About Intelligence and Government
by Leonardo Castellani
Originally published in Nueva Política, Buenos Aires, N° 14, August 1941.
Taken from Seis Ensayos y Tres Cartas, Biblioteca Dictio – Vol. 20 pp 25 -
“... What do you think is worse, an evil ruler or a foolish ruler? A terrible discussion we have had among friends for a long time. I believe there is nothing worse than a foolish ruler, that is, one with no range of vision farther away than his own nose. Hitler, for instance, is an evil man, regardless of what Estudios in its issue N° 351 says. Chamberlain and Daladier were two fools. And which country got it worse, France or Germany? I beg you, Mr. Editor, to answer. Yours, J. Martínez Kennedy – an Estudios subscriber.
The question about the relationships between Intelligence, Virtue and Government is a very delicate one and cannot be responded usefully without making a number of distinctions; that is, without philosophizing.
Taking it in such simple form as is contained in a comedy by Tirso de Molina, namely: “Is a foolish king better than an evil king?”, we have to start by asking what should it be understood by foolish, because this is a weed of many varieties. All of us are foolish in some degree or minute, – “when we fall in love”, used to say my uncle the priest –, in accordance with that phrase of Ortega’s: “Sensible man is one who is constantly conscious of being about to commit a stupidity.”
If we give foolish the meaning of shortness of wit tout-court, that is to say, little natural breadth, scarcely furnished mind, reduced illumined field, the following characteristic notes come to light:
fool = ignorant
simpleton = fool who knows he is a fool
dimwit = fool who does not know he is a fool
fatuous = fool who does not know he is a fool and on top of that tries to be clever
stupid = fool who does not know he is a fool and on top of that wants to rule – or pretends to rule – others
This last variety is the tremendous one, while the first two are not bad, and even under certain conditions were loved by Christ, who said: “I praise you, oh Lord in Heaven, who hid this knowledge from the wise and revealed it to the simple”. There have been been saints who were simple, like Saint Simeon the Simple, Saint Peter Claver, Saint Sampson the Crazy, the Curé d’Ars, Saint Joseph of Cupertino, and the amusing friars Brother Juniper and Brother Giles, companions of Saint Francis and patron saints of all the Christian fools in the universe. A simple or unlettered man in a small government and with a great dose of virtue and humbleness can do it passably and even quite well, as Sancho Panza would have done had he been allowed – as he was not – in the Island of Barataria, although I cannot recall at this time any actual historical example outside of the novel. But a real government needs per prius and from the outset the intelligence and then the virtue; the minimum virtue needed so that the intelligence gets not corrupted, to which the responsibility of ruling formally belongs, for the plain and simple reason that if a drunken seeing man is not a good pilot, a blind man is not a pilot at all. “Intelligentis est ordinare”. This is the doctrine of Saint Thomas, who energetically calls the inversion of this order a monstrosity, exactly the same as a great modern politician, Cardinal Richelieu, expressed in the well known apotegma: “In government, very often an error is worse that a crime”. From this text of Saint Thomas, which is in Lesson XIX of the book De Anima, probably came that anecdote which you already know but I am going to tell anyway: There was to be an election of the prior, as is the custom among the dominicans, and a brother asked the Angelic who he considered to be the best to lead them, brother Solomon, who was very learned, brother David, who was very intelligent, or brother Seraphim, who was extremely saintly. Doctor Angelicus answered, and in a very digesting latin: “Doctus doceat nos; intelligens regit nos. ¿Et Sanctus? Sanctus oret pro nobis”. [“The learned, let him teach us; the intelligent, let him govern us; and the saintly? the saintly pray for us.”]
Saint Thomas’ doctrine on intelligence in society is the following, briefly abridged:
1. Pre-excellence of thought. The end of the multitude, as the end of the individual, is thinking. This is true even in this life, to the extent possible, “secundum quod contingit multitudini contemplatione vacare” [“to the extent that it falls on the multitude to open up to contemplation”]. As in the individual, intelligence is “the most precious portion” (“quod est potissimum in homine”), so in humankind the learned and the thinkers are in the first row. The scandal of Sur, then, to see that Hitler displacing and banishing Einstein and Zweig is to some degree justified …; it would not be justified if Einstein and Zweig – meaning to say the so-called modern intellectual – had not begun by he himself betraying his great mission and sinning against the light by becoming a “specialist” when not a parasite or a dilettante. Hitler is a providential scourge... But this was not said by Saint Thomas.
The most noble contemplatives are the doctors, that is, the illuminators, those who illumined themselves are capable of enlightening the rest from the overflow of their contemplation, “ex superabundancia contemplationis”. Such are the bishops, the theologians, the professors, the preachers, Saint Thomas looks for the most exalted names to extol the dignity of the wise who teach in the name of God – as does the bishop – when the bishop is wise as they used to be at his time –; or, at least, knows how to make use of the wise. “Respectu Dei sunt homines – he says – respectu hominum sunt dii” [“with respect to God they are men, but with respect to men they are gods”]. Full of admiration for this illuminating life, of which the episcopacy offered to him the ideal type, and Saint Augustine the most flagrant concrete example, but which he would also find in another form in his own religious family, the dominicans, Saint Thomas is not moved by the modest dedication of the humble swarm of parish priests, which he compares with the bricklayers with respect to the architect… “In aedificio autem spiritali sunt quasi manuales operarii, qui particulari insistunt curae animarum, puta sacramenta ministrando, vel aliquod ejusmodi particulariter agendo” [“in the spiritual edifying they are like bricklayers, those that devote themselves particularly to the healing of souls, such as by administering the sacraments, and achieving it particularly in this manner”]. The Bishop and the doctor in Theology, whose influence grasps the universal, has the architectural action. His duty is to take care of the ends and of the principles, his range of vision should be capable of spanning the great lines and the doable things before they are done. It is not a good bishop one which is the “first parish priest”, big parish priest, priest with the largest parish. His work is of a different nature, like the architect with respect to the stonemason.
The political power is naturally less elevated than the religious authority, as the temporal end of the State is lower than the terrestrial-divine nature of the Church. So, even though the State may be the “the greatest thing which practical reason can build”, the human soul, however, surpasses the State. “The soul is not ordered to the civil authority in accordance with its totality of being and of power”. And since the end where the Civil Ruler (the Prince) takes his subjects to is “the social life according to virtue”, and this social life in turn has as its end the supernatural intellective attainment of God, it derives that any movement in the political life is subjected as a whole to the spiritual power “sicut spheram spherae”, notwithstanding that, at the same time, it has free play and autonomy in its own sphere. Saint Thomas in consequence proclaims that even in the temporal domain, a “government of the enlightened” – which by the way is not the same as what mister Roosevelt called a “brain trust” –, idea which has been said to be comparable to Plato’s doctrine about the “reign of the idea in the body politic by means of the regime of the learned”, but which Saint Thomas urges with a surprising energy, describing as a “monstrosity”, a “disorder”, an “aberration” that the case should happen – but, alas, it so frequently happens – of “someone who rules not by intellectual pre-eminence”, but by force of the will, money, violence, false piety, ruse, cunning or fraud. “Illi homines qui excellunt in virtute intellection excellunt … Sicut autem, in operibus unius homines ex hoc inordinatio provenit quad intellectus sensualem virtutem sequitur … ita et in regimine humano inordinatio provenit ex eo quod non propter intellectus praeeminentiam aliquis praeest”. [“It is necessary for those men who stand out in operative activity to be directed by those who stand out in intellectual activity… Because such as in the works of an individual, disorder arises when the sensual activity directs the intellectual activity … in the collective regime disorder arises in the same way when someone is commanding not by intellectual pre-eminence…”] Even the practical men, the men of action and the duces or leaders — leaving the practiced and the “unenlightened mettled” referred by Father Mariana, very far — should be under the regime, control or influence of men with great intellectual power. Saint Thomas uses a very exact and very precautional form, “qui in virtute intellectiva excellunt” in which he designates with precision not any ordinary intelligence or erudition or science or intellectuality — say Azaña the man of letters or Gamelin the dreamer — but a powerful and balanced intellect, and not just in any form but with a visible eminence. From the absence of this rational and natural order — ontological at bottom —, according to Saint Thomas, so noticeable faults are seen in all congregations.
This doctrine which the saintly doctor underpins with the authority of Aristotle and of Solomon might appear to be irreconcilable with the known political traditionalism of the Angelic, the which on the other hand preaches the monarchy and the hereditary monarchy of his time, with the consequent possibility of a shy, witless and even idiotic king. But the difficulty is immediately overcome with the following reflections. In the case of a king without genius, intelligence governs the same by means of the wise advisors to which the king naturally remits, as does any simple man who is not imprudent; “servus sapiens dominabitur filiis stultis”, as Holy Scripture says [“the clever servant will control the foolish son”]. It is evident that this presupposes a monarchy which is not absolutist, but assisted by Royal Councils, which have effective authority, by an aristocracy in sum, as were the medieval. In the absence of that, the only remedy for a mindless king is the chief minister or the king’s favorite which — think of the Count-Duke of Olivares or of monk Rasputin — can be a bearable expedient, or can be worse than the illness. The Carolingian Monarchy at the time of the major-domos, and the current regime in Italy, are instances of regimes of favorites: omnipotent monarchy, and all-powerful favorite, a representative king. The English Monarchy is the same case but with several favorites instead of just one.