Saint James said of the rich and powerful:
Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you do good, you will often do well. That’s the way the cosmos would work, if it worked as designed. We have broken God’s perfect society, so often those who have riches and power are not those who do good. Long term evil will destroy a business, a person, or a culture, but because the world is not as it should be, this is not true in the short term.
When a holy angel sees Satan, he is horrified, because he knows the beauty that once was and sees the decay of evil in the form of what was once an angel and is now a devil. If we were to see Satan, God keep us from such a sight, we might see only an angel of light as his decayed beauty is still more magnificent that any sight most of us have seen.
We can be fooled. Great power, even decadent, decaying power, can seem like much and so trick us into abandoning true wisdom, virtue, and so we lose all joy. Of course another error is to hate the rich and powerful and assume they are evil, but that is, perhaps, not the error of this particular time.
Powerful people who are wise and virtuous are beset with sycophants and suck ups who would twist the truth to gain power. A tsar was martyred, because a charismatic, powerful personality used him for his own ends. Those that have wealth are often innocent, but attract parasites who want only their money. The Rasputin sits at the court or brokers looking for a way to corrupt and profit.
With great riches and power comes great temptation and burden. Pray for the true nobleman, we need such leaders just now.
The Bible walks this balance, pointing out justice will produce material prosperity, but then warning not to confuse the effect with the cause. Sometimes a man will have prosperity without being just, because human society warps the justice of creation. We insulate the heir from the consequences of her vices, because we toady to her wealth. We keep the leader from the natural results of his injustice, because we hope to use his power for some good. Rasputin salves our pain, but twists the noble heart for his own ends.
We allow evil in powerful people in the hope that a greater good may come. The “greater good,” that seducative lie, has convinced more decent men to empower tyrants than almost any other falsehood. You can not destroy morality to save morals.
The great philosophical forerunner to Christianity, the John the Baptist of philosophy, Plato saw this problem in Republic. Socrates is talking to a young man and both agree that somehow the very definition of justice has been twisted. Who would do this? Socrates says;
Polemarchus, I think I know where the idea that justice benefits friends and injures enemies originated. With despots like Periander or Perdiccas or Xerxes, or with a traitor like Ismenias of Thebes. Or with some other person so rich and powerful that he thought he could do just as he pleased.
The tyrant says “liberty” when he means collectivization and cultural sterilization. Stalin cries “comrade”and murders anyone foolish enough to be his friend. Meanwhile, his lickspittles and enablers, even in America, say that he is the future and that his tyranny is freedom.
God help us.
Despots and traitors love twisting words, because then argument, the great foe of tyranny, loses power. Plato emphasizes that true definitions do not tell us what a thing is, but can clarify what it is not. We can know a thing without being able to define it, but the danger is that if we cannot define a concept like justice, a despot or traitor might confuse us. He will convince us that something “like” justice is justice, but that is a wolf baaing like a sheep.
*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18.
**I have no idea how much of what I know is just Professor Al Geier filtered through my eccentricity. Here is to you Al!