This is the second post in a series of posts examining excerpts of Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 8:
I appeared at court in my earliest youth. I can truthfully say that my heart did not become corrupt. I even undertook a great project: I dared to behave virtuously there. As soon as I had recognized vice for what it was, I kept away from it; but approached it again in order to expose it. I took truth to the steps of the throne. I spoke a language hitherto unknown there: I put flattery out of countenance and, at the same time, astonished both the flatterers and their idol.
But when I saw that my sincerity had made enemies, that I had aroused the ministers’ jealousy, without gaining my sovereign’s favour, that, in a corrupt court, I could only preserve myself by my own feeble virtue, I resolved to leave.
Comments on excerpt above:
This passage jumped off the page to me. Like so many other nuggets from this book, it gave me great pause. The most interesting thing about studying history is realizing the things that always change and the things that never will. This is one of those things that will never change. It could even be classified as a ‘psyaxiom’ like I’ve started writing posts about under a tag by the same name. What he’s saying here is that people of a corrupt nature don’t want the truth. Not only do they not want the truth, they’re threatened by it; especially when the truth you’re pointing out forces those corrupt people to see the corruption within themselves.
People who are subconsciously unjust always seem to be able to rationalize their behaviour at the conscious level. If you have the self-actualization and honor to blow the whistle and call the foul on yourself, you most assuredly have the ability to point it out in others. When or if you do this, you force those people to acknowledge their own ignoble behaviour. Instead of recognizing unjust behavior as such, those who are ignoble would seek to shoot you down and marginalize you: “how dare you ignore my falsely spun image and see through to the truth” they will always seem to say with their angered expression. To encroach upon those in power for the want of justice would more likely get you killed or beat down than it would awaken those to see things more justly. It is difficult to be raised and raise your children to seek truth amid society’s desire to see a fabrication as a more valuable ideal. But, seeking the truth has its rewards as well. The path that leads to truth may get rocky, but that’s the path you must go.
When I think about the Baron’s words here, I’m reminded of the serenity prayer: God grant me the strength to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.