Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our Roman Heritage

"There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God himself is its author,—its promulgator,—its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man. For his crime he must endure the severest penalties hereafter, even if he avoid the usual misfortunes of the present life."
On the surface, the above quote could have been written by Thomas Jefferson or John Locke. It was, however, written in 51 BC by Marcus Tullius Cicero in his work on political philosophy, The Republic. In his classic history of political philosophy, Prof. George H. Sabine writes:
“Cicero’s true importance in the history of political thought lies in the fact that he gave to the Stoic doctrine of natural law a statement in which it was universally known throughout Western Europe from his own day down to the nineteenth century. From him it passed to the Roman lawyers and not less to the Fathers of the Church. The most important passages were quoted times without number throughout the Middle Ages. … its most striking passages had already been excerpted … and so had become matters of common knowledge.” George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, 1937

Cicero, while sympathetic to the Hellenic schools of philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, accepted many Stoic ethical tenets. Indeed, Cicero is a main sources for the Hellenistic schools of thought of which Stoicism was the most influential in the Roman Empire.

Stoicism advanced the idea of ethical universalism and natural law. Law, or logos, is the driving force in nature. Their idea of God (although not Cicero’s) was the pantheist notion of a force of nature. In Roman hands, Stoic thought influenced legal theory. Sabine writes: “Legalism – the presumption that the state is a creature of law and is to be discussed not in terms of sociological fact or ethical good but in terms of legal competence and rights – had hardly existed in Greek thought; it has been an intrinsic part of political theory from the Roman times to the present.” Leo Strauss disagrees “that this change marks an epoch in the development of natural right doctrines” but holds that it is a seamless continuation of Hellenic philosophy [P135]. The relationship between Roman thought and Hellenic philosophy is complex; suffice it to say that the Roman thinkers were more applied, thorough, and complete in their exposition and in their aspirations for universal rights.

On the other hand, Sabine goes too far when he argues that “[t]he astonishing fact is that Chrysippus and Cicero and closer to Kant than they are to Aristotle.” The Stoic philosophers sought to build their ethnic system on the notion of self-preservation as the underlying telos. Cicero severely criticized the Stoic notion of “virtue of virtue’s sake” in his critique of the Hellenistic schools of philosophy, De Finibus. I’ll argue, in the future, that Cicero sought to establish Stoic normative ethics on a Hellenic meta-ethical foundation. Kant, whose emphasis was meta-ethics, rejected this foundation completely.

Sabine correctly notes the influence of seminal ideas such as “the great human brotherhood,” and the notion of “common goods or a commonweal,” but Cicero was quite clear by the use of his examples. He defended private property and objected to the redistribution of wealth. He remained part of the Hellenic eudiamonia school of thought. The excesses of Stoicism would re-emerge in later Roman writers. Cicero, however, took exception to the pessimism of the Early Stoa while avoiding the world-weariness of the Late Stoa. Virtue is a Roman word that like virility has as its root, vir -- manliness. Cicero is Roman virtue par excellence.

The rule of law brought Rome respect and loyalty. At its height Rome’s security required a military of less than 1% of its population. Almost all (about 300,000) were employed in border operations fighting barbarians. The whole of France required only 500 men situated at the seat of power at Lyon; there remained only 10,000 men in northern Africa, from Morocco to Tunisia [P211]. Even the earliest Christian writers expressed admiration for Roman law; Paul invoked his privilege as a Roman citizen to be tried under Roman law instead of Hebraic law. In Romans 13, he expresses unbounded respect for Roman authority.

Roman jurisprudence was the crowning achievement of the Roman civilization. Underwritten and refined by Greek philosophy, it was eventually absorbed by the Christian regimes of the later Roman Empire. Justinian, in the 6th century, commissioned an extensive compilation -- digest of Roman law -- even as he was closing the schools of philosophy that nurtured and fortified the development of these very laws. The revival of Roman law, starting in the 11th century, became the foundation of continental European law.

We owe to Rome a highly developed notion of law, universality, and rights. At its height, Roman was able to integrate and assimilate peoples from Britain to Syria in a peaceful and prosperous empire. Edward Gibbon, writing in the 18th century, says: “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cicero on Just War

The great Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero is a father of the theory of “just war;” but Cicero’s version differs substantially from Augustine, Aquinas, and Hugo Grotius. For Cicero, war has a clear purpose which determines when to fight and how each enemy should be fought. From De Officiis:
The only excuse, therefore, for going to war is that we may live in peace unharmed; and when the victory is won, we should spare those who have not been blood-thirsty and barbarous in their warfare. For instance, our forefathers actually admitted to full rights of citizenship the Tusculans, Acquians, Volscians, Sabines, and Hernicians, but they razed Carthage [in the 3rd Punic War] and Numantia [in Spain, 134 BC] to the ground.”
For Cicero, the nature of the enemy determines the means to bring about a lasting peace. A barbarian enemy is fought to the death. The Roman viewpoint was accepted as normal until the last few decades. For example, George Washington fought the British, which he deemed civilized, in a completely different manner than the Iroquois who sided with the Crown. Washington deployed a “scorched earth” policy to fight the Iroquois.

It would be wrong to assume that Cicero slavishly defends Roman policies. For example:
“I wish they had not destroyed Corinth; but I believe they had some special reason for what they did — its convenient situation, probably — and feared that its very location might some day furnish a temptation to renew the war. In my opinion, at least, we should always strive to secure a peace that shall not admit of guile.”

“Not only must we show consideration for those whom we have conquered by force of arms but we must also ensure protection to those who lay down their arms and throw themselves upon the mercy of our generals, even though the battering-ram has hammered at their walls. And among our countrymen justice has been observed so conscientiously in this direction, that those who have given promise of protection to states or nations subdued in war become, after the custom of our forefathers, the patrons of those states.”
Rome was created by a process of conquest and assimilation. The result was a strong union that withstood conquests by the most formidable enemies. In the second Punic War, Hannibal hoped to win the support of disgruntled Roman subjects but only a few joined the Carthaginian cause. The vast majority fought for Rome.

Cicero understands the discipline required for a powerful military and the need to subject the military to the rule of law:
“So extremely scrupulous was the observance of the laws in regard to the conduct of war. There is extant, too, a letter of the elder Marcus Cato to his son Marcus, in which he writes that he has heard that the youth has been discharged by the consul, when he was serving in Macedonia in the war with Perseus. He warns him, therefore, to be careful not to go into battle; for, he says, the man who is not legally a soldier has no right to be fighting the foe.”

“Again, if under stress of circumstance individuals have made any promise to the enemy, they are bound to keep their word even then. For instance, in the First Punic War, when Regulus was taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, he was sent to Rome on parole to negotiate an exchange of prisoners; he came and, in the first place, it was he that made the motion in the Sen ate that the prisoners should not be restored; and in the second place, when his relatives and friends would have kept him back, he chose to return to a death by torture rather than prove false to his promise, though given to an enemy.”
This excess might suggest that Cicero sees honor as purely deontological. He is clearly not a Kantian, however; earlier he writes:
“Promises are, therefore, not to be kept, if the keeping of them is to prove harmful to those to whom you have made them; and, if the fulfilment of a promise should do more harm to you than good to him to whom you have made it, it is no violation of moral duty to give the greater good precedence over the lesser good. For example, if you have made an appointment with anyone to appear as his advocate in court, and if in the meantime your son should fall dangerously ill, it would be no breach of your moral duty to fail in what you agreed to do; nay, rather, he to whom your promise was given would have a false conception of duty if he should complain that he had been deserted in time of need”
The apparent contradiction is resolved if we understand the need for communication, honesty, and the adherence to treaties in pursuit of a secure and just peace. For Cicero, a committed soldier does what is required to bring the war to a proper end. War demands the utmost character and is the ultimate embodiment of virtus.

When fighting a deadly enemy, war is about one thing: survival.
“But when a war is fought out for supremacy and when glory is the object of war, it must still not fail to start from the same motives which I said a moment ago were the only righteous grounds for going to war. But those wars which have glory for their end must be carried on with less bitterness. For we contend, for example, with a fellow-citizen in one way, if he is a personal enemy, in another, if he is a rival: with the rival it is a struggle for office and position, with the enemy for life and honour. So with the Celtiberians and the Cimbrians we fought as with deadly enemies, not to determine which should be supreme, but which should survive; but with the Latins, Sabines, Samnites, Carthaginians, and Pyrrhus we fought for supremacy. The Carthaginians violated treaties; Hannibal was cruel; the others were more merciful.”
By the way, whatever happened to Carthage?

An Eloquent Man and a Patriot

A promising read (from Michael Lind's review in the Washington Post):

With the possible exception of Jesus of Nazareth, the Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is the central figure of Western civilization. Cicero's republican political theory influenced both the American and French revolutionaries -- and through them, contemporary democracies everywhere -- far more than Greek democratic thought or practice. As a moral thinker, Cicero bequeathed the idea of natural law to both Christian theologians and secular philosophers. His influence on the ideal of liberal education is equally profound; he popularized, if he did not coin, the Latin words rendered by our terms "the humanities" and "liberal arts." The list of the cardinal virtues -- wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance -- comes from his De Officiis (On Duties), probably the most-read secular essay on ethics in Western history. …

The United States … is a Ciceronian republic. The American founders rejected aspects of Roman republicanism such as aristocracy and militarism. Still, it was from Cicero that the major Founders learned that a republic needed a senate -- aristocratic in Rome, democratic in America -- to check popular passions. From Cicero, too, Americans learned to dread unchecked executive power based on armed force and populist demagogy -- "Caesarism." The honorific bestowed on George Washington, Father of his Country, was a translation of Pater Patriae, bestowed on Cicero by Cato. According to Carl J. Richard in The Founders and the Classics, Chief Justice John Marshall patterned the portrayal of George Washington, in his famous five-volume biography of the general, after Cicero, and told his grandsons that De Officiis was a salutary discourse on the duties and qualities proper to a republican gentleman. … Franklin quoted Cicero in Poor Richard's Almanac, and Rufus Choate, a great early American jurist, told lawyers: "Soak your mind with Cicero."

Until a few generations ago, the experience of reading Cicero in Latin was part of the education experience of the elite in societies as different as Imperial Rome, Renaissance Florence, 18th-century Britain and 19th-century Germany. …

Of Cicero, John Adams wrote that "all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united in the same character." But the greatest tributes may be those of his enemies. "Sometime towards the end of his life," Everitt writes, "Caesar remarked that Cicero had won greater laurels than those worn by a general in his Triumph, for it meant more to have extended the frontiers of Roman genius than of its empire." In his old age, Octavian -- now the Emperor Augustus -- confiscated a book of Cicero that he found in the hands of his grandson. According to Everitt, "He stood for a long time reading the entire text. He handed it back with the words: 'An eloquent man, my child, an eloquent man, and a patriot.' "
Update 12/29: For a review of Cicero's political career see Hudgins' brief article.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Liberty and Culture in Iraq

John Agresto, former president of St. John’s College’s Santa Fe campus, served as a senior advisor in Iraq from September 2003 to June 2004 and has kept in close contact with friends and colleagues since he left. He describes the situation in Iraq in the journal, Academic Questions, of the National Association of Scholars, of which he is on the board of advisors. He was eager to help his country bring democracy to Iraq by helping to establish educational institutions appropriate to a liberal order. He tried to reopen and reform Iraqi Universities. He describes his quixotic quest: (Academic Questions, Vol. 19, No. 3, page 37)
“[W]e talked all the time about freedom and democracy. Yet we had precious little knowledge of how to bring a stable, mild, moderate, middle-class, and above all free democracy to Iraq. We had, it seemed, scant idea as to what made our own democracy lasting and liberal. Other than holding elections and writing some kind of constitution, we had little idea as to what kind of civic institutions might precede democracy, what character a people might need to have to make democracy work, or what kind of political institutions were needed to make democracy just. We acted as if democracy were natural—just get rid of the tyrant, hold elections, and look: a democracy.”
Agresto explains the lack of understanding of their Iraqi culture and religion is familiar terms to the readers of this blog:
“We generally have a benign view of religion. We always insist that those who kill infidels or torture in God’s name have somehow ‘hijacked’ their religion. We consistently failed to understand that not all religions have the same view as we do of peace, of brotherhood, or of justice. Islam in general, and parts of Islam in particular, are not post-Enlightenment faiths. But why would they be? We desperately kept looking for the supposed ‘moderates’ among the clergy in Iraq. Moderate as compared to what? Just because we believe that God wants everyone to enjoy equal rights, or that killing Jews or stoning apostates is wrong, doesn’t mean that our beliefs are shared in other faiths.

We have so tamed and, in a sense, marginalized religion in the West that we consistently underestimate its ferocity and strength. … we didn’t, I think, realize, the attraction of extremism and fanaticism, especially among the youth, and especially among a people who have so little stability and order in their lives. We don’t understand either killing for God or dying for God. But others do.”
He believes the problem wasn't mistaken policies or mismanagement, although he describes that in detail. The problem is something that simple management can't address. He reiterates that we “misunderstood religion, we misunderstood human nature, we misunderstood the prerequisites of liberty and liberation, we misunderstood democracy.” He notes Iraqis fight oppression, not to establish universal liberty, but to be the new oppressor. He explains the difference between Iraq and the nations we defeated in WWII and why Iraq is less suitable for such a transformation. He sees the imposition of “medieval Islamic law under the protection of a new constitution” that will be illiberal and dangerous to world peace. Finally, he worries that Iran’s influence is all but unstoppable.

Despite all that he says we can’t leave anytime soon. And he contrasts Kurdish success with Arab failure. The above is just a brief description of some of the important points. In reading the interview I kept thinking of the paragraph on my masthead that I’ve had for the last two years. Liberty is the end-result of a long and difficult cultural and philosophical evolution.

What gives with D'Souza?

In a soon to be published book, D’Souza argues that the Left shares blame for the Islamic attacks on 9/11 according to John B. Kienker, at the Claremont Institute. Surely the guilt-infested PC left, that has made it taboo to criticize a foreign ideology or culture, has blinded us to the threat. But this isn’t his point. D’Souza apparently holds that “the Left caused 9/11 because Muslims at once hate and feel threatened by the coarse, decadent America the Left promotes … D'Souza believes conservatives need to realize the connection between the domestic culture war and the international war on terrorism. The Right needs to unite with its natural allies, the traditional Muslims.”

I’ve written in the past about D’Souza bizarre embrace of the fundamentalist Islamic ethos in this essay (1st published here.)

Fortunately, Kienker is skeptical: “I think D'Souza unhelpfully obscures the differences between conservative Americans who object to adulterers having a steamy affair on daytime TV by writing a letter to the sponsors and traditional Muslims who object to an engaged couple holding hands in public by stoning them to death. I suspect that too many Muslims still view conservative Americans as depraved infidels.”

Update 1/13/07 Eric has more and comments on the above.
Update 1/17/07 Auster has more.
Update 1/18/07 Fitzgerald has more and more. And Trancinski.
Update 1/18/07 Robert Spencer notes the DD is getting press.