Unless either the philosophers become kings … or those who now are called kings and rulers become philosophers … there will be no rest from evil … nor, I believe, for the human race either. And not until that happens, will this politeia of ours have a measure of growth and see the light of the sun.Socrates [i]
Are we ruled by wise men or fools? Which country has a philosopher as head of state? France, perhaps? When French President Emmanuel Macron conducted an eight-hour “Great Debate of Ideas” with dozens of academics, people were left wondering. Should we take him seriously? Or is Emmanuel Macron merely an intellectual posing as a philosopher? Rather than striking a pose, a philosopher is concerned with deeper truths while the politician shaves the truth for the sake of political expediency. As Machiavelli might say, deceit is the politician’s obligation if he hopes to succeed. This is how ambitious politicians become slaves to untruth – like the criminal who cannot stop adding to his crimes because a turn toward honesty would prove fatal. In brief, the politician who serves expediency might imagine himself to be powerful and free. Yet he becomes trapped by his own expedient lies.
Diogenes the Cynic, a famous Greek philosopher who lived in a large clay pot, was once noticed by Alexander the Great examining a pile of human bones. Alexander’s curiosity being aroused, he asked what the philosopher was doing. “I am searching for the bones of your father,” he allegedly replied, “but I cannot distinguish them from those of a slave.”
Xenophon tells the story of Euthydemus, an Athenian youth who fancied himself the best educated of his generation because he had acquired a great many books that would teach him how to be a successful politician.[ii] Socrates sat down with the youth and inquired about his ambition. “I want to be a politician and administrator,” admitted Euthydemus. Socrates said this was commendable and praised Euthydemus for studying “the art of kingship.” Then Socrates asked, “But have you satisfied yourself whether it is possible to become good at these things without being morally good?” Socrates admonished the youth that ignorance of moral goodness signifies enslavement (i.e., to vice).
In Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary we find the following definition of the word EMANCIPATION: “A bondman’s change from the tyranny of another to the despotism of himself.” Bierce then set down four lines of poetry by “G.J.”
He was a slave: at word he went and came;
His iron collar cut him to the bone.
Then Liberty erased his owner’s name,
Tightened the rivets and inscribed his own.
At the beginning of his Politics, Aristotle says there are pairings of persons and things that need each other. His first example was the pairing of male and female, necessary for the survival of the human race. Aristotle then suggested another natural pairing – that of rulers and ruled. Aristotle explained that those who can use their intelligence to look ahead are by nature rulers and masters, “while that which has the bodily strength to do the actual work is by nature a slave, one of those who is ruled. Thus there is a common interest in uniting master and slave.”[iii]
Of course, this formulation makes a poor impression on today’s liberals and socialists, whose demagoguery consists in flattering the masses. They prefer to speak in terms of “democracy,” which promises liberty and equality for all. Aristotle’s ”pairing” of rulers and ruled is something no democratic politician would care to expound upon. He would prefer to say that “the people” are the rulers. Indeed, we think of ourselves as self-governing and free. But this is not exactly true. As Aristotle was a reasonable man, he would have admitted that the “slaves” created by a political pairing of rulers and ruled might enjoy many freedoms in practice; and these freedoms might even be respected for generations. Yet all these “free men” are not helmsmen on the Ship of State, or captains. The Ship of State is not theirs to command. So, what are they? The masses of today are either passengers on that Ship of State, or members of the ship’s crew. Following our analogy further, because the sea is dangerous and emergencies are inevitable, the captain of a ship must always have absolute authority over passengers and crew. Otherwise, he is no captain at all.
Where, indeed, does a captain get his authority from? Is moral goodness necessary to his office? Is it the case that any “empty suit” will suffice? Looking at a professional politician like President Joe Biden, who governs America as the ultimate empty suit, can anyone honestly say he has the wherewithal to be a captain? Or is he a slave of corruption, obligated to let the Ship of State sink in the next storm? Can we imagine him accepting the same responsibility for his actions as the captain of a real ship? Would he go down with his ship? Or is he a human placeholder, standing in the shoes of George Washington without any of Washington’s virtues? Looking at the Republican side, do we see any prospective captains? There are those who believe that Donald Trump is a proper captain, yet his opponents clearly regard him as a “Captain Bligh.”[iv] Such was the mutiny that erupted during Trump’s presidency, which proved to be a political booby prize.
It is my suspicion (and only a suspicion) that our Ship of State has no captain, and no real crew. Watching things unfold, I suspect that our Ship of State has been hijacked. Whoever is at the helm, whatever course they claim to be sailing, is not to be trusted. The man who is impersonating the captain is obviously taking direction from somebody else. I doubt he knows where the ship is going. It may be that a monster of the deep, with a strange hypnotic power, has taken charge of the ship. I am thinking of a many-headed serpent called Ideology. Emblazoned on each of its heads is an ism – egalitarianism, Marxism, liberalism, feminism, conspiracism, etc.
Since nearly everyone is hypnotized by this many-headed serpent, nobody is free to act. All are enslaved by the prevailing ideological lies. How, indeed, do we defeat this many-headed serpent? Every attempt to break the spell of one “ism” traps us in another. The serpent’s coils continue to tighten around us. There appears to be no escape. It seems we are slaves of one political gospel or another. The most sinister development, however, is that our favored political gospels prevent the pairing of captain and crew. Our political system is largely dysfunctional because every man is captain over himself. Every man is now a king. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers explains this situation in terms of a fable:
There lived a King, as I’ve been told,
In the wonder-working days of old,
When hearts were twice as good as gold,
And twenty times as mellow….
He wished all men as rich as he
(And he was rich as rich could be),
So to the top of every tree
Lord Chancellors were cheap as sprats,
And Bishops in their shovel hats
Were plentiful as tabby cats –
In point of fact, too many.
Ambassadors cropped up like hay,
Prime Ministers and such as they
Grew like asparagus in May,
And Dukes were three a penny.
On every side Field-Marshals gleamed,
Small beer were Lords-Lieutenant deemed,
With Admirals the ocean teemed
All round his wide dominions.
And Party Leaders you might meet
In twos and threes in every street
Maintaining, with no little heat,
Their various opinions.
That King, although no one denies
His heart was of abnormal size,
Yet he’d have acted otherwise
If he had been acuter.
The end is easily foretold,
When every blessed thing you hold
Is made of silver, or of gold,
You long for simple pewter.
When you have nothing else to wear
But cloth of gold you cease to care –
Up goes the price of shoddy.
When every one is somebodee
Then no one’s anybody!
Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of democratic egalitarianism. If everyone is responsible for the Ship of State, then nobody is responsible. As noted earlier, I suspect the ship has no captain at all. It has either been hijacked by bandits or it is adrift. How can we get out of this situation? It cannot be fixed so long as the pairing of captain and crew has been disrupted by Ideology. This is the monster that must be defeated first. Surely, with the next storm, our ship will come to grief. Poisoned by Ideology’s hallucinogen, we look upon the horizon and see only a Promised Utopia. Sadly, it is a rocky shore on which our Ship of State must crash.
Looking back at the last several centuries, we might ask why this is happening? Why is Ideology afflicting us? Monsters of the deep are mysterious creatures who dwell in darkness. One such monster was described long ago by the ancient Egyptians. They called it the Apep – a chaos demon in the form of a serpent who constantly battled the sun god, Ra. Here is a very old representation of a battle that is waged through eternity between light and darkness, good and evil, truth and falsehood. What we are experiencing today is an iteration of this battle. Our chaos demon is called Ideology. It has injected mankind with a blinding agent which has disrupted those images and structures on which the human soul depends.
In his poem, “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot penned the following lines:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief….
Here is the rocky shore we are headed to. Eliot is writing about spiritual desertification and its consequences. He wrote the poem after suffering from a nervous breakdown in the aftermath of the First World War. The poem itself partakes of the dryness it depicts. (In other words, Eliot is writing what he knows.) And there is nothing fertile in this dryness. Nothing can take root in it. There is drought, dust, red rock without water, cracked mouths, dry bones, and “dry sterile thunder without rain.” In his poetry Eliot falls back on dryness again and again because dryness is akin to emptiness, and his contemporaries were, as he famously noted elsewhere, “hollow.” Eliot’s key phrase, which tells us what this poem signifies, is his reference to a “heap of broken images.” These images are quite clearly the treasures of the mind and soul. The interpretation follows that something has caused a desert to form in man’s soul. And all those images, on which spiritual meaning depend, lie broken. Among these are Aristotle’s pairings – man and woman, ruler and ruled, God and the Universe. [v]
Eric Voegelin once described the twentieth century in terms of an oppressive flood of ideological nonsense. Men were, he said, “hemmed in, if not oppressed, from all sides….” After World War I, society was bombarded with “language symbols that pretend to be concepts but in fact are unanalyzed … topics.”[vi] Here is a realm of “idols” dressed up as science that are, in fact, pseudo-science; from the “scientific socialism” of Karl Marx to the National Socialism of Adolf Hitler. Today we have the dogma of anthropogenic global warming fastened on socialist arguments for reducing the human race from 8 billion to 500 million people. All these pseudo-sciences, argued Voegelin, have been designed to justify killing people for the fun of it. Voegelin explained, “What the fun is, I did not quite understand … but in the intervening years the ample exploration of revolutionary consciousness has cast some light on this matter. The fun consists in gaining a pseudo-identity through asserting one’s power, optimally by killing somebody….” This pseudo-identity, he added, “serves as a substitute for a self that has been lost.”[vii]
Forgive me for quoting these passages at intervals, but I find them so very precise – so directly on target. You will not find a better general explanation of revolutionary consciousness than this. To recapitulate: The madness of Ideology endangers our Ship of State by disrupting the pairing of captain and crew. It has even sought to deny the pairing of male and female. The damage here is far-reaching and involves the whole of society as well as the individual.
Thomas Carlyle, reacting to the Revolutions of 1848, wrote his Latter-Day Pamphlets to expose the fallacies of the revolutionary mind. Here he used the metaphor of a sailing ship headed to Cape Horn. He wrote:
Unanimity of voting, – that will do nothing for us…. Your ship cannot double Cape Horn by its excellent plans of voting. The ship may vote this and that, above decks and below, in the most harmonious and exquisitely constitutional manner: the ship, to get round Cape Horn, will find a set of conditions already … fixed with adamantine rigor by the ancient Elemental Powers, who are entirely careless how you vote. If you can … ascertain these conditions, and valiantly conform to them, you will get round the Cape: if you cannot, the ruffian Winds will blow you ever back again; the inexorable Icebergs, dumb privy councilors from Chaos, will nudge you with most chaotic ‘admonition’; you will be flung half frozen on the Patagonian cliffs, or admonished into shivers by your iceberg councilors, and sent sheer down to Davy Jones, and will never get round Cape Horn at all!”[viii]
As we watch the news, some of us wonder about election fraud. But our problem is larger. What if, as H.L. Mencken suggested, democracy is the system where “the people get what they want, and they get it good and hard”? Aside from this, our republic was not constituted as a democracy. Voting is only one check in a system of checks and balances that is now breaking down. In the Sea of Time, wrote Carlyle, what is needed is a Captain who discerns what the true regulations of the Universe are “and can faithfully and steadfastly follow these.” Only men who see the truth and stand by it are going to matter. Whatever stands in the way of the truth, stands in the way of national recovery. Falsehood, in this context, is man’s “enemy of enemies.” Those who do not adhere to truth, who cannot read the Divine Message or see the eternal regulation of the Universe face destruction and shipwreck “for every affair.”
In Federalist No. 2, John Jay wrote, “Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of Government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers.” And herein lies our dilemma. We have the Founders’ Constitution today, on paper. But the men who are ostensibly in charge are no longer upholding that piece of paper. And now, after the pandemic, we see that our Government is a Ship of Fools, adrift in a dangerous sea. War has broken out in Europe. The waves are getting larger and larger. The wind is picking up.
How do we survive the coming storm? To be part of the solution we must stop being part of the problem. This means we must stop believing in ideological lies. We must set aside conspiracy theories that never quite name the conspirators; for everything imprecise and vague, in this regard, is worthless. And we must take care not to attribute all mankind’s ills to some ethnic group, like the Jews; or to some cult which has somehow gained mastery over all other cults. Falsehood is not going to save us. We must have the truth.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Links and Notes
[i] Plato, The Republic, 473c-d. (As translated in Eric Voegelin’s book on Plato.)
[ii] Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates (London: Penguin Classics, 1990), pp. 178-190. These are the pages which cover Socrates’s interactions with Euthydemus.
[iii] Aristotle, The Politics, 1252a24. Translation by T.A. Sinclair.
[iv] William Bligh was with Captain Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific Ocean when Cook was killed in July 1776. Bligh played an essential role in getting the expedition back to England (in August 1780). In 1787, Lieutenant Bligh took command of the His Majesty’s Armored Transport Vessel (HMAV) Bounty, which famously mutinied against Bligh after loading up with breadfruit trees in Tahiti. Three movies were made of the mutiny. Bligh was played, in succession, by Charles Laughton (Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935), Trevor Howard (Mutiny on the Bounty, 1962), and Anthony Hopkins (The Bounty, 1984). Only Hopkin’s portrayal of Bligh was sympathetic, partaking of that same mid-1980s nostalgia for great men found in Roland Huntford’s Last Place on Earth, turned into a seven-part miniseries on the 1910-11 race for the pole between Captain Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen. In the miniseries Scott was depicted as a dangerously conceited man, out of touch with reality, fully empowered to march his polar party into oblivion. (The party died of scurvy, exhaustion and the cold.) At the same time Amundsen was depicted as a realist, as a man who could admit his mistakes, whose expedition safely and swiftly arrived at the South Pole and departed. The irony is, of course, that Scott is more celebrated as a hero, and Amundsen is depicted as a villain because he kept his men alive by eating the expedition’s sled dogs on the return trip.
[v] Aristotle believed God and the Universe were eternal; however, Aristotle suggested that God imparts motion to the universe. Without motion, the Universe would have no meaning, no direction, no from or to. In other words, the motion imparted to matter by God grants form and order to what would otherwise be a lifeless waste land of formless substance. Creation, therefore, is the coming together of form and substance, mind and matter. The physicist Viktor Kulish has suggested that the physical universe is manifested and sustained, moment to moment, by God.
[vi] Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections (USA: Louisiana University Press, 1989), p. 93.
[vii] Ibid, pp. 46-47.
[viii] Thomas Carlyle, Latter-Day Pamphlets (Kindle), p. 249.
Quarterly Subscription (voluntary, to support the site)
J.R. Nyquist’s books can be purchased at amazon at the following url: