Charles Bernard Rodning

On Truth and Democracy

O Tempora, O Mores (L., “Oh the times, Oh the customs”), is an apothegm attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC), a Roman statesman, attorney, philosopher, and scholar.  In his First Oration against Catiline (63 BC) that he delivered in the Roman Senate, Cicero deplored the sorry condition of the Roman Republic, and particularly the Roman citizen, Catiline, who had conspired to foment an insurrection, intended to overthrow the Roman government and Cicero himself, who was at that time serving as the Head-of-State.

The perspectives expressed by Cicero could be ascribed to the sorry state of the virulent political climate and the dysfunctional political parties in our society, which have become dystopian and farcical for the following reasons.  

First, it and they have devolved into cults of personality (cult, L., cultus, “worship,” “homage,” “devoted attention to a person or thing”) populated by sycophants (Gk., sycophantes, L., sycophanta, “informer,” “slanderer,” “servile flatterer,” “show the fig” [a vulgar gesture]).

Second, fueled by the toxicity of an unbridled social media, the raison d’etre (Fr., “reason for being”) of many politicians has become self-aggrandizement and power, to the determinant of public service and the commonwealth.  

Third, rather than deliberate the substance of issues, they rant, demonize their critics, and employ every fallacy of argumentation in their rhetoric, most frequently argumentum ad hominem (L., “argument against the person”).

Fourth, more willingly than seeking common ground and common cause, they resort to demagoguery, contentiousness, mendacity, litigiousness, and extremism. 

Fifth, they are barren of any discretion, decorum, propriety, civility, and self-control.

And sixth, their hypocrisy is unbounded, as they deny any allegations against them and divest themselves of any responsibility or accountability, by assuming a posture of victimization, devoid of any semblance of shame, guilt, remorse, or contrition (“I have done nothing wrong;” “I am innocent;” “It’s politically motivated;” “It’s a witch hunt”).

Collectively, it and they could be described metaphorically as a “ship of fools.”

Das Narrenschiff

Sebastian Brandt (circa 1457-1521) was of Germanic heritage and earned a doctoral degree in canon and civil law from the University of Basel.  He served as Imperial Counselor, Judge, and Chancellor under the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I (1459 – 1519).  His most famous monograph, written as a humanist and satirist, was entitled Das Narrenschiff  (Gr., “ship of fools”) (1494).  Allegorically, it railed against the hypocrisies, weaknesses, political intrigues, and vices that were manifest during his lifetime.  The author wrote that the ship was laden with and steered by fools. It wandered the ocean aimlessly, but by happenstance sailed to Narragonia, where they encountered Grobian, the patron saint of vulgar and coarse people.

To paraphrase the motif of the allegory, the author described the shipmates and crew as deranged, demented, frivolous, and oblivious; who were floating with the prevailing winds; and who were unhinged, unanchored, and unmoored. The author argued that they were in desperate need of statesmanship and leadership, to restore the ordinance and rule of reason and the ordinance and rule of law, grounded in truth, virtue, excellence, sound judgment, ethicality, and morality.  The allegory is remarkably descriptive and prescient of the contemporaneous political climate and the political parties in our society.

The Past is Prologue

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), an English playwright, poet, and actor extraordinaire, in his tragicomedy The Tempest (1610-1611) wrote:

“Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come,

In yours and my discharge.”

Dialogue between Antonio and Sebastian; Act 2, scene 1, lines 253-4

One interpretation of that dialogue is that what had previously happened set the stage for what will follow, and will be the stuff of which our greatness or our fallenness will be made and measured.  A cynical interpretation of that dialogue is that we will remain mired in the improprieties, imperfections, misinformation, and disinformation of the past.  That notwithstanding, despite the dysfunction, farce, and fantasy that pervades the current political climate and the political parties in our society, both can be mitigated by a courageous, resolute, and willful intent.  Consider, in that regard, the Four-Way Test.

The Four-Way Test

The Four-Way Test of the Things We Think. Say, or Do, is an ethical and moral code for personal and professional conduct and relationships.  It was composed in 1932 by Mr. Herbert J. Taylor (1893-1978), a business executive and civic leader.  It was adopted by Rotary International in 1943, as a standard and a code of conduct by which all communication and interpersonal behavior should be measured and judged.

When we hear or read an assertion in whatever venue, includingsocial media, it must always be analyzed rationally, logically, and skeptically, to discern its validity.  The Four-Way Test is applicable in that regard:

  1. Is it the Truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build good will and better relationships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Common sense, prudence, and temperance dictate that if the assertion violates any of those tenets, that it is invalid; that it must be rejected; and that it must not be repeated, disseminated, or propagated.

Certainly, it may be advisable to research any assertion via other sources to confirm or refute its validity.  Certainly, each of us enjoys freedom of speech/opinion, freedom of conscience, and liberty of choice.   Nevertheless, those freedoms and choices imply a responsibility and an obligation to ensure that the assertions and our responses to them are truthful and valid.  The intent of such an analysis is to preserve the integrity, honesty, veracity, wellness, health, and safety, of ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and our commonwealth.

Audent cognoscere veritatem (L., dare to know the truth”).

It is incumbent upon each of us to apply due diligence upon public officials and proper vetting of their assertions.  We must critically inquire of and critically analyze the credibility of those individuals and the validity of their assertions.  Our allegiance to and support of them must be rational, justifiable, and meritorious (L., meritorious, “deserving of reward,” “worthy of praise or honor”), and not irrational, vacuous, and meretricious (L., meretricious, “pertaining to a harlot,”).   Fellow citizens, ubi sumus itiones? (L., “where are we going?”).  Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), attorney-at-law, statesman, and the Sixteenth President of the United States of America, at the Illinois Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois, in 1858, paraphrased a citation from Holy Scripture — a house [nation] divided against itself cannot stand.  Liberty, freedom, and democracy require a united, virtuous, informed, and engaged citizenry.  With resolution and diligence, such citizens could dramatically transform the political climate and the political parties in our society by acceptance and application of the Four-Way Test.

By way of summary, the following quotation is very apropos:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted upon its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Preface, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

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