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Should Political Leaders Declare Themselves Gods To Keep Power?—The Facts From Antiquity

What if recently deposed Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick had announced himself a god? Would this have kept him from losing his post? Is declaring himself a god an option to save the career of politically troubled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich? (above)

Let’s review the record from antiquity.  

In his History of Government from the Earliest Times–Volume I, Ancient Monarchies and Empires, the late Oxford political scientist S.E. Finer addressed the subject of rulers as gods or as chosen by heaven.

In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh asserted divinity. Professor Finer wrote that these claims held the most weight in the early years of the Egyptian kingdom. But in time, as Pharaohs lasted for only brief stretches before dying or being usurped, the claim to divininty must have been nearly impossible for anyone to really believe.

In this era of 24 hour cable news and irreverent coverage by political blogs, it would seem, at best, that only some of the public would believe a claim by a leader that he or she was a god. If rulers had a hard time maintaining the fiction back in ancient Egypt, imagine convincing people today.

Professor Finer also wrote that the Egyptians responded to the diminished stature of the Pharaoh’s person by giving the throne divinity more so than the individaul holding the throne.

From Finer—

 “In my view…originally the (pharaohs) person was a sacred person, because, in accordance with certain rules or portents, he was, uniquely, indicated as the rightful possessor of the throne. But later it was the throne that made the king..irrespective of a particular individuals personal history or qualities.”

By this logic, the holder of the office of Speaker of the Texas House or the Governorship of Illinois would be a god by definition. It would not make any difference if  Mr. Craddick or Mr. Blagojevich were gods because their successors would be gods as well.  This, in my view, would limit the value of declaring yourself a god.  No matter what, you’re going to get a god in the position.

In ancient China, the Emperor had the “Mandate of Heaven.”

From Finer—

“…the Chinese emperorship…was irreducibly ritualistic:  ying-yang and the perfect harmony of Earth, Man ans Heaven turned exclusively upon the emperor’s actions….so the emperor, the Son of Heaven, was sacred because he alone could offer to Heaven the supreme sacrifices and maintain the harmony between the terrestrial order and the cosmos.”

Reading this you’d think a politician looking for a firm hold on power would try to establish himself as holding such importance. But the power of the Chinese emperor came with a catch not unlike what we have already seen in Egypt. The presumption was that if you challenged the emperor and prevailed, that you then had the Mandate of Heaven. 

The verdict here, informed by history, is that declaring yourself to be god or as heaven-sent is not a viable strategy to keep political power. Though it sure would be fun if someone would try. It does seem possible that Governor Blagojevich has at least considered this idea.  

(Below—Ancient Egypt)

January 9, 2009 - Posted by | Books, History, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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