One of the strangest periods of Roman history was the period right before the republic collapsed and became an empire. The Romans weren’t known for losing, but during this period, they lost nearly everything they put their hands to. Catiline nearly overthrew the republic by rallying profligates, whoremongers, and drunken hipsters under the flag of rapacity. A Numidian king named Jugurtha practically walked into the Senate, bribed a bunch of senators, and caused them to overlook his hostile foreign policy – which cost a friendly kingdom its ruin. Pirates practically owned the seas, so that all sea trade had practically stopped. Nothing was fought for; everything was bought. Money, and not honor, was the currency; safety was lost for safety’s sake. Jugurtha was told by the Romans themselves that everything was for sale in Rome, and he proved them right.
Rome itself was plunder until Pompey arrived and, in a moment of manliness and decision, cleared the seas of pirates. The republic was lost to Catiline until Cicero shouted like an angry patriot and placed his own life in danger to save it. Rome was bought until Metellus and Marius arrived, denying the bribes of Jugurtha, and actually decided to stand by their friends.
The strange thing about all of this was that Rome had always had the means to fight; she’d always had the men and the arms, and certainly always had the connections to do it. The fact of the matter was that until a few angry men stood in the senate and began to question the effeminacy and dishonor of the Roman people, nobody had been content to do anything about it. Simply put, they lacked the will. A general named Scipio said only years earlier that their triumph over Carthage would make them fat and lazy and ruin the republic. Truer words have never been spoken: a common enemy meant a common vigilance. Rome had ruined Carthage with arms, and then decided to ruin herself with luxury. She fought a dangerous general one day, and the next nearly lost herself to a rabble of her own indebted Ivy-league playboys.
It’s been said many times before that great nations – and particularly democracies – ruin themselves. Sometimes they ruin themselves because they become so proud that they pick fights they shouldn’t, but more often they become so secure in their happiness that they forget that happiness is the result of reason, justice, labor, and war. As Moses once said to Israel, their greatest dangers lie not in the enemies that confront them, but in the incontinence and effeminacy that so often succeed victory.
The most pampered generations are the most likely to throw a good nation away. Knowing neither the triumph of battle nor the ecstasy of building, and maybe believing that things will remain as they found them, and feeling that chance and not effort, happenstance and not heritage is the source of their comfort, they begin to imagine the current reality as their natural state, and trust nature to do what only imagination could have invented and constant virtue purchased. In short, never recognizing that a healthy preservation of anything good requires not indifference, but thinking and action as fresh and equally worthy as that which made it, and thinking that since they weren’t responsible for building their world, others will continue to sustain it, the pampered generation stands most in peril of throwing away what the old generation has given them. A man feels pride in his work, and a patriot feels pride in his heritage: both of them keep him hanging on to something. But if death always parts the creators from the created, and leaves an inheritance to their children, the transmission of pride is the lifeblood of great nations. If our sons are reckless, we may blame that on youth, but if they are prideless, we must blame their fathers for not telling them exciting stories.
A lack of goodwill is our common lot with Rome – a chosen, well-deserved lot. If we share anything with the Romans, it is their delinquency, laziness, and effeminacy right before they remembered who they were. But if the Romans were overrun with pirates, we’re overrun far worse with illegal immigrants; the former required a war, and we require only a wall. If Rome was embarrassed by Jugurtha, we’re embarrassed far worse by the Islamic State – for Jugurtha was a genius and a fighter to be met face-to-face, and the Islamic State’s advancement could be stopped with a faceless but insistent bombing campaign. If Rome was infested with layabouts, we’re infested far worse with race-rioters; Romans rioted partially because their citizens were unjustly overrun with usury – as ours are currently by national and private bankers – and Americans riot not when innocents, but when known robbers, thugs, and menaces are shot by the police.
The question, then, may not be a matter of what kind of men we are. For unless men take stands in the Senate and remind us who we are before we become Mexico; unless preachers go to their pulpits and spur us into battle against an inexplicable yet stoppable Islamic evil; unless our fathers teach their sons that trials for citizens and not ignorant marches for robbers are the closest we’ll ever come to justice – a justice admittedly flawed, but the best we can manage outside Eden – then we are asking the wrong question entirely. Indeed, until we see the aforementioned conditions come to fruition, it would much more fairly be admitted, especially in comparison with the enlightenment, fortitude, and bravery of our English and American ancestors, that we aren’t really men at all.
Written by Jeremy Egerer.