Are Great Men Entitled to a Less Strict Moral Standard

Lords of the Earth

“No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew
“No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

Morality for the Mighty

"With the rich and mighty always a little patience." - Spanish Proverb

Spanish peasants, as much as any other group in history, had the opportunity to exercise patience with the dissolute and corrupt nobility that presumed they had the divine right to rule over their fellow Spaniards. The debauchery of the European and for that matter the Oriental, African, Occidental and American nobility is legendary. Some of the ancient attitude expressed in the Spanish proverb still clings to human leaders, even in an age of supposed enlightened democracy.

Certainly George Washington, America's first president, expressed by word and deed the ideal of the citizen servant, guided by moral principles who serves at the pleasure of the people. It is a major difference between how the United States and Britain view "inalienable rights". In America it is assumed that the people have rights from which the government derives its privileges. In Britain, the monarch has all the rights and the citizens derive their rights and privileges from the monarchy in a top-down fashion. This probably explains the British fascination with the royal family. They are the central source from which all of society derives its blessings so to speak.

The American model derives its insistence on the servant king model of leadership from the Bible and philosophers like John Locke. Scripture certainly sets rather high standards for everyone, but for men and women who lead in particular. Anyone who takes on the job of leadership also takes upon himself a higher standard of behavior (at least God expects them too). God was reluctant to give the Israelites a king at all because the power granted a king tends to go to his head rather quickly as Hebrew history shows in painful clarity..

Even Moses, arguably one of the greatest leaders who ever lived, lost his place in the Promised Land because he got mad at the rock of Meribah and disobeyed God. He had been told to speak to the rock, but the people provoked him to a little tantrum of his own and he smacked the rock with a stick. Dramatic to be sure, but exactly the wrong message..God forgave,Moses to be sure, but could not let him off without paying a penalty for his actions. He was a leader, after all and God expects you to be much better than that..

Scripture differs from worldly views of leadership. The world says that leaders deserve a little moral leeway because they aren't like the rest of us. If the Dear Leader gets caught with a girl under his desk while he's on the phone with the Secretary of State, no problem. "He has a tough job and leaders aren't like us," everybody says. "Besides it's just sex." The high and mighty aren't like us and they mustn't be held to the same standards as the rest of us.

But the Bible says that if you are a leader you should live by a higher moral standard than the rest of us. Say, the King commits adultery, gets his mistress's husband killed in battle and grabs the wife for his harem. God calls him out publicly. He begs forgiveness publicly. God forgives, but their first child dies. He pays publicly because God holds him to a higher standard BECAUSE he is the King.

I think God had it the right way.

Tom King

(c) 2013


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