Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dante on Leadership

Confucianism, an ethical system, offers much to America because it teaches governmental responsibility for the prosperity of its people.

Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, has an excellent assessment of the importance of moral leaders. The Divine Comedy is comprised of 100 cantos arranged in three parts: The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso. In the middle of this massive work of poetry, over 14,000 lines, is Dante's assessment of leadership.

In canto XVI of the Purgatario, Dante asks Marco Lombardo for the source of the world's ills in verses 59 to 64. Dante asks if it is our fate, determined by the stars. Lombardo says no, that we have free will (verses 65 to 79). In verses 80 to 84 Lombardo says the problem is not in the stars, but in ourselves. Then in verses 97 to 109 Lombardo says the source of mankind's ill fortune lies in corrupt leadership, not in an evil human nature.

Mankind's ills flow not from our evil nature, but from our sovereigns who break the laws and strike at the good, according to Dante. This message echoes in Confucianism: (Analects, Book 12, Chapter 18) Chi K'ang Tzu was troubled by thieves, so he asked Confucius for advice. Confucius replied, “If you were not so covetous, people wouldn't steal even if you paid them to steal.”

If corrupt leadership is the source of the world's ills, then moral leaders are the source of peace an prosperity, which is a Confucian teaching. If moral leadership is vital for our safety and prosperity, then obviously morality should be a vital part of the eduction for our young.


Following is the pertinent text from the Purgatorio. The translation is from Francis F. Cary in the 1800's

Here is the question put to Lombardo:
59 The world indeed is even so forlorn
60 Of all good as thou speak'st it and so swarms
61 With every evil. Yet, beseech thee, point
62 The cause out to me, that myself may see,
63 And unto others show it: for in heaven
64 One places it, and one on earth below.

Here Lombardo says the answer lies with us:
80 To better nature subject, ye abide
81 Free, not constrain'd by that, which forms in you
82 The reasoning mind uninfluenc'd of the stars.
83 If then the present race of mankind err,
84 Seek in yourselves the cause, and find it there.

Here Lombardo accuses our leaders of corruption:
97 Hence it behov'd, the law should be a curb;
98 A sovereign hence behov'd, whose piercing view
99 Might mark at least the fortress and main tower
100 Of the true city. Laws indeed there are:
101 But who is he observes them? None; not he,
102 Who goes before, the shepherd of the flock,...[skip 103]
104 Therefore the multitude, who see their guide
105 Strike at the very good they covet most,
106 Feed there and look no further. Thus the cause
107 Is not corrupted nature in yourselves,
108 But ill-conducting, that hath turn'd the world
109 To evil.....

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