherently unpredictable and uncontrollable. Happily, they also become self-organizing. But complex systems like economies are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. Because control is not a realistic option, all government can or should do is set and enforce some of those initial conditions, or ground rules, not try to predetermine outcomes. Discouraging fraud at the outset is possible. Achieving fairness on some glorious tomorrow (in other words, by incentivizing or even forcing banks to make bad loans to the underprivileged until the nation is bankrupt) is not.

One final point: The Bible often tells us to pray for our leaders, and to pray for our enemies. But where does it ever say that those are two separate prayers? Recall that one leader the early Church was called to pray for was their own persecutor, the sadistic and mentally unstable Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned” and eventually did everyone a huge favor by committing suicide. If only all politicians passed such accurate judgment upon themselves.

The pull of liberty is strong, but only for those who know it and treasure it. After decades of public education designed more to produce compliant subjects and beneficiaries than thinking, self-reliant citizens, there are precious few among us who can even articulate, let alone defend, the principles for which our founders bled and died. There are far more (and especially the well-meaning religious) who say, as Gandalf says of the One Ring, “Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good.” In their pity and all too sincere desire to do good, they do not see the end of that road as Gandalf does: “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.”

Is there hope? Yes. There is always hope. Whatever its imperfections and excesses and absurdities, liberty is always better than coercion. Sooner or later this always seems to become apparent. When it does, men and women ready to take a stand for liberty always seem to spring from the earth. Perhaps that moment is again near. If so, it will not be the last. There is no final battle for liberty in a fallen world. As Tolkien reminds us (again in the words of Gandalf), “Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”

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