Monday, May 07, 2007

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

Sir Jason honors the Round Table with a discourse on the importance of humility in power.

There is a charming tale, possibly apocryphal, about the Swedish King Gustav Adolf. In a fit of wrath he struck one of his officers. Aggrieved, the man rode off. The King then rode after him. When he caught up to him he took him to the border and took out two pistols. Then he said (in effect), "I have insulted you and you have a right to be vexed. In Sweden I am a King. But here we are two gentlemen and if you wish satisfaction you may have it." Amazed at the King's humility his officer refused. He returned to the King's service and was ever after devoted to him.

"The meek shall inherit the Earth", seems like a paradox. Yet instinctively we know it to be true even on Earth. In the history of the West-the civilization that is a curious synthesis of Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and barbarian Europe, it has been held among the most precious values that none are slaves - but the greatest are servants. The most beloved kings, warriors, and saints were those who held themselves of little account and held their duty high.

In classical Greece the ideal warrior was not the swaggering aristocrat, but the hoplite. His duty was not to swagger but to hold his place in line and push forward with his spear. Even the most famed in those days would get off their horses and take their places in the line as hoplites. And quite often they would die doing so (the history of Ancient Greek war is full of commanders slain in battle).

In Rome a centurion was a hard-bitten man who had worked his way from the ranks. And for many an age Rome's greatest Patricians would more-or-less humbly retire to their estates when duty was done and would take their greatest pride in their service to the State. And one of the most remarkable (and least noticed) things about the Jews was that even a king had to hide his wrongdoing (Pharaoh never would have worried about how to get the vineyard the way Ahab did).

In Christian Europe kings had to bargain with a network of nobles,
clerics, and great merchants to make their policy and in theory, if not in practice, the king was under the law for it was the law that made him king.

Such is not always the case. It was the favorite stereotype of the Greeks that while their kings, chieftains, and statesmen were marching beside their men in an inhuman steamroller-like phalanx, Persian kings stood above in luxury surrounded by eunuchs and courtiers. And when they were defeated they were the first to flee.

Of course it was not all like that. Cyrus was a salty old frontier prince and never forgot it. But his children to often did. And of course the Greeks exaggerated things. But that matters little for
our purposes - even a society's propaganda can illuminate it values.

Even the most hubristic of all Western rulers remembered this. During the Polish Campaign a German prince of some long-forgotten dynasty died in battle. Hitler's response was to decree that no prince would serve on the front lines. For all his pride he knew
what the danger to his regime would be if he allowed the German people to make comparisons.

This attitude makes for success in battle. The army that knows how to fight is not so formidable as the army that knows how to take orders and how to work. Soldiers who are to proud to do these things ultimately fail.

This also makes for a better and happier society. All states rule by fear but if a state rules only by fear it rules only so long as the fear lasts - and makes everyone miserable in the process. A society where ruling is a responsibility, not a right and where no
man is unaccountable is a society that will be loved and respected.

Sir Jason


  1. This attitude makes for success in battle. The army that knows how to fight is not so formidable as the army that knows how to take orders and how to work. Soldiers who are to proud to do these things ultimately fail.
    Nomads and bandits(not exactly the same of course but the first often are tempted to become the second)have a natural talent for war that comes from their way of life. It is analogous to a wolf's talent for predation. Farmers and City folk must cultivate their ability-when they succeed they are like human hunters. Wolfs don't read Field and Stream-humans do. And Atilla the Hun never read

    Sir Jason

  2. And Atilla the Hun never read

    Just think if he would have...:-)

    Sir C

  3. Very good essay, Jason. It illustrates an important bible principle.

    For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Luk 14:11

    Sir John, a proud father

    Also, a knight who forgot his password