"It is my goal to make the London Center, the premier foreign policy institute in the country, one that is shaping
the debate on international affairs and influencing decisions emerging from the Congress."
Before Jan Sobieski, King of Poland, saved Vienna and Western Civilization, he first insisted that Emperor Leopold I pay his army and provide fodder for his horses (no small thing - he had more than 25,000 horse). Leopold and the Holy League balked, but then paid up, and, in the wake of the largest cavalry charge in history, Vienna was saved and Mehmed IV’s army, under the redoubtable Mustafa Pasha, was driven back to Belgrade (where Mehmed had Mustafa executed for failing to take Vienna).
Sobieski had his reasons: he was stripping his country bare of most of its forces, and his men weren’t exactly happy to be leaving Poland, fearful that the country would be attacked while they were gone (it was). Sobieski needed to hold the army together; making sure everyone got paid was, therefore, essential.
So was Sobieski less than heroic, demanding “cash up front” before saving Vienna?
One of the things about reading history - and the news - is to understand the basis of the viewpoint of the author. Author’s who share a bit of common ground with their subject are at an advantage over those who do not. Said differently, if you’ve never hiked up a mountain, it’s going to be more difficult to write about Edmund Hillary.
But climbing Everest, though difficult, is nothing to the problem of understanding leadership. If you have ever led an organization - really of any size at all - and tried to get it to do something new, you’ve experienced what is nearly impossible to understand if you have never done that. From the outside it can often be impossible to fully grasp why leaders make compromises on nearly anything, as they try to advance the main thing.
When Ronald Reagan came into office he said he had two main goals: defeat the Soviet Union, and reduce the size of the federal government. In the end, he had to choose one over the other, and he chose defeating the Soviet Union. That meant compromises on a host of federal government programs that he viscerally and philosophically opposed. Yet you can regularly read articles on Reagan that fail to grasp this “main thing."
Most historians, and virtually all of the reporters who are covering today’s rioting, don’t seem to understand this. It seems most reporters - and the blogging, vlogging, tweeting rioters - have assumed a mantle of self-righteous altruism that they assume gives them a carte blanche to tear down reputations and statues (and one presumes soon buildings) and anything that doesn’t fit their - very narrow, and even more inexperienced - world view. They act as if they’re perfect, and that anyone who does not measure up to their perfection - even if they’ve been dead for centuries, must be purged. These new agnostic holy men feel free to hate the sin and hate the sinner, with equal fervor.
It’s this sense of their own perfection, their own infallibility, that makes revolutionaries dangerous. They not only don’t know when to stop, they feel completely justified in not stopping. History has demonstrated - repeatedly - that people do dangerous and stupid things when they think they’re infallible. Consider Henry VIII… Churchill said of Henry VIII that it was a “hideous blot upon his record that the reign should be widely remembered for its executions… These persecutions, inflicted in solemn manner by officers of the law, perhaps in the presence of the Council or even of the King himself, form a brutal sequel to the bright promise of the Renaissance."
Which leads to the sense that what is going on now isn’t going to end well.
Daniel Patrick Moynahan famously warned that America’s black communities were facing a crisis, a situation where 24% of black children were born to unwed mothers, growing up in single parent homes. 50+ years later we’ve long passed the crisis and now live in something beyond words, with more than 70% of black children born and growing up in homes without fathers. The result is catastrophic; better than 1/3rd of black American males can expect to spend time in prison. The violence and rioting may grab the headlines, but meanwhile black on black murders in Chicago and Baltimore and Detroit and elsewhere continue, unremarked by the bulk of the media. If there is racism in America that needs to be rooted out, that apathy might be where to really start.
But there’s a greater problem.
There’s a chasm in US politics. It has been present for decades but it’s growing wider and wider; it isn’t about racism and it isn’t about income, or access to health care, police violence, crime rates, standards of living, access to schools or unemployment rates. All of those issues, and there are others, are simply being used, and often twisted, to make the chasm wider.
At the core of the movement is a fundamental philosophical disagreement; on one side there’s a belief in natural rights, rights that come from God (or nature if you prefer) and which are superior to government. Governments are subordinate to the people, both individually and collectively. This also results in absolute rights and wrongs. On the other side is the belief in the primacy of collective and derivative rights; these rights come from government. This construct begins with the “greater good for the greater number” taking precedence over the rights of the individual. And it necessitates situational ethics.
But situational ethics begs the practical question: who gets to decide? Every dictator, particularly the most bloody (Mao, Stalin, Hitler - take your pick) couches his decision to lay waste to a town, a city, or a people as being something that will in the end bring greater good.
Situational ethics provide rationalizations, assuring one and all that the action is justified no matter what that means in terms of individual rights, or the responsiveness of representative government, or the physical destruction of property and in the end people.
In short, situational ethicists can justify any action, to include tipping over government and cancelling rights. Give the right set of circumstances, or manipulated facts, situational ethics would allow you to justify slavery and genocide.
And that is what we are rapidly approaching.
And on top of this whole mess we find the Ubermensch, men above the law…
We are told by many that we need to compromise. But there can’t be a compromise between morals and situational ethics.
The Ubermensch who are leading the calls for the destruction of our society recognize no God above them (at least Henry believed he had to answer to God). Nor do they recognize any morality, or even basic values with which the average American has any familiarity. This is a dangerous disconnect, a chasm, one that cannot be closed by compromise. The vote that takes place in November is devolving down to a simple case: either a respect for law and morals and right and wrong, or the destruction of the law and the empowerment of these new men, these “super” men. That’s our real choice.
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...