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The Cost of Being Great

Posted: Sun Mar 19, 2017 8:12 pm
by Upton_O_Goode
We've been hearing so much about making America great again, that I have begun to wonder: How will we know if the effort has succeeded? What does it mean for an individual or a nation to be great? So, I'm hoping people will contribute their ideas as to what that means. For me, an individual or nation is great if it achieves laudable goals. To make greatness itself the goal appears to me to be a vicious circle. I append herewith the examples of France and Napoleon, as seen in literature.

General de Gaulle wrote:...in my mind, France cannot be France without greatness.


Général de Gaulle, Mémoires de guerre, p. 5

Just a brief comment: France's attempt to regain its "grandeur" after World War II, led to ten years of bloody war in Viet Nam, during which (November 23, 1946, to be exact), the French navy, using American-supplied weaponry, killed 6000 Vietnamese civilians in Haiphong in a single day. In the end, the flower of the French army was decimated by the Viet Minh, and France retired in 1954, leaving the place to the tender care of the Americans, who didn't fare any better over the next two decades.

Victor Hugo wrote: For his father, the emperor had been no more than the beloved military leader whom people admired and to whom they were devoted; for Marius, he was something more. He was the predestined founder of the French Empire that succeeded the Roman Empire in ruling the world. He was the stupendous architect of the collapse of a regime, the successor to Charlemagne, Louis XI, Henri IV, Richelieu, Louis XIV, and the Committee of Public Safety, having of course his blemishes, his faults, and even his crime, that is to say, being human; but he was dignified in his faults, spectacular in his blemishes, and mighty in his crime. He was the man of destiny who had compelled all nations to say: the great nation. He was yet more; he was the very personification of France, conquering Europe by the sword that he held and the world by the splendor that he radiated. Marius saw in Bonaparte the dazzling vision that will always appear on the horizon to possess the future. He was a despot, but also a dictator; a despot who arose from a republic and consolidated a revolution. For him, Napoleon became the incarnation of humanity, just as Jesus is the incarnation of God.


Victor Hugo, Les misérables, Part 3, Book 3

Victor Hugo wrote: ...to cause galaxies of victories to burst forth continually at the summit of the ages, to present the French Empire as the successor to the Roman Empire, to be the great nation and to create la grande armée, to send his legions soaring over all the world, as a mountain sends out its eagles in all directions, to conquer, to dominate, to devastate, to be in Europe a people gilded with glory, to sound down the corridors of history a fanfare of titans, to conquer the world twice, by force of arms and by splendor, that is sublime; what could be greater?


Victor Hugo, Les misérables, Part 3, Book 4 (speech by Marius Pontmorency)

So much for the French point of view. For a point of view opposed to that of the great French novelist, we turn to a great Russian novelist, whose country looked at Napoleon from the other side.

Leo Tolstoy wrote:Then, when it becomes no longer possible to stretch such elastic threads of historical reasoning any farther, when an action becomes manifestly opposed to that which all humanity regards as virtue and even justice, the saving concept of greatness arises among the historians. Greatness seems to exclude the possibility of any standard of right and wrong. For a great man, there is nothing evil. There is no enormity that could ever be charged against a man who is great.

"C'est grand!" say the historians, and then there is no longer right and wrong, only great and not great. Great is right; not-great is wrong. Great[ness] is, in their view, a property possessed by particular beings whom they call heroes. And Napoleon, wearing a warm overcoat and fleeing homeward away from the dying men who were not only his comrades but whom (as he thought) he had led to that place, had a sense of "que c'est grand," and there was peace in his soul.

"From the sublime (he sees something sublime in himself) to the ridiculous is but a single step," he says. And for 50 years, the whole world will be repeating, "Sublime! Great! Napoleon the Great!" From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a single step.

And it will never occur to anyone that to take greatness, which cannot be measured, as the standard of right and wrong is only a confession of one's own insignificance and wretched meanness.

For us, with the standard of right and wrong given to us by Christ, there is nothing that cannot be measured. And there is no greatness where there is no simplicity, virtue, and truth.


L.N. Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book IV, Part III, Chapter XVII

Donald Trump wrote:MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN


Slogan of the Donald Trump campaign in 2016, sewn into caps made in China, Bangladesh, and Viet Nam.


I repeat my question in this new context: What would greatness mean in an America led by Donald Trump?

Shall we look at the price paid by others for Napoleon's greatness? If we count only the dead bodies, ignoring the poverty and misery caused to the living by the selfless devotion of certain people to a man utterly unworthy of it, we can figure that, in the course of a few dozen famous battles, well over a million people had their lives violently cut short ad maiorem Napoleonis gloriam. It is probable that the same number were maimed for life in the same cause, all for nationalistic glory, for the pleasure of devastating other nations, as Victor Hugo so tactfully phrases it.

So, if America is going to be great again, I want to know what the greatness will consist of, and mainly what it will cost.

Re: The Cost of Being Great

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:47 am
by TJrandom
I don`t know about the `again`..., but for great, I`d be looking for the various satisfaction surveys, covering... happiness (Lance just posted), health, longevity, GDP/PPP, the political process, the press, etc. Plus the national investment in infrastructure (roads & bridges, airports, electrical grid, etc.), parks, etc.

It actually should cost nothing - taxes to the rescue and driving improvements which will boost the economy and those all-important taxes to make it pay for itself.

Re: The Cost of Being Great

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:38 am
by scrmbldggs
Upton_O_Goode wrote:What would greatness mean in an America led by Donald Trump?


Spoiler:
ImageImage

Re: The Cost of Being Great

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:31 am
by Upton_O_Goode
TJrandom wrote:I don`t know about the `again`..., but for great, I`d be looking for the various satisfaction surveys, covering... happiness (Lance just posted), health, longevity, GDP/PPP, the political process, the press, etc. Plus the national investment in infrastructure (roads & bridges, airports, electrical grid, etc.), parks, etc.

It actually should cost nothing - taxes to the rescue and driving improvements which will boost the economy and those all-important taxes to make it pay for itself.



I've seen such surveys. So maybe, without realizing it, Trump has a point, as Denmark seems to be the "greatest" country by those measures, closely followed by two or three other Scandinavian countries. The US, as I recall, is far down the list in such things as maternal survival rates. But no doubt Paul Ryan's bill will fix that. Nothing improves maternal survival better than another tax cut for the wealthy. :mrgreen:

Re: The Cost of Being Great

Posted: Tue Mar 21, 2017 11:32 am
by Upton_O_Goode
scrmbldggs wrote:
Upton_O_Goode wrote:What would greatness mean in an America led by Donald Trump?


Spoiler:
ImageImage


Then we're already great here where I live. My wife and I have been growing (some, maybe 10%) of our own vegetables for 40 years. How about that! Already great, and we didn't even know it. As a Molière character said about speaking prose.

Re: The Cost of Being Great

Posted: Wed Mar 22, 2017 12:38 am
by scrmbldggs
Upton_O_Goode wrote:Already great, and we didn't even know it.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: We're not mindful enough of 'what makes America great'