“If you try to kill the King, you better not miss,” said James Woods, and people who should have known better but weren’t allowed to — you know the type — ganged up on Woods for ripping off a character, and a black character at that, from The Wire. Which is all you can expect from people who think the world began five minutes before they were born:
“It’s a line that stands out because it sounds badass. But it’s also a reference to something less than totally badass, a response Ralph Waldo Emerson sent future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes over a collegiate attempt to refute the supremacy of Plato’s classification of ideas. ‘When you strike at a king,’ Emerson, then a 60-year-old Unitarian minister, famously wrote, ‘you must kill him.'”
I’m fairly certain Emerson is not the original source for this thought, however. We see it in Shakespeare and in Greek tragedy. It is dangerous to challenge power and to fail in the attempt; ask anyone who observed the Year Of The Four Emperors. With that said, I object to the idea that ol’ Ralph Waldo was “less than totally badass”. He possessed a clarity of thought and expression long gone from the modern conversation. I enjoyed reading him for the same reason I enjoy reading Samuel Johnson — the sense of arguments mustered, marshaled, and marched into battle. Emerson had what we used to call a masculine mind, before that became a slur. He was Thoreau’s superior because he rarely allowed himself to argue from emotion. That’s why we still hear about Walden long after most schools have banished Emerson from the rolls; Henry David’s loosely-constructed, frequently hypocritical, hugely self-centric mode of thinking suits our current cadre of pseudo-intellectuals far better.
I wasn’t around for the Year of the Four Emperors, a mere 1,850 years ago, but considering its beginning — Nero, tried as a “public enemy,” in absentia no less, took his own life — you have to figure that times had to be seriously rough between the ascent of Galba and the arrival of Vespasian, and the two guys who attempted to play the part of the Emperor in between.