The Lust to Lead
Anthony Weiner, recently mobbed by reporters during his Staten Island campaign stop, has protested that his scurrilous behavior is "private" and that any fallout has been contained. He assures us he and his wife have worked out the private matter between them, and that is all that counts. We can still trust him to uphold the office of mayor of New York City should he be elected.
Behind his reasoning lie certain basic assumptions and pitfalls.
One assumption is that nearly absolute sexual freedom is not only possible, but is actually desirable. Absolute freedom, including the freedom to indulge in unrestrained "private" sexual activity, may initially sound like a highly desirable liberty. But there are serious problems with any freedom that is unrestrained. One is that another's so-called right to absolute freedom (without any legal or self-imposed restraints) means that others will suffer from his freedom. In Weiner's case, his completely humiliated wife is star witness to the destructive collateral damage done by someone who believes that his addiction is a right, an absolute freedom.
For the fact is that the person who exercises no restraint is not free, but is an addict. Weiner's "freedom" has exercised complete control over him, destroying him and inflicting serious wounds on an ever widening circle of people. An addict is also unable to order the rest of his life in any coherent and meaningful way, as his or her chief focus is on the next fix, be it alcohol, drugs, or sex. The man who cannot control his proclivity to sending graphic photos of himself to anonymous women is a sex addict. Addiction corrodes the entire character of the addict and reduces him and the women he uses for his addiction to caricatures of what it means to be truly human.
Further, satisfying the addiction becomes more important than anything else. The addiction's lure transcends family, friends, and, yes, the serious governance of a city, as is proved in the case of the mayor of San Diego, who seems to believe that two weeks of therapy will cure him of his proclivities.
But the cure for a distorted sexual instinct is not achieved so readily. As the philosopher/theologian C.S. Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, "[e]veryone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations[.] ... Perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful."
In the meantime, it is wise to assume that a person who is addicted is not the prime choice for candidacy for Mayor of New York.
Which brings us to another point: Weiner, along with others, has absorbed the idea that what acts he performs in private are absolutely unrelated to his public life -- an idea that has prevailed in liberal circles for at least two generations. Such an idea assumes that one's life can be neatly compartmentalized -- namely, that Weiner's private world has absolutely no bearing on his ability to govern one of the most important cities on the face of the planet.
But the truth is that the greatest evidence of a man's (or a woman's) character is shown by what he does in private. His true character is shown by deeds done in secret, not by what he does in public. It is behind closed doors, within intimate circles, and during times of soul searching -- and, more darkly, what is done at midnight, when no one is watching -- where the best and the worst in each of us is revealed.
But presently many are suffering under the delusion that the public persona is the real person -- that the mask worn in public is the true face of the person, the only face that really counts. Celebrity and showman-like glitz are more real and more important than the formation of real character, more important than how one treats one's wife, children, and friends. The external appearance combined with public performance is what counts, which is why so many politicians are enamored of the Hollywood set they increasingly resemble.
There are more lessons to be learned from the Weiner candidacy.
One is highly ironic. The liberal line that one's private life is sacred and free from any intrusion is fast becoming a hollow mantra as a currently liberal government industriously establishes enormous data bases that are recording every moment of our lives, private, or otherwise. The erasure of the once-clear demarcation between private and public life proceeds at lightning speed. Every aspect of Americans' lives is becoming the government's domain. Who among us knows at what time or place one's most private records will be trotted out to shame, blackmail, and punish those intransigently opposed to government policies? Certainly the recent activities of the IRS and the NSA warrant deep foreboding.
Second, it is difficult to accept unrestrained, lustful addiction as a merely "private" matter when the person in question is aiming for the governance of America's premier city. Lust for sexual encounters with anonymous women allies itself with other addictions, including lust for power, control, and money. One lust inevitably teams up with others to make a noxious concoction that, once imbibed, produces corruption, both personal and political, in the entire body. The metastasizing of unrestrained lusts has the capacity of bringing down and even destroying both the man and, eventually, the city he wishes to govern.
There is a huge difference between lust and love. Lust of any kind is not a proper foundation for right governance. Citizens should reject those who are lustful, starting with those who are sexual exhibitionists.
That is because in the final analysis, it is love -- not lust -- that comes from the heart -- love demonstrated privately to one's intimates and publicly to one's neighbors and friends, love that enables just and righteous and moderated governance.
As Russell Kirk notes in Prospects for Conservatives:
... For the Conservative, Love is the object of civil existence, and the one reality that makes life worth living. Love comes from the heart, not from the mind; even the 'intellectual love of god' is too cold for most of us to embrace ... a high degree of sexual promiscuity has been attractive to many, as it was to the Romans of the decadence; but it has not enchanted them for long. The twentieth century liberal, Santayana remarks, has become a regulator in all things except one: he would relax nothing but the marriage-bond.
In the long run, there is no better standard for governors and the governed than the summation of the Ten Commandments offered by Christ:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Following the Golden Rule, which requires that one's own desires be sublimated under the rule of Love, ensures the pursuit of right and just governance.
Fay Voshell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.