Sometimes we need to see the waters of destruction looming over us to get us to take action
“Things will last my time,” said the Marquise de Pompadour, “But after me, le deluge.”
More prophetic words were never spoken. The mistress of Louis XV foresaw clearly the collapse of the French monarchy and the flood of violence and chaos that would engulf the next generation. But that was the future’s problem. Why should she care?
In some ways, her brutal disregard for future suffering is more palatable than the utopian fantasies and rhetorical flourishes of modern leaders. At least the Marquise knew what lay ahead, and at least she didn’t pretend that she had an easy fix to prevent the future from arriving on tomorrow’s doorstep.
But today we face an impending crisis no less ominous. Our expectations for national leadership have sunk so low that we are willing to overlook pathological, craven, and unapologetic dishonesty from one presidential candidate and volcanic, adolescent recklessness from the other. One can scour the nation’s capital without turning up even a smidgen of character and statesmanship, evidence of a political culture rife with cronyism, gridlock, and groupthink.
HISTORY REPEATS AND REPEATS ITSELF
The entertainment industry and entitlement culture echo the last days of the Roman Empire; the groundswell of irrational ideology mirrors the early days of the communist revolution; the disintegration of constitutional integrity hearkens back to the rise of fascism; and the partisan sniping of government officials is reminiscent of the warring children in Lord of the Flies.
Obviously, all is lost. Obviously, there’s nothing to do except hunker down and wait for le deluge.
Unless we learn the lessons of history. And since we haven’t learned those lessons yet, isn’t it about time we did?
The first deluge in human history was far worse than anything that happened in France. In a world filled with predatory violence and callous disregard for life -- conditions not so different from our own time -- the Almighty came to Noah and told him to build an ark to survive the floodwaters that would soon wash away the corruption of men from the face the earth.
But who was Noah, and what set him apart from the entire population of a world condemned to annihilation?
The explanation is both simple and daunting: Noah refused to allow his generation to pull him down. He refused to join in with the corruption of his society; he refused to let the values of moral devastation shape his own outlooks and attitudes; he refused to pretend that things were better than they were; and he refused to remain silent while the world teetered at the edge of the abyss. Even though he could not save mankind, he would not let mankind destroy him as it destroyed itself.
SHOUTING LOVE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD
It’s easy to rage at the world around us, especially when there’s so much that is legitimately wrong, and especially when there seem to be no solutions in sight. But if all we do is complain -- no matter how justified our complaints may be -- we then become part of the problem.
In his famous letter to his son, the revered Rabbi Moses ben Naiman says simply: conduct yourself always to speak all your words pleasantly, to all people at all times. You can disagree, you can argue, you can protest, and you can plead for reason and justice. You can be passionate and you can stand by your convictions. You can refuse to back down in the face of obstinance, wrongheadedness, and evil.
But all of that you can do civilly, humbly, and respectfully.
There are few forces more compelling than a person who meets brawn and bluster with quiet determination, who responds to aggression with placid resolution, who speaks truth softly yet persistently in the face of slander and deception. And in a world where character and integrity have become anachronisms, every one of us who knows better has a moral obligation to stand firm against the assault upon virtue and wisdom that has become so commonplace.
Edmund Burke said that nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little. If we all do what we can, then perhaps we can restore our world to a place in which common courtesy, common decency, and common sense become common once again.