Most of us are just good enough to be John Wilkes Booth, but a few are good enough to be Brutus. That man is dangerous to liberty, because he has a soul noble enough to love his country, freedom, and the glories of the past, but not great enough to face the trouble of his day openly.
Christianity has no place for the conspirator. God help us, but many of us Tweet like Patrick Henry, but act like Judas. We talk boldly, but we dare not act openly. No nation, no church, no movement can be saved by skulking or backstabbing.
The Lesser Problem: John Wilkes Booth
Read the life of the murderer of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, one of the great Shakespearean actors of his day. You wish such a man were crazy, but he was very sane. What drove him mad?
He was brilliant, but caught in an ideology. He was a man who stuck to his cause, even when lost, and that might have been noble, but it was just mental stubbornness attached to racism. Booth could never be persuaded, not because he had integrity, but because he did not listen.
Nobody can be persuaded who will not listen. We must listen and consider our own possible error to avoid doing evil when we mean good. The error of the Shakespearean actor Booth, refuting to listen and running wild for our cause, is hard enough to avoid. Shakespeare gives a deeper problem.
The Greater Problem: Brutus
Great evils are done by men who listen, but then who act in the shadows. These men are better than Booth. They are noble and mean well while considering their own frailty. There is no touch of arrogance in them. They consider and then murder in the name of their values. They do evil that good may come.
What follows? They ruin all they hold dear and bring a greater tyranny than they could have imagined.
Kill Julius Caesar and raise up Augustus Caesar.
Booth thought he was Brutus killing a tyrant, but he was just a coward shooting a great man from behind. Brutus? His is a greater temptation: a good man called to use foul means for a great cause. He longed for liberty, was begged by powerful men to act, and betrayed his friend. No good can come of such rank disloyalty when it comes by surprise. Brutus loved Caesar, but he loved liberty more . . . Or so he thought, but he did not love liberty and Caesar enough to face his friend openly.
Part of the problem is that Brutus is captured by the past. Cassius tempts him by an ancestor who fought for freedom: “O, you and I have heard our fathers say There was a Brutus once that would have brooked Th’eternal devil to keep his state in Rome As easily as a king.” Brutus had a namesake who struck down a tyrant and he would imitate that deed, but imitation is flattery not virtue.
Brutus aped heroism. God spare us from the false analogy with past deeds. We think ourselves Rosa Parks when we are merely surly and annoying.
A Warning from Shakespeare for our Time
There are times when men think that nothing could be worse, when much is feared, and Nature herself seems disturbed. We delude ourselves in those times that decency, courtesy, and truthfulness no longer matter. Our enemy is too wicked for straightforward opposition, so we adopt the assassin’s creed: murder for liberty. We kill truth in our hot takes, beauty in our crudity, and goodness for victory.
We live in times of portents where people scream the Republic in peril on the right and doomed on the Left. Such talk makes us consider awful things and say hurtful words. Brutus was a man so good that bad man used him to give the appearance of virtue to their grasp for power. The horror is that Brutus goes on meaning well as all he had done gives power to all he hates and makes impotent all he loves.
Brutus thinks he has given his country liberty. He has given his country civil war and a greater tyrant.
Do not do evil so good may come. Reject the error of Booth and Brutus. The worst evils will not be done by the roue, obvious in his evils, or the tyrant who sends good men to the barricades. No. The great evil will come when the best of men decide that foul deeds done in darkness can bring the light.
Fight openly or do not fight at all.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.