Friday, December 12, 2008

Personal Aside: Father Ernie, Ambition, the Nature of Graft and the Virtue of Prudence.



“Gentlemen,” said Fr. Ernest Kilzer OSB to us sentenced to take four straight years (1946-50) of theology and philosophy of terminal boredom under his tutorledge, in response to the aged Abbot of Saint John’s dictum that such a monastic prison term meted out to indentured lay students would produce manifold Benedictine vocations: a bet that fell far short with me, “…gentlemen, I commend to you the words of Francis Bacon in `Novum Organum’…and my scribbling notes from Phil 201 continue…notes that exist 47 years after he was laid to rest in the Abbey churchyard. “It was Bacon, gentlemen…”

“…who said and I quote from memory `It is well to distinguish three species of ambition. First, that of men who are anxious to enlarge their own power in their country which is a vulgar and degenerate kind. Next, that of men who strive to enlarge the power and empire of their country over mankind, which is more dignified but not less covetous. And third, to endeavor to renew and enlarge the power and empire of mankind in general over the universe, such ambition is both more sound and more noble than the other two.’ You may trust that this will be contained in my semester’s examination.” Four straight years of conservative pre-Vatican II theology and Augustine-Aquinas philosophy have stayed with me yet—enabling me to earn not a farthing from it…but which serves as solace in old age.

…as when I reflect on the ambition generated by Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., a bright young man know rather well—an ambition for the U. S. senate for which he should never have yielded given the known venal characteristic of the potential confererer of such honor, Blagojevich. It appears it may be the case that young Jesse coveted the honor far too much and that he is now caught in a web with his father and brother Yusef as conceivably having brought to Blago’s attention that funds could be raised—ostensibly for noble purpose—to satisfy Blago’s requisite. Young Jesse should have known better because the entire political world was aware that Blago was on a glass side under a microscope perused closely by the feds; he should have imagined that Blago would be taped and that others acting in his behalf would be taped. His old man who has never been particularly sensitive to ethics could be forgiven…Yusef could be forgiven, his single brush with impropriety being the Budweiser distributorship, delivered by his father, with which he seemed to have escaped scot-free…but Jesse, Jr.

“Ambition, gentlemen,” droned the old priest, “comes from the despicable vice of pride. You will remember that the devil’s purpose is to seduce. His purpose is eminently logical. He approaches us with a suggestion in the imagination that grows into a specious reason in the mind—which (Mr. Roeser, as you chewing gum? Take that pacifier out of your mouth, sir!)…which, if dwelled on, influences the will by motivating us to do something that is actually bad but apparently good. Ambition can be an enchainment, a form of slavery, manipulated by the Evil One to whom one becomes the unwitting tool.”

Politicians do this all the time. They send emissaries which I presume young Jesse did. Jesse, Jr. cannot be held responsible for their words—or, I presume his father’s words (although the old man, if he really got on tape promising to deliver the dough, can spend the remainder of his golden years—well…enough of that). There is no doubt Barack Obama has been very close to young Jesse, having named him national campaign co-chairman. Young Jesse wouldn’t do it but the old man…so heedless of subtlety (as when he threatened before a live mic to un-man Obama) could.

Then, the federal government talks about the two hour long telephonic conference call where some joined, some left, others joined. Who would they be? Well, they would be Illinoisans, obviously.

In our fourth year of Thomistic Ethics, when he turned to the subject of graft in politics, aged Fr. Ernie (who had been domiciled in the monastery since he was 14) said, “gentlemen, graft in political behavior may be described as the acquisition of money, position or property by dishonest or questionable means, as for example the taking of one’s official status in the administration of government. First we must distinguish a sincere gift from graft proper. The more I think of this gentlemen the more I think this will be in the finals. How do we distinguish a sincere gift from graft proper? In practice the difference between gift and graft is not difficult to distinguish. How would you distinguish it…Mr. Roeser? You say—what?

“You say…WHAT? Repeat. Well, not exactly sir. You may sit down. The answer is equity. EQUITY. Equity requires the best person be chosen for a given post without denying the right of preference for those with whom the man in public office is more familiar and friendly. But if an appointment were to be made in consideration for a sum of money or other benefit donated by the appointee…why, then, this is stealing in disguise. Gentlemen the bell that rings ends our discussion—but remember: it is not enough to abstain from graft or from dishonest practices when the persons in question have been duly elected or appointed to positions of public trust. They are to behave in such a way that the people’s trust in their integrity not be jeopardized.”

Who would those Illinoisans on the phone be? They probably would be Emanuel and Axelrod for two. Are their participation evidence of culpability? No. Representing Obama, they have the perfect right to talk with Blagojevich. But by talking to this checkered man were they prudent? Ah, the matter of prudence again. In the fourth year discussing Aquinas’ view of ethics, old Ernie…laboring with a bad chest cold:

“Is prudence a virtue necessary to man? What does Aquinas say about it. Before we get to that—WHERE does Aquinas say it? Mr. Roeser. You say what? WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU. Ah, now I can. Yes, you are correct, sir, in the 4th article on the intellectual virtues. Now what does he say about prudence, Mr. Arth? Mr. Arth? Did you hear me? I asked, what does he say about prudence. All right, I’ll help you. Is prudence a virtue necessary to man? Yes, sir you are correct. This class is alert today! Prudence is necessary for human life because the good life consists of good deeds. Now, in order to do good deeds, it matters not only what a man DOES but HOW HE DOES IT. Consequently an intellectual virtue—which is what prudence is—is needed in the reason to PERFECT the reason…to make it suitably affected towards things ordained in the end—and this virtue is PRUDENCE! Consequently prudence is a virtue necessary to lead a good life.”

Some say Obama has not been drawn in to this matter. To that conjecture I agree. But it seems evident that his staff has…Emanuel and Axelrod—others as well. If so, by even talking to Blago given his reputation and the likeliness of the federal probe, they have sorely failed the test of prudence more than a month before they are to take office to help their president. And Rahm Emanuel most of all. As incoming chief of staff, as shrewd as they come, he should have avoided talking with the leprous Blago.


  1. It may be a good time to remind us how lucky we were to have Peter Fitzgerald as our US Senator. If it wasn't for Peter, things wouldn't be getting the degree of cleaning they are now getting.

    Tom, please remind your readers/listeners

  2. It is interesting how the Illinois liberal media covers the political sins of the politicians as long as they tow the LIBERAL political line........