Speaking of Emperors…

Published: November 23, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Are my guiding principles healthy and robust? On this hangs everything.   – Marcus Aurelius

In writing these commentaries, it’s interesting to see how one topic will lead to another.

Last Friday’s discussion revolved around the ethical question of whether the end justifies the means, a theme from the filmThe Emperor’s Club. In browsing my bookshelf, The Emperor’s Handbook, a 2002 translation of Marcus Aurelius’s meditations, caught my attention.

More than 2,000 years after his death, Marcus Antoninus Augustus Aurelius (they just don’t use great names like that anymore), was considered the last of the “Five Good Emperors.”  Aurelius was also considered one of the foremost proponents of Stoicism – an early Greek philosophy that taught that virtue was the highest good.

Academics aside, what stands out for me in reading what are largely regarded as the personal writings of Marcus Aurelius is his practical wisdom:

…what does it mean to have good luck and to lack nothing?  It means to have good moods, good desires, and good behavior.

His words are important for anyone who aspires to character, leadership and duty:

Arm yourself for action with these two thoughts: first, do only what your sovereign and lawgiving reason tells you is for the good of others; and second, do not hesitate to change course if someone is able to show you where you are mistaken or point out a better way.  But be persuaded only by arguments based on justice and the common good, never by what appeals to your taste for pleasure or popularity.

So, how would Marcus Aurelius advise Congress?

Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.

How about President Obama?

Remember that you don’t lose any freedom by changing your mind and accepting the correction of someone who points out your error.  After all, it’s your initiative, your judgment, indeed your intelligence that makes change and acceptance possible.

Wall Street?

If it is not right, do not do it

And Jim Lichtman?

Stop all this theorizing about what a good man should be.  Be it!


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