In Season Four of “Game of Thrones“, the immensely powerful knight, who has high moral principles, steals from his host, bangs him pretty bad on the head, leaving him dazed and bleeding on the ground. The valorous young princess Arya Stark, whom the knight protects, still a child, storms after him, and screams: “They gave you shelter, they fed you, they are good people, and you steal from them? The immensely powerful knight replies:”He is weak, that’s what wrong with him, they won’t pass the winter, so I may as well take his silver, or otherwise some worthless scoundrel will.” Arya shouts back: “You are the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms!” The mighty knight smirks back:” To be good is not enough. How many Starks need to be beheaded for you to understand that?”
That was an allusion to the fact that Arya’s father, mother and brother had untimely, horrible, and unjust ends… And the engine of their destruction, and actually of the destruction of the Seven Kingdoms has been that goodness which fatally hobbles their would-be superior morality. If goodness leads mass atrocities, surely, it is not good.
This is the essence of the exchange, which I paraphrased because I am reproducing it from memory. This is also the essence of much my ethical system: to be moral, it is not enough to be good, one has to be smart and powerful. Smarts, in the matter of law has much progressed in the last four thousand years:
In Hammurabi laws, hitting one’s parents was punishable by death. Same for stealing (except if one was a plutocrat, of course; slavery was legal, although in many ways much less harsh than in the US in the nineteenth century.)
One needs the trinity of intelligence, power and goodness to impose morality. Absent any of the three elements of that trinity, mass immorality can, and will, blossom.
Examples abound in history. France is rich with them. For example, Louis XIV and Napoleon were neither smart nor good, so they were doubly immoral.
Louis destroyed the Protestants, which was particularly nasty, as his grandfather had made peace and a commonwealth with them; France lost millions, and found herself attacked from everywhere, including from the Netherlands and Britain, which used to be French, but were now full of angry protestants (many very intimately entangled with France).
Napoleon replaced the republics (for example in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, etc.) which the revolution had created, into monarchies owned by his family: how much more nasty can one be? One could make a nasty, very deadly war to re-establish slavery in Haiti, which the First French Republic had eradicated. All this was an abyss of stupidity: Napoleon sold half of the USA to the USA for pennies, and then got millions of young Frenchmen dying for his family on the battlefield… while claiming he was fighting for the Revolution.
Want stupid? Napoleon, that enslaving self-obsessed monster is still much admired, from San Francisco to Vladivostok. It’s not clear why.
Another one, much admired is Joan of Arc. Why not? She re-launched the 100 year civil war between Paris and London for another 400 years. That was fabulously nasty, demonically stupid… The day (the cult of) Joan of Arc is viewed as immoral, much progress will have been made.
In the 1930s. The French Republic was smart and right to oppose the Nazism, all the way to giving Hitler an ultimatum. However, the whole enterprise became much less moral, when the French generalissimo ordered to do what his subordinate had argued may be a trap. Hitler had attacked the Netherlands just to draw the French army there. The result was catastrophic, as the French army was cut from behind, and the Nazis were able to conquer Europe, all the way to Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and the Volga, while engaging in various holocausts, and inciting the Japanese allies to do the same. Out of that came the American hegemon we presently enjoy, complete with its technology monopolies doubling as spy networks.
And, of course, We The World enjoy Facebook morality. Facebook just censored French (state) TV for reproducing on its Facebook page a woman demonstration in… Chile. Hey, some of the ladies wore no bras, and Facebook always wear a bra.
Times they are changing though: the Obama administration is proposing to remove US generalissimo-president Andrew Jackson from the Twenty Dollar note. Jackson was no dummy, he was immensely powerful, and his nastiness was excellent for the expansion of the USA. And Jackson, in complete contrast with the corrupt Clintons, kept the banks in their place. Asked what he was the most proud of, Jackson said (in essence): to have kept the banks at bay. Quite a statement, as Jackson had doubled the area of the USA. (Nothing that Clintons’ admirers can understand at this point, though…)
The same remarks apply to Jefferson, or even Washington. Let alone Marcus Aurelius.
Nowadays, then the youth, even in the USA, understand that the criterions for morality have to be jacked up, so Jackson can go jack somewhere else.
All very good, of course. But Big Morality without Big Smarts will always backfired. It’s not very smart for the youth of the world to only go through the spy network, with its fine print which says that only American law applies (although a French Court just determined that was probably unlawful in France, since, actually, well, it obviously is).
No smarts, no morality. At least, at the civilizational level.