This month we did not witness the predicted rapture, but we did see the fall of some transgressors. From mere boors, like the braggart Arnold Schwarzenegger and the insufferable John Ensign, to monsters like the genocidal Ratko Mladic and the sanctimonious Osama Bin Laden, May brought a welcome breath of justice.
But justice can be a meager dish. None of these downfalls improves our lot. From none of them may we assume that successor culprits will be chastened. The propensity of megalomaniacs, once in power, to believe they are above common decency, remains undiminished. Indeed each of these four, along with dozens of other leaders recently disgraced, imprisoned, or eliminated, still has followers who believe in his virtue.
Tolstoy argued that the role of a leader, either hero or villain, tends to be overstated in our histories. It is not emperors and generals, but the efforts of the masses and the current of the times, mixed with chance and changes in the weather, that determine events. We should not believe that merely removing a foe or a hypocrite will thwart our enemies abroad or restore good governance within our shores. This lesson is especially pertinent today in the Middle East.
Our struggle is not against obnoxious individuals--that would be too easy-- but against much more formidable horsemen: ignorance, greed, hatred, and want.
The Four Horsemen by Albrecht Durer, 1498. This is the most famous of fifteen woodcuts that Durer published as a book called The Apocalypse. It may have been the first printed picture book published by an artist and it was a great success. Durer's Four Horsemen are, left to right, Death, Famine, War, and Conquest, or if you prefer, Pestilence. Note that one of the fallen beneath Death's pale horse wears a crown. Click on the picture for a closer look.