One of the strangest periods of Roman history was the period right before the republic collapsed and became an empire. The Romans, not known for losing, during this period lost nearly everything they put their hands on.
Catiline nearly overthrew the republic by rallying profligates, whoremongers, and drunken hipsters under the flag of rapacity. A Numidian king, Jugurtha, practically sauntered into the Roman senate and bribed a bunch of senators causing them to “overlook” his hostile foreign policy, which cost an ally its ruin and set pirates loose on sea trade.
Nothing was fought for – everything was bought. Money, not honor, was the currency; safety was lost for safety’s sake. Rome was plundered until Pompey arrived and in a moment of manliness and decision cleared the seas of pirates; the republic was lost to Catiline until Cicero placed his own life in danger to save it. Rome was bought until Metellus and Marius arrived, denying the bribes of Jugurtha and standing 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. Until then almost nobody openly lamented that Rome made promises to her allies she wouldn’t keep, or that hostile tyrants made fools of them. They lacked the will to do so.
It’s been said many times before that great nations, particularly democracies, ruin themselves, sometimes because they are so proud that they pick fights they shouldn’t but more often they become so secure in their own 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 confronted them, but in the incontinence and effeminacy which 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. Perhaps 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 period of throwing away what the old generation has given them.
A man takes pride in his work, a patriot takes pride in his heritage – both of which are the life-blood of a great nation. If we share anything with Rome it is their delinquency, laziness and effeminacy right before they remembered who they were.
When we find ourselves lacking in respectability compared to Rome at her democratic worst, we must ask ourselves: what kind of men are we? Unless Congress takes a stand and remind us who we are before we become Mexico; unless ministers get into their pulpits and spur us into battle against an inexplicable yet stoppable Islamic evil; unless fathers teach their sons that trials for citizens and not rioting and mass destruction are the closet we’ll ever come to justice, a justice admittedly flawed, but the best we can manage outside of Eden, then we are asking the wrong question entirely. For we’ve been asking what kind of men we are, when 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.
Source: Letters to Hannah, by Jeremy Egerer