Comments on La Rochefoucauld

I will be posting short essays on each of La Rouchefoucauld's Maxims

Monday, December 08, 2008

Maxim 629

"Luxury and excessive refinement are sure forerunners of the decadence of states, because when all individuals seek their own interests they neglect the public weal."

Perhaps the first thing we need to address here is the term "public." Too often we associate "public" with "government," and the two are absolutely not synonymous. Churches and non-profits are both elements of "the public weal" because each provide public benefits. If people are living in "luxury and excessive refinement," that is a sure sign that they are spending on themselves and not others. Soon we see extravagant spending for the sake of extravagance. After all, how many houses, cars, planes, etc. can one have? Even if you buy only the most expensive food, you can only spend so much. Further, the toys of the rich become quickly available to the average person in free market systems, so the rich are left with creating art bubbles for contemporary works so hideous that nobody among the average citizenry would even want the works if they could afford them. This is indeed true decadence. How long before resentment sets in? Ah, resentment, the greatest evil known to mankind. The hatred of others having what one does not. It is the desire that those who have no longer have rather than wanting what they have. It is purely destructive -- as destructive, if not co-destructive with, decadence. The problem with decadence is that it is fundamentally antisocial. One does not feel like one has to respond to and live in society. It breaks social bonds in its extravagance. As such, neglect of others, of the social, of the public, is seen among the decadent. And governments, too, can be decadent. What else is a bailout for billionaires if not an example of extravagance and decadence? When government cease serving the public, when they serve groups over the people as a whole, then you have an antisocial and unjust government. Another example of where government is not the same thing as the public.


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