Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Evil of Realpolitik - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.05
Meditation VIII.05 - The Evil of Realpolitik - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
This is the chief thing: Be not perturbed, for all things are according to the nature of the universal;1 and in a little time you will be nobody and nowhere, like Hadrian2 and Augustus.3 In the next place having fixed your eyes steadily on your business look at it,4 and at the same time remembering that it is your duty to be a good person, and to do what human nature demands, do that without turning aside; and speak as it seems to you most just, only let it be with a good disposition and with modesty and without hypocrisy.5
(1) Non-Stoics have a rough time with this. That all things are according to a predetermined universal agenda seems to leave human beings powerless. Why bother trying if we have no control over fate? We need to appreciate that Marcus is not speaking about the small particular paths we follow through life or indeed even the duration of these paths. Risk takers will likely die young. But if those risks revolve around making virtuous choices, those risk takers will die in peace. If those risks revolve around making choices around the service of pleasure, those risk takers will die in despair. In either case You are born and you will die. This is certain. You were also born with a set of attributes and potentiality. These are also certain. You also are free to live well (according to nature) or to live badly (in opposition to nature). You will be happy or you will be unhappy - this is within your power. Choose to be good, and things will go well. Choose to be bad and things will not. It's a simple formula really. We have that power.
(2) Emperor Hadrian (76-138) was the third of the so-called good emperors.
(3) Emperor Augustus (63 BCE - 14 CE) ruled Rome during the time of Christ.
(4) Your business is to be good and to harness your talents in the service of humanity.
(5) Stoicism takes no prisoners here. You must be good in all ways and at all times - whatever the consequences - in small things and in big things. It's a simple rule really. Do the right thing. We have evolved a calculus of morality (see Meditation IX.33) in the modern age where many people make shorter term moral decisions in the so-called interests of a larger moral agenda. It's called Realpolitik - politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions and is profoundly immoral in Stoic philosophy. Political actors - even those we greatly admire - do this on a daily basis by acting hypocritically in what appear to be relatively inconsequential matters in order to achieve their goals in what they feel is acting rightly in their bigger decisions. Many of us do this in our personal relationships at home and at the office. We call these inconsequential actions "white lies." A Stoic finds this practice abhorrent. To a Stoic right is right and wrong is wrong. Any decision which is contrary to nature detaches the soul from the human community and is wrong.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.