Thursday, November 6, 2008

From Freedom to Slavery

As rising corruption and the scheming of politicians seeking dictatorial power undermined the Roman Republic in the years before Augustus established the empire, the richest man in that center of world capitalism was Crassus and one of the most virtuous of his opponents the writer and lawyer (!) Cicero.

A profound historical novel, Taylor Caldwell’s A Pillar of Iron (Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY, 1965, pp.437-8), contains the following conversation, taken from actual letters between the two:

“Alexander [said Crassus] had a dream of a united world. I, too, have that dream. One government, one people, one law, under God. Shall it be realized in my lifetime? I do not know. But we should, as men, work ceaselessly toward that goal.”

“Why?” said Marcus [Cicero]. “We should then destroy the infinite variety of humanity. We should destroy the gods of other peoples. We should destroy their way of life, which they have decreed for themselves. Who has the insolence to say our way is better than others?”

“The differences you remark upon, Cicero, are superficial. Are we not all men, with the same needs?”

“We are all men,” said Marcus, “but we do not all have the same needs. We Romans have no authority, human or divine, to impose our wills upon others, no matter how noble we pretend they are.”

“Pretend?” said Crassus, arching his brows.

“Pretend,” Marcus repeated.

Crassus thought, Catilina is right. He should be assassinated. He looked at Julius [Caesar] who was following the conversation with a broad smile.

“We can impose our government,” said Marcus, “only with the sword and with war and with the violation of the rights of other men. Let us refrain.”

“You do not understand, Cicero. Under one authority, one law, all land would be cultivated completely for the benefit of the people. All treasure would be utilized, and in fairness.”….

“I believe in law, and the orderly process of law,” said Marcus, trying to hide his revulsion. “I do not believe in force—or lies—in order to make all men live as we might desire them to live. If our way is truly good, then all men will eventually recognize it. If it is evil”—and here Marcus paused—“we can enforce it only by murder.”

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