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Valuing gold and silver over the good of society.

24 March 2010

In the Laws of Plato, Book III, the philosopher describes the decline of Persia and has this to say:

“We find that they degenerated still further. The reason is that excessive curtailment of the liberty of the commons, and improper intensification of autocracy, made an end of their national feeling and public spirit. Since their disappearance, the concern of the authorities is no longer for their subjects, the commonalty, but for their own position; they give over loyal cities and peoples to fire and desolation whenever they think it of the slightest advantage to themselves, and consequently hate and are hated with savage and unrelenting animosity. On the other side, when they need the arms of the common people for their defense, they find no patriotism in them, no loyal readiness to hazard themselves in the field; in theory their forces are reckoned by countless thousands, but all these thousands are worthless for service. Hence they hire mercenaries and aliens, as though they had no troops of their own, and look to them for their salvation. Moreover they are forced to an exhibition of their folly, since their habitual conduct amounts to a proclamation that all that society esteems honorable and of good repute is a toy in comparison with gold and silver.”

With but a few slight adjustments (the supply of patriotic soldiers has yet to run out for instance, although I cannot resist pointing out the mention of mercenaries), this passage can be applied with little imagination—not to present-day Persia/Iran, but to the United States, dominated as we are by the concerns of monied interests. Which demonstrates that the problem we face is neither new nor particularly complicated. The arrogance of technology, and the politics of the image, fool us into thinking that we have advanced beyond the problems of the 4th century B.C. But the folly of valuing gold and silver over the good of society is wrecking havoc on our nation. A great number of our ills can be attributed to the destructive influence of narrow and short-sighted self-interest.

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