Editor’s Note: I had so much hope for Musk. Maybe he’ll come to his senses. But the lesson is that no one is immune from their power.
Although unknown to almost all present-day Americans, Emperor Henry IV was one of the most powerful European monarchs of his day. Under his twenty year reign, the Holy Roman Empire of the High Middle Ages governed Germany, the Low Countries, much of Italy, and other important lands, with many considering him heir to the fabled Charlemagne.
With the arrogance that came from holding such enormous temporal power and commanding large armies, he challenged the authority of Pope Gregory VII, but the Pontiff quickly brought him low, excommunicating him from the Catholic Church and declaring that Henry’s powerful feudal vassal lords no longer owed him any allegiance. Faced with the very real prospect that he might lose his throne, the emperor traveled to Canossa in hopes of seeing the Holy Father and gaining his forgiveness, then waited three long days outside the castle walls despite the bitter cold, clad in an uncomfortable hair-shirt, and according to some accounts wearing no shoes in the frozen snow. The Pope finally allowed him to enter and granted him an audience, then accepted his capitulation and lifted the religious penalty that had been imposed. In the centuries since that famous incident, the phrase “going to Canossa” has meant the surrender of a proud, powerful figure who does penance and begs forgiveness, submitting to the forces that had humbled him.
Given this history, it’s hardly surprising that the phrase was widely circulated a couple of weeks ago when Elon Musk traveled to Auschwitz to offer his abject submission to Jewish power, donning a skullcap, promising to root out “antisemitism” on the platform he controlled, and even declaring that he regarded himself as “aspirationally Jewish.”
The two most powerful and influential figures in today’s world are surely Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But I think a reasonable case can be made that Elon Musk should be placed third on that global list.
Our current Western era is dominated by oligarchic wealth and Musk has ranked as the richest man in the world for much of the last few years. The technology industry carries enormous prestige and influence, and Musk is the owner of Tesla, the pioneering electric vehicle company, whose market value is greater than that of the world’s next five car companies combined. His very innovative SpaceX rocket company has become the central pillar of the West’s entire space program, crucial for American national security, while his equally innovative Starlink satellite company has proven itself absolutely vital to Ukraine in its NATO-backed war with Russia, inspiring imitators in China and other countries. More than a year ago, Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion and took the company private, giving him a media empire far greater than that of any American television network and perhaps as powerful as most of them combined. Meanwhile his own 170 million Twitter Followers provide him a personal megaphone that would be envied by any American president or top Hollywood celebrity.
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