December 2, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)

Noblesse Oblige

One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings is, that nature disapproves it; otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass in place of a lion.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

"Noblesse oblige" is a French phrase that means that nobility has obligations. It is a phrase that is more often honored in the breach than the observance. If most of the nobility had actually acted according to that principle, we would be living in a monarchy and would be very happy with it. What happened most of the time was that, even if the founder of a line of kings got to where he was because he took care of the people he ruled, his successor, usually the oldest son, rarely did. The same thing usually held true of most of his descendants, who diminished in competence with each generation. A ruler whose greatest concern was with himself rather than his country and its people probably deserved to loose his head. The same thing is true of a president, governor, owner of a company, or anyone who has the responsibility for other people. It is analogous to having a parent who is more concerned with himself or herself than the children.

What I have just said with regard to rulers of nations applies equally well to any large enterprise. The person who starts a successful company or a large business knows what he is doing. His heir or heirs probably know less, and the competence of the head of the enterprise, as with kings, usually diminishes with each generation. What happens these days is that the head of a new company sells out to some large corporation which brings in its own manager who knows management and little else. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

The father of our current president George H.W.Bush was experienced in a variety of governmental agencies. As presidents go, he was competent. However, he was not the master of campaigning that his opponent Bill Clinton was, so he did not get a second term. His son George W. Bush is a master campaigner but, in my humble opinion, one of the most incompetent presidents in my memory; Ronald Reagan excepted.

We all know that there are some people who are better leaders than others and that some people are better followers than others. A responsible adult may be a leader in some circumstances and a follower in others. Some people want to lead so desperately that it doesn't matter whether they know what they are doing or not. They are willing to use a hired hand who may or may not know what he is doing. As long as he can lead, nothing else matters. He wants to be the lead lemming.

I am not one of them. Neither do I want to be a follower. I have done both and was not overly happy with either. That is why I live on a mountain top rather than in a town or city.

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