Topic category: Secession - Formation of a New Constitutional Republic
Obama, Son of Epicurus
President Obama may be a sixties style radical, but he is also a true disciple of Epicurus.
This essay argues against economic utilitarianism as being inconsistent with non-hedonistic morals. It draws on Cicero and sacred scripture.
Economic utilitarianism teaches that it is acceptable to impinge on the liberty of the few in order to benefit the larger collective. This is distinct from other theories which use voluntary cooperation and moral behavior to benefit the common good. Utilitarians subscribe to ethical hedonism, a theory that claims that pleasure and pain are the ultimate nature of good and evil. Ethical hedonism has been advocated by Epicurus, Locke, and John Stuart Mill. "Is there," asks Cicero, "anyone who avoids what is to his own advantage? Or rather, is there anyone who fails to pursue it with great zeal? But since expediency is only to be found in actions that are laudable, right and fitting, we should give them the highest priority. In fact, the very idea of expediency should be thought of not so much as a glorious goal, but as something implicit in such actions. This is why I think that Calliphon and Dinomarchus are particularly to be criticized for imagining that they should solve the problem by identifying pleasure with right--which is as bad as identifying man with an animal." (De Officiis) Indeed, Christianity also rejects hedonism, particularly in Mark (10:43-48)where Jesus says that it is better to be physically injured than to sin. In Genesis Chapters Eighteen through Nineteen, God will not destroy Sodom and Gommorah until the six just people have escaped. (One erroneous explanation is that God's action was due to Abraham's prayer. This is inconsistent with Daniel (4:32):"There is no one who can stay His hand or to say to Him 'What have you done?'") The only plausible objection for utilitarians would be to say that the Atonement is an example of utilitarianism. But this is the view of Caiaphas, the High Priest! And it refers not to spiritual benefit, but Caiaphas' goal of defending the Jewish community [John (18:14)]. What's more, the whole reason the death of Jesus was a sacrifice was because He could choose whether or not to die. Modern utilitarianism offers one no choices about whether or not one will obey the government, albeit one does elect the politician who does make choices. And choices are essential to praiseworthiness; charitable giving is virtuous where paying taxes is not. St. Paul writes, ". . .but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good that you do might not be forced but voluntary [Philemon 13-14]."
Cicero attacks redistribution by saying,"We must ensure then, that the generousity with which we treat our friends harms no one. Nor should we approve the actions of Sulla and Caesar in transferring estates from their rightful owners to others who had no claim on them, for no action can be at the same time generous and unjust. To sum it up then, those who have the interests of the state at heart will abstain from the kind of beneficience which robs some in order to give to others, and they will take particular care that each is secure in the possession of what is his own both by legislation and the administration of justice." (De Officiis)
President Obama may be a sixties style radical, but he is also a true disciple of Epicurus. His attempts to reconfigure our economy and society are a new phase in an ancient battle.
Shannon Walsh holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Master's degree in History from Western Illinois University. A lifelong Catholic, Mr. Walsh is a student of philosophical history.