In 49 B.C., Julius Caesar became the dictator of the Roman Republic. Caesar had a singular ambition: to lead the world’s greatest empire. He had served in many auxiliary roles, then consul, in his ascension to commander of the Gallic forces. Caesar had married and divorced in search of political advantage, with each subsequent marriage slowly building his power and influence.
Caesar sought to become the greatest Roman general of his time, taking greater risk to achieve where his predecessors had failed. In suit of his final determination to be seen as the supreme ruler of Rome, Caesar failed to disband his army and instead crossed the Rubicon in search of Pompey, his fellow triumvir. Caesar followed Pompey to Greece, disbanding the army of one of Rome’s greatest generals.
What Caesar had sought his entire life had been achieved. He no longer had a political opponent of his standing. But what he failed to recognize is the anger and distrust he had created among the members of the Roman Senate, ultimately leading to his assassination at the hands of his mistress’s son, a man whose career Caesar had promoted.
Caesar exemplifies the fleeting nature of ambition. He had sought one position for the greater portion of his life, dedicating his being to its pursuit, only to be slain by those who were protecting their personal interests.
Ambition, specifically politically, is not derived from altruism. It requires someone with a deep sense of personal promise and intellectual narcissism to believe that they alone are the bearers of the future prosperity. It requires solace in seeking the affirmation of others to affirm one’s sense that they are correct in their pursuits. In failure, the singular drive that had led these individuals is gone, leaving them without purpose. In many cases, these aspirations come to harm both the ambitious and those they lead.
To witness unhealthy levels of ambition, one need not look further than recent elections. Candidates for office do not say what they believe, but what is most suitable. They are not fighting for principles, but for a public affirmation of their existence. If they change their position to suit the mainstream of what is considered electable, individuals are being elected purely because they seek to be elected, not because they represent any defined moral character.
The most public display of malfeasant ambition in recent history is Hillary Clinton. Her positions were not founded from personal beliefs, but from what was convenient. She feared publicly supporting policies she had dedicated previous years to advancing, simply because they were no longer popular. She was not seeking higher office because of her morality, but because of the office she desired.
What Caesar and Clinton represent is the danger of ambition to the individual and the public. Ambition requires that one place his or her personal worth in the affirmation of others. It requires the value of one’s life to be placed in title assumed, requiring a constant search for higher influence. Finally, it creates a false sense of morality. It leads individuals to believe they are what the public needs, when they themselves do not believe in anything. They are seeking power for itself, not for their intentions with the power they assume. These individuals present a danger to the society they represent. They are willing to do almost anything in search of personal advancement. They lack a personal belief system that guides their decision-making, which creates a threat to society as a whole.
Ambition in itself in not a negative quality. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa were surely ambitious, but they held moral character that guided their actions toward furthering society, not themselves. There are also altruistic figures in the public sphere, but their virtues are undermined by the self-serving nature of political office. Remaining principled in the face of rampant intellectual dishonesty in government forces the honest to change in pursuit of survival.
In the future, there will be more aspirant politicians who have charted their course toward higher office, but what must be determined is their true intention. Some are performing a duty to serve, while others are fulfilling their prophecy. It is imperative that we advance those whose intentions are pure, while limiting those who are seeking their personal advancement. While this demarcation in many cases is tenuous, it will further resolve that public affairs are conducted to best suit the interests of the public.