The Silence of Good Men: A Lesson from Napoleon

“The world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people.”
-Napoleon

Strange that we may read words so wise uttered from the mouth of a character so questionable.

Nevertheless, Napoleon’s reprehensible addiction to power aside, the man reveals in so little words an otherwise unorthodox case. He does not bemoan the evil of evil men so much as he reprimands, in one of those rare moments in socio-philosophical history, the silence of good men.

Napoleon thus effectively blames the entire sufferings of our world, from war to poverty, from oppression to crime, not on evil, but on good’s unwillingness to lift a finger, utter a word, nor to declare an outright rebellion against the evil of society.

What can thus be derived from Napoleon’s argument is the observation that evil is an ever-present and static anti-force, and that good, if not directed as a dynamic force, cannot be of any use in eradicating evil.

If evil were darkness, and good, light, this would mean that light must make an effort, trespass obstacles, play the offensive, and rise to the beacon, rather than turn its face to the corner of a dark room. Thus, in a nutshell, the world is dark because of the obstruction of light.

The quote we discuss today reflects, more than anything, the moral background of the intellectuals of the French Revolution, the romanticized version of which describes an oppressed land of good old farmers and penniless city folks breaking the silence they held for so many years to overthrow a monarchy that had been the source of their suffering all throughout. (and then effectively installing a series of experimental governments leading them back to _wait for it: Monarchy. I guess they never learn.) Any and all positive social reform shares the same story of a silenced group of positive men who decide that the silence must be broken.

It was however not Napoleon alone who believed in the destructive power of the actions we do not do, in fact, a similar statement was also made by Voltaire:

“Every man is guilty of the good he did not do.”
-Voltaire

It is difficult to tell when these philosophies reached public appeal, but it is likely that they were popularized during the Revolution, to encourage as many men, through moral conviction, to fight the ancien regime. This doctrine therefore culminated in holding every man responsible to defend, fight, and defend again, to ensure the restoration and preservation of the French Revolution’s three divine infamous maxims “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”

Today, Napoleon, Voltaire, and I, all come to you, and blame you.

What for? For every child that died today in Africa, for every prisoner of war, for every government policy that goes against the good of the people, for every penny taken from those who need it most, for every little girl that was raped in this day, because throughout your entire day, you knew, on a deeper level, that all of this evil was happening in the world, and you, you kept your silence.

For all that misery, you did not care much, because if you truly had, there were world hunger donation centers for those dying children that you did not donate to, an awareness campaign against war that you did not participate in, an activist group against government corruption that you did not join, a soup kitchen for the needy that you did not volunteer in, and a cautionary presentation on child rape that you did not share with neighboring families.

And in blaming you, we blame ourselves, for none of us either, has managed to solve all the problems of the world in a single day. The goal however, is to take away part of that blame each day.

Today, more than any other day, there is nothing that happens in the world that we cannot even slightly affect by simply exercising our freedom of expression, economic freedom, or social freedom.

Having reached the point of discussion where freedoms are cited, it is important to note that the amount of freedom a state allows its people is in direct relation to the people’s ability to affect the world. Thus, we turn Napoleon’s now exhausted statement on the other side.

What does Napoleon’s statement mean for the State? For one thing, a state that deprives its people of the most basic rights of expression is one that silences the voices of the good men Napoleon mentions. Therefore, it sets a limit to how much evil can be spoken against, and thus we can infer that the restriction of freedoms is in itself destructive of this proposed purpose of good men: to speak and act against injustice.

Picture this: a child is about to get run over by a car, fortunately, a woman sees him and runs across her front yard to get him out of the way, however, she is faced with her fence, and by the time she gets around it, the child has already been hit, to the misfortune of an entire family. The restriction of freedom is in fact, that fence, that barrier that stops a person from saving another.

However, to get back to our main point, let’s reassert that in a free and democratic society, men are entitled to act against injustice to the best of their abilities, and that failure to act against injustice is a moral felony in itself.

As a final thesis, the weight of the world falls on the competent shoulders of good men, and when the world falls short, we can’t blame it; we can only blame those who were sent to safeguard it.

___________________

“Light must make an effort, trespass obstacles, play the offensive, and rise to the beacon, rather than turn its face to the corner of a dark room.”

“The world is dark because of the obstruction of light.”

“Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.”

“…because throughout your entire day, you knew, on a deeper level, that all of this evil was happening in the world, and you, you kept your silence.”

“The goal however, is to take away part of that blame each day.”

“The amount of freedom a state allows its people is in direct relation to the people’s ability to affect the world.”

“The restriction of freedom is in fact, that fence, that barrier that stops a person from saving another.”

“Failure to act against injustice is a moral felony in itself.”

___________________

Hope my dear readers have enjoyed this article!

Feel free to share, post, reblog, tweet, reply, like, comment, or even start a side-talk with me on the matter!

Always a pleasure hearing from you! Take care and À Bientôt!

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