Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Thought 373: Alexander & Aristotle - Temporal & Spiritual Power

Aristotle, foremost disciple of Plato's, was hired to be tutor to the young Alexander who came to see the philosopher as having most contributed to his well-being where his father, Philip, had contributed only to his being

While Aristotle was to become an emperor of sorts of the spiritual kingdom for many centuries after his death, to the extent that many still know of his philosophising today, Alexander became conqueror of the temporal kingdom of the known world in his lifetime only to be cut down in his prime, seeing the fruit of his imperial work immediately divided among his generals. 

This contrast between the ephemeral nature of temporal rulership (Alexander the Great) as compared to the long-lived nature of spiritual rulership (Aristotle, known in the Middle-Ages as the philosopher) can be extended to the example of Ancient Rome and the United States of today.

I tend to see Ancient Rome as a low point in classical civilisation, having bequeathed so little of original or transcendental value to subsequent ages, especially as compared to the nations of Egypt and Greece, and as having actively contributed to the destruction of priceless knowledge such as that gathered in the great library of Alexandria (which Caesar's troops destroyed). 

It is interesting to note that Rome's main contribution to history - apart from the dubious impressiveness of its imperial ambitions and military victories - was its legal tradition. Yet man's law is but a poor excuse for truth and justice and inevitably boils down to money's empire. As Roman author Petronius noted
"Quid faciant leges ubi sola pecunia regnat?"
what good are laws where only money reigns?

And man-made law pales in the face of the genuine laws of nature, physical and metaphysical. 

In a similar vein, ex-monty python comedian Terry Jones has made clear in a book of his that Rome - despite jokes to the contrary in The Life of Brian ("What has Rome ever done for us?") - probably set civilisation back a least a millennia in terms of spiritual and technological development. 

Similarly, for all its unquestionable military, corporate and financial power, one may question what will survive of the eventual wreckage of the 'New Atlantis' (to use Francis Bacon's coinage) - the United States of America - that is of true spiritual value for the world since devoid of all the meretricious displays of temporal rulership over the planet which, as Rome discovered, always come to an end eventually.

No doubt many North Americans have produced great works of art and philosophy that will endure through the centuries but why then the need for all the power-driven rubbish? 

The ephemeral nature of power mongering and political history as compared to philosophical and mysterious history was brought home to me by finishing Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall and then reading fifty or so pages of Tragedy and Hope by Carroll Quigley. 

Whereas the former seemed to draw from the ancient past and even the beginnings of time, imparting profound long-lived truths in the process, the latter dealt in a competent way with day to day, almost hourly machinations by temporal leaders - Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier, to name a few - and various diplomats and political ideologues, these factions all ultimately wreaking much destruction and misery in their wake in their quest for power and self-preservation. 

It is perhaps the main lesson I have drawn from Heidegger's contribution to world wisdom in seeing time as more important than space, at least when it comes to the realm of spirit. In other words positive change and works of truth and beauty will endure and even manifest over time and become part of a people's tradition, i.e. transmission, long outliving whomever happens to be in political power at a given point, these power-magnates mastering space (people within a territory) rather than time, despite the expression 'temporal power'. To time we are all equally subject, regardless of our social position or level of worldly power, but not all are equal to the laws of time.

Although Orwell might have been right in saying
"He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future."
it is fortunate that despite tyrannies and thought polices throughout the ages, substantial amounts of spiritual wealth have still managed to come down to us moderns, some of the earliest works coming to consciousness the latest, such as Sumerian Creation accounts. This in itself is ground for hope, there appearing to be a modicum of justice in the game of intergenerational transmission of beauty and truth.