Noblesse Oblige

This is a concept that’s gone missing in our modern world. But I think the idea is important and we should consider what its absence has cost us.
Robert Heinlein understood what this is. In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Dr Johnson says, “Does your common man understand chivalry? Noblesse oblige? Aristocratic rules of conduct? Personal responsibility for the welfare of the state?” And in Glory Road, “Noblesse oblige is an emotion felt only by the truly noble.”
But it’s an ancient concept, this idea of responsibility that goes with privilege.
Homer wrote of it in The Iliad. Honore de Balzac, William Faulkner, so many others have written of it.
Some grasp the concept even if they don’t articulate it. When they finish work, a tool is cleaned and any necessary maintenance done before it is put away. It’s responsibility at the most basic level.
Horsemen know of it. It’s a poor horseman who doesn’t care for his horse when he’s finished riding. And it’s also selfish; next time, that horse might well be sore or lame or simply unwilling to cooperate.
Heads of families, tribal leaders, understand. They accept responsibility for the welfare of their people.
Military officers and noncommissioned officers know of it. Not all, but those who are privileged to command people, from the sergeant leading a squad or section to the general officer commanding an army, they’ve been indoctrinated in the concept from the first day they assumed a position of leadership. Care for your troops. If there’s no shelter, you the leader should be there sharing the hardship. When you’re in the field, the troops eat first. The day you’re offered mashed potato sandwiches because that’s all that’s left, or perhaps nothing when even that is gone, you understand. I was a sergeant and got the mashed potatoes; the lieutenants got a slice of bread each.
Henry Ford understood. He deliberately paid his workers well because, as he said, he wanted them to be able to afford one of his cars.
Our business leaders now don’t understand the concept. The Walton family owns Walmart and Sam’s, and they’re among the richest people in the world. Their annual income collectively is in the billions. Their workers are barely above minimum wage…if that. Apple doesn’t understand the concept; their CEO gets a salary that, with stock options, is in the hundreds of millions; the Apple salespeople and the ones who operate the Genius Bar are again, paid very poorly.
The managerial elites don’t understand the concept. They use free-trade agreements to offshore jobs. In effect, they force American workers to compete directly with the most poorly paid workers in the world.
The world has a visceral understanding of the concept. Around the world, you find unrest because people understand that the game is rigged, that there will be winners but that the part of the common man is to be exploited, the loser every time.
That was acceptable once, at least to a degree. Nobles, royalty, were expected to take the field in war. They might not share all the hardships, but they shared the danger. The British royal family still does this; princes serve, and they even go to war. In America, our ‘new nobility’ rarely serves in the armed forces. In Dick Cheney’s words, they “have other priorities.”
Even the American electorate has in large part lost the concept. So many simply rely on a bumper sticker or a talking point from a TV personality. They recognize no responsibility to learn, to attempt to see past the slick façade. They accept no responsibility to help the less fortunate.
A few of us haven’t forgotten. You’ll see us, the political activists, the demonstrators, the Occupy people, and in other places you’ll see the Indignados and the Arab Spring and perhaps a Chinese demonstrator burning himself alive. Even the common man often understands, where the New Nobility has forgotten, if indeed they ever learned of this at the elite schools they attended.
Our political leaders don’t understand the concept. They don’t use Social Security as their primary retirement system or Medicare as their health care. They accept no responsibility for the voters who elected them.
Instead, they recognize only their own profit.
Before any action is taken, their first consideration is “Will this help me get reelected?” Included in this is the pandering to lobbyists who come provided with fistfuls of cash, some of it in the form of campaign contributions, a thin disguise at best. And some of it is hidden among favors done but not admitted to and occasionally even as direct bribes. It happens; we all know of it. Duke Cunningham is serving a prison term because of it…but he was not the only one.
Their second consideration is akin to the first: will this help the party, which by extension asks will the party later help me get reelected?
If there’s a third consideration, for the public who elected them, it’s well hidden. Consider this worst-ever Congress; they made no effort to hide their intention, not to govern for the well-being of the nation but to act in such a mannas to deny Mr Obama a second term. And the American public elected them. We should not be surprised that they’ve done just as they promised to do.
And now the Republican Party is represented by Mitt Romney. He has no concept of noblesse oblige.
He has the arrogance of the New Nobility, but not the requisite sense of responsibility.
He famously declared that he paid only those taxes that the law required, and not a penny more.
We now find that he may well have paid less. We don’t know. He has not yet released a single complete tax return, despite the law requiring that.
He’s not concerned with the poor; he said that. He also continued by reminding us of the safety net. He failed to mention that he intends to do all he can to destroy that. We don’t need things like teachers and firemen and cops, said My Romney. More correctly, HE doesn’t need those things. And feels no responsibility for helping to provide them to you.
Mitt Romney doesn’t understand the concept of noblesse oblige.

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