15 February 2010

Monday Quote Frenzy - Advice from Seneca

Times are tough. Seneca's usual response: 'Buck up!' But sometimes he gives a sense of how it's possible to keep going. This is from his letter to his mother, Helvia, sent after he was exiled. (Always a bad idea to have sex with the emperor's family.) The translation is by Moses Hadas.
[W]herever we stir the two resources which are the fairest of all attend us – nature, which is universal, and virtue, which is our own. Such was the design, believe me, of whatever force fashioned the universe, whether an omnipotent god, or impersonal Reason as artificer of vast creations, or divine Spirit permeating all things great and small with uniform tension, or Fate with its immutable nexus of interrelated causes – the design, I say, was that none but the paltriest of a man’s possessions should fall under the sway of another. Whatever is excellent in man lies outside man’s power; it can neither be given nor taken away. This world, than which Nature has wrought nothing greater or handsomer, and the human mind, its most magnificent portion, which contemplates the world and admires it, are our own forever, and will abide with us as long as we ourselves endure.

09 February 2010

Monday Quote Frenzy: Rousseau vs Bush

From Rousseau's Discourse on Political Economy:
By what inconceivable art has a means been found of making men free by making them subject; of using in the service of the State the properties, the persons and even the lives of all its members, without constraining and without consulting them; of confining their will by their own admission; of overcoming their refusal by that consent, and forcing them to punish themselves, when they act against their own will? How can it be that all should obey, yet nobody take upon him to command, and that all should serve, and yet have no masters, but be the more free, as, in apparent subjection, each loses no part of his liberty but what might be hurtful to that of another? These wonders are the work of law. It is to law alone that men owe justice and liberty. It is this salutary organ of the will of all which establishes, in civil right, the natural equality between men. It is this celestial voice which dictates to each citizen the precepts of public reason, and teaches him to act according to the rules of his own judgment, and not to behave inconsistently with himself. It is with this voice alone that political rulers should speak when they command; for no sooner does one man, setting aside the law, claim to subject another to his private will, than he departs from the state of civil society, and confronts him face to face in the pure state of nature, in which obedience is prescribed solely by necessity.

The most pressing interest of the ruler, and even his most indispensable duty, therefore, is to watch over the observation of the laws of which he is the minister, and on which his whole authority is founded. At the same time, if he exacts the observance of them from others, he is the more strongly bound to observe them himself, since he enjoys all their favour. For his example is of such force, that even if the people were willing to permit him to release himself from the yoke of the law, he ought to be cautious in availing himself of so dangerous a prerogative, which others might soon claim to usurp in their turn, and often use to his prejudice. At bottom, as all social engagements are mutual in nature, it is impossible for any one to set himself above the law, without renouncing its advantages; for nobody is bound by any obligation to one who claims that he is under no obligations to others. For this reason no exemption from the law will ever be granted, on any ground whatsoever, in a well-regulated government. Those citizens who have deserved well of their country ought to be rewarded with honours, but never with privileges: for the Republic is at the eve of its fall, when any one can think it fine not to obey the laws. If the nobility or the soldiery should ever adopt such a maxim, all would be lost beyond redemption.
Yeah, I still can't get over it.