Wednesday Quotes
When Scoundrels are Honored
September 2, 2015
5

Business as Usual

“The man who keeps his oath, or is just and good, will not be favored, but the evildoers and scoundrels will be honored…” Hesiod, Works and Days

Whom do we as a people honor? Aristotle once asserted that a nation will produce the kind of men that it honors. There is much at stake here.

There always have been and always will be good people who go unnoticed. Such in itself is not a cause for concern. But when whole classes of good-doers are not ‘favored,’ and indeed are even scorned, while scoundrels are honored, this is a serious state of affairs. For all of us.

We should not be surprised when young people treat business success—and this regardless of whether it is achieved with moral integrity—as a primary criterion of success in life. This is what we have been conveying to them. Many young men and women do not aspire to real greatness, as for instance in being faithful spouses and parents in a happy household. Indeed we have not given witness, by word and most of all by action, that we hold fidelity in family life to be of primary importance. We might ask ourselves in what ways we have participated, perhaps unwittingly, in the honoring of scoundrels, and thus in the formation of scoundrels.

The practices in our own households will probably not of themselves change whom our society honors. But by taking care to honor–in word and deed–that which is truly honorable, we can take positive steps to re-form what we, and our children, and our friends’ children, will pursue in life.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead. It also describes various characteristics of both a troubled time period—Hesiod’s own, and those of a golden age. This is the last of three Wednesday Quotes devoted to the characteristics of the former. Next week we turn to the latter.

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5 comments

  1. This was a zinger John! Really good point.

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. C.S. Lewis made the same observations in the first part of his essay entitled the Abolition of Man, in which he coined the term “men without chests”. I imagine Lewis and Heisod would have agreed with one another on today’s point; your blog post parallels Lewis’ essay to a great degree.

  3. Jerold, Thanks very much for pointing this out. I’ll have to look again at Abolition of Man.

  4. Reminds me of this tender exchange from A Man for All Seasons:

    MARGARET. In any State that was half good, you would be raised up high, not here, for what you’ve done already. It’s not your fault the State’s three-quarters bad. Then if you elect to suffer for it, you elect yourself a hero.

    MORE. That’s very neat. But look now . . . If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all . . . why then perhaps we must stand fast a little-even at the risk of being heroes.

    MARGARET. (Emotionally) But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?

    MORE. Well . . . finally . . . it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.

    1. Terth, Beautiful. Thank you very much for sharing.