Thursday, December 6, 2012

Jannes And Jambres

Jannes and Jambres aren't household names, but if they were they might be recognized as the patrons - sort of anti-saints - of politicians. According to Jewish tradition they were the magicians of Pharaoh who opposed Moses and Aaron. Their names are not mentioned in the Old Testament, but St. Paul mentions them in his Second Epistle to Timothy.

As arch deceivers they are a nice fit when searching antiquity for a political patron. Many of my acquaintances were upset that Barack Obama proved himself a better deceiver than Mitt Romney. It's as though they thought that Jannes would have been a great improvement over Jambres. Every Presidential election boils down to this. Decent people cannot get elected president because the whole machinery is run by blackguards.

Everybody is familiar with Lord Acton's statement to Mandell Creighton that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," but the subsequent sentences, "Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it." aren't usually quoted. I think Acton is right about the tendency of power to corrupt, but the more obvious correlation is that power attracts corrupt people to begin with.

F. A. Hayek devoted a chapter of The Road To Serfdom to Why The Worst Get On Top. They get on top because the whole political organization is composed of the worst people.

Just as auto mechanics get grease on their hands, butchers get blood on their aprons, coal miners get black stains on their clothes, people in the political realm lie, steal, blackmail, bribe, threaten, kill and any other thing that is required to acquire and retain power. It's just as surely how the system works as hitting and getting hit is part of boxing.

Many good people think they're going to reform the system by voting in good people. This is impossible because good people almost never run for office and when they do they have almost no chance of winning. They have as much chance of winning as Achilles had of overtaking the Tortoise in Zeno's Paradox. None of the people in power want good people in office. It makes them look bad.

Ron Paul is a constant rebuke to the stump jumpers in D. C. and they will probably hold a celebration when his term is up and he's gone.

Reforming the system for the better by voting in good people is as likely as the victims of a protection racket banding together and bringing in better extortionists, or, as Frank Chodorov said, "... you cannot clean up a brothel and yet leave the business intact. We have been voting for one 'good government' after another, and what have we got?"

Niccolo Machiavelli didn't discover any new principles of politics when he wrote The Prince, he just described how the system works in what might be the best known handbook on politics. Wikipedia says that he is the founder of modern political science, but he is probably better described as its expositor. Ambitious con artists have always known the principles of politics just as surely as squirrels know how to climb trees or fish know how to swim.

There seems to be no remedy for a corrupt system other than getting out of it entirely. This is what Moses and the Israelites were  attempting to do when Jannes and Jambres attempted to prevent them from seceding from leaving Egypt

Maybe Honest Abe took his cue from Pharaoh when he decided to prevent secession, but at any rate governments always seem to want to dictate and to forbid self-determination if that means allowing people to leave peaceably and form their own polity.

Four years hence we'll again be offered the choice of Jannes or Jambres and there will be plenty of people shouting at the top of their lungs that Jannes is so much better than Jambres or vice versa.