October 30, 2004
At our latest Socrates Café, the question before the house was “what is integrity?” I looked in a Latin dictionary, and found that “integrity” comes from the Latin tangere, to touch; integrity means untouched, healthy, whole. It has become a buzzword in our society, the virtue of virtues. Has it always occupied such a lofty pedestal? Does it occupy such a lofty pedestal in other countries?
Perhaps the reason it is so esteemed is that it refers to a person’s inner being, his essence, his foundation, not just his external actions. Honesty is external, it refers to our interactions with other people, but integrity seems to be at least partly internal. In our discussion, we struggled to define integrity, as we had previously struggled to define courage and leadership; integrity seems to embrace other virtues, as if integrity were a synonym for virtue itself.
Jungians have as much esteem for integrity as the public at large; Jungians, too, seem to regard integrity as the virtue of virtues. Marie-Louise von Franz, Jung’s disciple, says “if people have not in their innermost essence a genuineness, or a certain integrity, they are lost when meeting the problem of evil. They get caught. This integrity is more important than intelligence or self-control, or anything else.”1 Notice that phrase “innermost essence.” As I said before, integrity seems to refer to a person’s inner being. Our external actions may be forced upon us, or may be the result of a compromise, a balancing, hence it’s difficult to judge whether a person’s actions have integrity. Perhaps this is why von Franz seems more concerned with the “innermost essence” than with external actions.
Von Franz’s specialty is fairy tales, and she believes that one of the stock characters of fairy tales represents integrity. She speaks of,
If we view integrity as a matter of external actions, it’s all-but-impossible to say who has integrity, or whether anyone has integrity. When a businessman fires someone (or decides not to hire someone), he routinely conceals his real reasons for doing so. Doesn’t every salesman bend the truth? Doesn’t every politician bend the truth? If we view integrity as external actions, it seems that no one has integrity — except perhaps someone who does nothing, and interacts with no one. If we view integrity as external actions, then the concept of integrity is only useful as a club with which to bash our enemies (our political enemies or personal enemies). How often people accuse their enemies of a lack of integrity!
If we view integrity as external actions, then even the heroes of history lack integrity. Take de Gaulle, for example. When the Algerian war was going badly, he went to Algeria and said, “Long live French Algeria!” Then he went back to Paris, and proceeded with plans to withdraw from Algeria. If you were a Frenchman living in Algeria, you would regard that as a betrayal, a lack of integrity. But a historian might say, “de Gaulle did what he had to do. He couldn’t tell the truth. He didn’t have the luxury of integrity.” But even if de Gaulle’s external actions seem devoid of integrity, he may have possessed integrity in his “innermost essence”.
In our discussion, someone asked, “did Hitler have integrity?” If we view integrity as external actions, then surely Hitler lacked integrity, as all politicians do, and perhaps all private individuals do. If we look for integrity in a person’s “innermost essence,” then it’s difficult to say whether Hitler (or anyone) has integrity or not. A person’s innermost essence may not be visible — except perhaps to their analyst.
If we view integrity as wholeness of personality, psychological wholeness, then Hitler lacked integrity. Hitler was divided within himself, as Macbeth was, and he slept badly, as Macbeth did. Hitler’s head and heart were at odds; his head said, “do it, you must do it,” his heart said, “don’t do it, this isn’t right.” The protest of his heart kept him awake at night.
The integrity of “innermost essence” that von Franz speaks of isn’t the same as wholeness of personality. Wholeness of personality is like a house, balanced and symmetrical. The integrity of innermost essence is like the foundation of a house. If one lacks the integrity of innermost essence, it may be impossible to acquire it; it seems that you either have it, or you don’t. But wholeness of personality can be achieved, though it may be impossible to achieve if you lack the integrity of innermost essence.
“But if we define integrity as an inner state, then it has no practical effect. Of what use is integrity if it doesn’t manifest itself in action?” It often does manifest itself in action, especially in the private sphere. Perhaps Shakespeare was speaking of integrity when he said,
This above all, to thine own self be true;
In the public sphere, however, in the sphere of business and politics, integrity is so rare that it doesn’t seem to exist at all; as the example of de Gaulle shows, integrity seems to be impossible in certain situations. Von Franz says that, in the public sphere, one must sometimes hide one’s integrity:
Von Franz believed that when we’re confronted with evil people, we shouldn’t act with integrity: “If one is up against evil people one should hide one’s inner integrity, or that innocent nucleus of the personality, and not display it like a fool.”5 In short, von Franz recommends qualified integrity. Perhaps it is this qualified integrity that Jesus had in mind when he said, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”6
Another topic that our Socrates Café discussed recently is, “what makes a good leader?” When a topic like this is announced, one starts pondering it, and one’s thoughts about it may become clearer even before the meeting takes place. The meeting itself often fails to arrive at a definition, but nonetheless the meeting may deepen one’s understanding of the topic; the very difficulty of arriving at a definition may be enlightening. Sometimes one can’t express one’s views; the discussion moves along at a brisk pace, and one can hardly “get a word in edgewise”; unless one is willing to interrupt someone else, one doesn’t get an opportunity to speak. Sometimes the discussion degenerates into an argument about words, a semantic tangle. But I haven’t given up on the Socrates Café, and I still hope that we can have a discussion, at our humble bookstore in Providence, that not only resembles the discussions that Socrates had, but is as good as the discussions that Socrates had.7
I see three types of leadership: emergency leadership, historic leadership, and position leadership. Emergency leadership is the type that acts on the spur of the moment. For example, when planes were hijacked on September 11, some passengers organized resistance, preventing the hijackers from using the plane as a weapon. I call that emergency leadership. Emergency leadership is closely related to courage.
Historic leadership is the type of leadership that one finds in historic figures — in people like Jesus, Muhammad, Caesar, etc. One might describe such people as “born leaders.” They listen to an inner voice, they hear the call, they’re swept along by an inner faith, they can inspire others because they themselves are inspired. Just as emergency leadership is closely related to courage, historic leadership is closely related to genius. When we discussed courage, it was pointed out that courage can be good or bad, it can serve a good cause or a bad cause. The same is true of historic leadership; history includes “negative leaders” as well as “positive leaders.”
The third type of leadership is what I call “position leadership.” This is the type that’s discussed at business schools, the type that is found in every business and organization. A position leader is at the top of the institutional hierarchy. A position leader isn’t necessarily a “born leader”; the leader of a business or university isn’t usually led from within, led by an inner voice. In our society, those who are leaders by position often succumb to The Leadership Disease; they’re intoxicated by power and prestige, they see themselves as above the law (the written law and the moral law), they treat other people as mere tools.
These three types of leadership sometimes overlap. Lincoln could be described as a historic leader, an emergency leader, and a position leader. When a nation is in an emergency, it often elevates a born leader into a leadership position.
I recently attended a Great Books meeting at the East Providence library. The Great Books organization has chapters in the U.S. and in a few foreign countries. While Socrates Cafés are a new phenomenon, Great Books clubs have existed for more than 50 years. While Socrates Cafés focus on a subject, Great Books clubs focus on a text, and expect participants to read the text in advance. The text is often a selection from a book, not a complete book (the meeting that I attended discussed a 4-page selection from Hobbes). The Great Books organization publishes their own books, which resemble anthologies. These anthologies include both fiction and non-fiction (just as my book discussion group alternates between fiction and non-fiction). For more information on Great Books clubs and books, you can visit their website, www.greatbooks.org.
The following mission statement appears on the Great Books website:
The Junior Great Books program seems to be more successful than the adult program; more than 1,000,000 students participate in the Junior program, while the adult program has about 15,000 participants.
|1.|| Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Part II, ch. 4, p. 185 back|
|2.|| ibid, p. 184 back|
|3.|| Hamlet, I, iii, 78 back|
|4.|| Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, M.-L. von Franz, Part II, ch. 4, p. 196, 197 back|
|5.|| ibid, p. 195 back|
|6.|| Matthew, 10:16 back|
|7.||When Oscar Wilde wrote some poems, someone said they resembled Milton’s poems. Wilde responded, “I set myself to write sonnets like Milton’s which should be as good as Milton’s.” back|