February 27, 2010
Noblesse Oblige: Why the Left Has It All Wrong
Chances are that if one has lived any length of time or achieved a modest success of character, humility, or enterprise, then he is at least unconsciously aware of the concept of noblesse oblige. The term of French origins is defined as "the inferred obligation of people of high rank or social position to behave nobly or kindly toward others."
While the concept itself likely conjures images of royalty or aristocratic obligations to help the poor during the knighted era, the idea is in fact ancient and stands as a pillar of Western civilization.
When the Israelites left the bondage of Egypt, they were immediately commanded in Exodus 23:9 "to not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Suddenly, at this epoch in civilization and for perhaps the first time, freedom came not with license to oppress or exploit others, but with grave responsibility and obligations to God and man. No limousine liberal hypocrisy or ivory-towered hubris in the wilderness -- the Hebrews were freed slaves.
Later, in the New Testament, Jesus, in Luke 12:48, gave perhaps the greatest forerunner to the modern notion of noblesse oblige when he stated, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Wealth, success, intelligence, ability, and blessings were now revealed as synonymous with the talents, goods, or money entrusted by a master to a steward. And lest man, as is the natural "default," become too intoxicated with blessing or success, the Apostle Paul later charged the early Christian church to first ask the question, "For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?"
The apostle's question is at once rhetorical and foundational. It echoes across the millennia. The answer is self-evident in all ages:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Jefferson and the American Founders made the natural connection between God and the dignity of the individual -- with the resultant role of government existing only as a limited, and almost necessary, evil. Government functioned not to impose equalized outcomes, but to guarantee that man would have equal opportunity to develop God-given talents without statist obstruction. Today's statist may reason falsely that the Framers could not have foreseen the future and all its complexities that necessitate the need for a "fluid document" and far-reaching central government serving as a safety net. In fact, the signers of the Declaration were hardly idealists of a bygone era, or devoid of discernment of the perils and complexities on the horizon. Jefferson himself had also written:
Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
In the actual practice of noblesse oblige, the leaders of the early American era were the original "Greatest Generation." Although in many cases men of station and wealth, the signers acknowledged first the sovereignty of God, and then a mutual and solemn covenant of sacrifice for the better good in closing their petition to "Nature's God":
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
As the American Republic grew into the 20th century, "certain men crept in unawares," and gradually notions of limited government and a Judeo-Christian worldview were encroached upon by secular humanism, with the state assuming the former role of God. Only by first negating the Creator in the equation of noblesse oblige could the liberal then invert the actual definition to then read:
Noblesse oblige: the inferred role of government and elites everywhere to compel others to behave nobly or kindly toward others.
With the Orwellian definition now in play, at once the great liberal issues of our day become moral imperatives -- and not mere political talking points subject to honest discussion. Nationalized health care, even if unworkable or bankrupting in practical application, becomes a noble obligation for you and me to subsidize -- while Congress keeps its own sweetheart plan with no thought of sacrifice by the "more equal animals." Or global warming crusaders can jet all over the world to useless summits and live in mansions while with a straight face urging the average citizen to turn his thermostat down. "Do as I say and not as I do" becomes an acceptable premise because, after all, the beautiful people really do know what's best for the rest of us. It is no longer God nudging the heart toward a higher plane of concern based on love and empathy, but rather the state ramming its religion down one's throat with a cold and heartless inefficiency.
America has a true heritage of noblesse oblige currently on display amidst the destruction of Haiti, the liberated torture chambers of Iraq, and the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Americans are a giving people who have always taken care of their own as well as the "stranger." Perhaps the greatest deeds go unnoticed. Words and definitions may occasionally fall prey to the sleight of hand, but truth and love do not.
This article is dedicated to Dr. Seko, an English professor who first taught and exemplified the meaning of nobless oblige to an unsuspecting student (the author).