• The hubris-nemesis dynamic: all glory is fleeting



    First Read
    At the close of the Oscar-winning film, “Patton,” scenarist Francis Ford Coppola (he did not direct the film) quotes the words of General George Patton, Jr:

    “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

    This column is like that whispered warning, a cautionary note hoping to reach the ears of President Rodrigo Duterte, as he marks this December, the sixth month of his presidency and war on drugs.

    I use as my framing device the classic hubris-nemesis dynamic from Greek mythology, which historians and writers have used for generations to comprehend the story of men and nations.

    Hubris-nemesis dynamic
    In the hubris-nemesis dynamic of Greek mythology and culture, hubris must be present to attract nemesis, the goddess of retribution.

    Hubris is the pretension to be godlike, and thereby fail to observe the divine equilibrium among gods, man, and nature.

    In short, hubris is the capital sin of pride, and thus the antithesis of two ethics that the Greeks valued highly: aidos (humble reverence for law) and sophrosyne (self-restraint, a sense of proper limits).

    Hubris encompasses words and phrases like the following —overweening pride; self-glorification; arrogance, overconfidence in one’s ability and right to do whatever one wants, to the point of disdaining the cardinal virtues of life; ignoring other people’s feelings; overstepping boundaries; and impiously defying all who stand in the way.

    The term Nemesis denotes the ancient Greek goddess of retribution and the retributions attributed to her. The term nemesis is used to refer to the dynamics of retribution in general.

    In Greek literature, hubris often afflicted rulers and conquerors who, though endowed with great leadership abilities, abused their power and authority and challenged the divine balance of nature to gratify their own vanity and ambition.

    Acts of hubris aroused envy among the gods on Mt. Olympus and angered them to restore justice and equilibrium. Nemesis, the goddess of divine vengeance and retribution, might then descend to destroy the vainglorious pretender, to cut man down to size and restore equilibrium.

    Divine retribution is a major theme in the Hellenic worldview, providing the unifying theme of the tragedies of Sophocles and many other literary works.

    In Ancient Athens, hubris was defined as the use of violence to shame the victim. Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that happened to the committer or might happen to the committer, but merely for that committer’s own gratification.

    The accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, hence, the pairing of hubris and nemesis in Greek mythology.

    The logic of myth
    According to the behavior patterns embedded in the logic of myth, people should beware the dynamics linking hubris and Nemesis.

    Hubris vainly and arrogantly defies proper conduct and balance in human affairs; nemesis harshly restores them.

    In so doing, both have a tendency to get out of control and to victimize.

    In modern parlance, the ancient terms are rarely used. But the dynamic reverberates in Christian thinking, and remains contemporary in Biblical sayings like “Pride goeth before a fall” ( Book of Proverbs, 10:16).

    Modern examples of the ancient dynamic often revolve around an “arrogance of power” theme, as in pairing the United States and the Vietnam war, Nixon and Watergate, or the Shah of Iran and the Islamic revolution. Also, the ancient terms have been used by writers in explaining why “bidding firms infected by hubris simply pay too much for their targets” in corporate bidding wars and takeovers, and to warn about signs of hubris rising in the applied natural and social sciences in the United States (Spengler, 1972), or to criticize intellectuals who play Nemesis-like roles against traditional authorities while ignoring that this may open a way for demagogues to gain power.

    Hubris-nemesis complex
    In a study for the Rand Corporation, the social scientist David Ronfeldt developed in 1994 his theory of the “hubris-nemesis complex” — a special and potentially dangerous mindset that combines hubris and nemesis. (A summary of the study can be downloaded online).

    Ronfeldt applied the concept to leaders like Fidel Castro and Muamar Khadafi. In such leaders, he said the complex means more than exhibiting hubris and nemesis as separate qualities. The interaction between, and integration of, the two forces appear to result in something more complex, more pathological, than the description of either force may imply at first glance. To be as powerful as their hubris requires, they must be the nemesis of an external power; indeed, it is part of their hubris to be such a nemesis. At the same time, to fulfill the nemesis role against such a power, they must personally possess absolute power at home and expand their power and presence abroad—they must be capable of hubris.

    In the classic dynamic, the two forces stand apart, opposing and contradicting each other. In his theory of a complex, the two forces no longer stand apart; they get fused in a single mind.

    Duterte and the dynamic
    My point here is to raise a warning that our President is treading and straining dangerously the hubris-nemesis dynamic.

    In his five months in the presidency, President Duterte has demonstrated a remarkable ability to lead and rally our people in a way not seen since President Marcos. He has achieved instant international attention for combining loudly and defiantly populism and nationalism in his leadership. He has proven himself as an ardent reformer in both domestic and foreign affairs. At the same time, he has alarmed the Filipino nation and foreign nations with his obsessive focus on the war on drugs, and on killing and more killing.

    He has practically defined his vision of our country of 100 million in terms of the drug war, and he has shown a startling readiness to sacrifice major economic, social and diplomatic concerns for the vainglory of his drug war. When he has been criticized, especially by foreign leaders, he has lashed back viciously, often to the point of readily sacrificing friendships, relations and gains born of decades of building and nurturing.

    The rising alarm about what is happening can be seen in both the national and international media. Two recent reports in the New York Times, one in text and the other photographic, are searing and heartbreaking to behold. Filipino columnists, in recent columns have dramatically raised the level of their criticism and alarm.

    These voices may seem like just ripples today, but they are ever rising now and multiplying to a degree that must be faced and faced down effectively.

    The cheers and adulation of the people lift the leader’s spirit; but glory is fleeting. And it is overweening pride that finally rouses Nemesis to action.



    Please follow our commenting guidelines.


    1. An excellent article Mr. Makabenta. If only the President would learn to take advice such as yours. It is still not too late for him to do so. At the end of the day, Duterte should remember that he is the President of the Philippines, and that his words, actions and policies should all be designed to help his country.

    2. Bottomline is as long as Duterte has the support of the majority of Filipinos, no amount of your intellectualizing his kind of governance or criticism from the western press can undermine his rule. As long people feel safe in their homes and on the street, he cleans up government from corrupt government officials, is transparent with government funds , they will support him. They can see, they are not blind or dumb.

    3. PSYCHOTIC is a person with a severe mental disorder in which contact with reality is lost or highly distorted. To describe President Duterte as psychotic is unfair, unjust and inhuman. A psychotic president for me is someone who bribed lawmakers to impeach a Chief Justice who worked on giving back the piece of land to the rightful owners (the farmers). A psychotic president is someone with a psychotic cousin who feasted on innocent OFWs thru laglag bala to raise funds for election campaign. A psychotic president is someone who can let his military troops be slaughtered in exchange of $5M reward for the head of the Muslim rebel. A psychotic president is someone who did not even bother to attend the arrival honors of these slaughtered soldiers but instead attended the inauguration of a motor vehicle plant. A psychotic leader is someone who, nearing the end of his term would still acquire a US$500M loan from the World Bank for the Yolanda victims despite the Php73 Billion from the international donors. A psychotic president is someone who will leave his successor Php77B debt and 4million drug addicts. The estimated Philippine debt under the last psychotic president is $163B before he was succeeded by the current president who is now working his butt off waging war against drugs, criminality and corruption and still being called psychotic by idiots who has been planning to impeach him since day 1 and be replaced by another dumb ass Cory Aquino copy cat.

      Mr. Patalinhug – if you think that President Duterte will be deposed by whichever means that you mentioned, you’re wrong. We, the 16M who voted for him will never, ever let someone like you triumph. Stay in New York, mind your new citizenship and don’t meddle with the Philippine affairs. If there is someone who needs to be assassinated? It is YOU, not the President.

      • “If there is someone who needs to be assassinated? It is YOU, not the President.”

        I totally agree….hope these yellowshit will be exterminated at the end of digong term

    4. Wow, ang haba ng introduction. Ang alam ko the end result of DU30’s doing is for the protection of our next generation. Kaya nga war on drugs. These Drug Lords and pushers are invading our family and they must be destroyed. These people even caught and served the punishment, when given liberty, they will do it again and again because of easy money. Do you want one of your family member fell victim first before you says that DU30 is right? In every war there is a collateral damage.

    5. I don’t know why you guys think that the opinion of western foreigners should take precedence over the opinion of the Filipino public. Would you care to explain that? As for doing things by the book- which is what the West and you guys want Duterte to do- if the Americans waged their war on terror by the book, after a thousand years that war will still be unresolved, assuming America by then has not yet been run over by these barbarians. As a matter of fact, what war has America waged that was done by the book, can you name one? How about the Philippine-American War? You might as well get straight to the point and say that Duterte should just surrender this country to the drug traffickers. These Americans and you are alarmed at the way Duterte is doing it but you are not alarmed by the extent of the drug scourge. On the other hand, the West and you are alarmed by the terrorists, but not at how brutally America is fighting back. Why the double standard?

      • Duh, I can name 2, because unlike you some of us guys are not totally ignorant of history, if not for American intervention in WW-I and WW-II German militarists and Hitler’s genocidal racial cleaning would eventually erase all non-Aryans, including Filipinos, so in my book they did some good there.

        Yeah they killed a lot of us in the past, but the Philippines is also the country where most American soldiers died defending and liberating during WW-II, so blood debt paid in my book.

        If not for the US during the cold war, the world would fall to a Stalinist – Maoist gulag, and today who but the US can stand against the ISIS and their suicidal Jihad for a gobal Caliphate even if it means fighting terror with terror.

        We get it you hate the west, but why exaggerate and jump to conclusions just to try to make a point.

      • I am surprised why the West is making the drug war an international issue while everyone seem to have forgotten about the fallen heroes (SAF44) despite the unresolved claims of the bereaved relatives. The writer cited the 2 recent reports of the NY Times – I suspect that these reports are part of the black propaganda obviously funded and authored by no less than “we know who”. The “slaughtering” of the criminals are more alarming to them than the slaughtering of the victims of these criminals.

    6. Yonkers, New York
      12 December 2016

      I sincerely compliment Manila Times columnist YEN MAKABENTA for this brief but well-written scholarly treatise, “The hubris-nemesis dynamic: all glory is fleeting,” because it fits Little Tyrant Rodrigo Duterte to a “T.”

      It has obviously taken RODRIGO DUTERTE a lot of HUBRIS to inflict his psychotic REIGN OF TERROR on the Filipino people, in the form of his warrantless genocidal extrajudicial mass-murder of his own people.

      What he may not know is that sooner rather later, he will surely suffer Hubris’s usual immutable consequence, which is NEMESIS.

      In what form?

      He will very likely be deposed one way or the other: via IMPEACHMENT, or PEOPLE POWER, or even a military COUP D’ETAT. If not one of these, via ASSASSINATION.


      • He created big time enemies. I will not be surprise that soon, there will be retribution. I believe in the law of what you sow , you reap. It is like the law of gravity and the law of demand and supply. Sometimes it takes time, but the day will come. That is what he usually say, in the fullness of time. Our God will not be mock.

      • ikaw naman asa US ka na nakiki alam ka pa dito dyan ka na lang maki alam legal ang abortion at marijuana jan.