Friday, September 24, 2010

Livy on the "peaceful reign" of Ancus

After the reign of Numa, as we saw, a less-peaceful king was elected, one who revered the warlike Romulus more than the peace-loving Numa, but Numa's influence remained and a grandson of Numa, Ancus, sought to emulate his ideals. He too wanted a reign of peace in Rome:

Livy, The Early History of Rome, page 69: "Ancus was deeply conscious of his grandfather's noble record. . . . In the belief, therefore, that nothing was more important than the restoration of the national religion in the form established by Numa, he instructed the pontifex to copy out from his commentaries the details of all the various ceremonies and to display the document in public. To the war-weary Romans the prospect of peace seemed assured, and both they and their neighbors began to hope that the new king was to prove a second Numa."

But as we know (or ought to know), it isn't enough for a single nation to want peace. Ancus and his Roman people wanted peace but that was no assurance that they were going to get it. Roman's Latin neighbors thought a weakling had ascended the throne, much as Khrushchev once thought we had elected a weak president in Kennedy. Such people do not rejoice in a neighbor's peace but seek to take advantage of it:

"This was Latins' opportunity. There had been a treaty between Rome and Latium in Tullus's reign, but now the Latins felt that they might in the changed circumstances be a match for their old enemy. Accordingly they raided Roman territory, and to the subsequent demand for restitution returned a haughty answer, convinced that Ancus was no soldier and would play the king only amongst his shrines and altars."

Livy tells us that Ancus' love for peace didn't mean he couldn't be a good soldier if Rome's national security was involved. Livy then goes on to describe the war between Rome and Latium and Ancus' ultimate victory, but what interests me is the obviousness of these events. Surely Ancus should have known that he couldn't declare unilateral peace, that some neighbor, some ambitious leader some place was going to take advantage of his desire for peace. But perhaps Rome in 625 BC was too new, too inexperienced. Perhaps there is an excuse for Ancus' naivete.

But is there any such excuse for a modern? Beginning, perhaps in the period described by Roger Shattuck in The Banquet Years, the Origins of the Avant-Garde in France in 1885 to World War I, we see a nihilistic giving up. Why prepare to fight a war? What does it all matter? Bruce S. Thornton credits the victory of Scientism for this nihilism. Why plan for the future? Why have children? Let is eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Of course, when France played this out and endured their Vichy period, they decided that they didn't want to do that again. They are a wee bit more willing to fight for their independence nowadays, but they still behave a bit loopy, as though they have not entirely recovered from their bad experience of being conquered by Germany.

Must we make excuses for France? They should have known better, but they were heavily influenced by Scientism, the belief that science has all the answers. They quit believing in God. Bruce Thornton quoted G. K. Chesterton to say that when people quit believing in God that doesn't mean they believe in nothing. They believe in everything. We see that in the modern world with the belief in all sorts of superstitions and occult practices. But that doesn't seem to describe France in their pre-Vichy years. They didn't believe in everything. They sought escape of one kind or another and sought to nihilistically avoid the future. The Avant-Garde of Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie and Guillaume Apollinaire was a pitiful affair. They provided the philosophy that was prevalent in France prior to World War II. France was in the same condition that Rome was in the beginning of Ancus' reign -- minus the religion and minus the will to fight if their national survival depended upon it.

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