Thursday, September 23, 2010

Musings on Peace in the Reign of Numa

In reading Livy (in Aubrey de Selincourt's translation) who lived from 59 BC to 17 AD writing about Rome's second king, Numa Pompilius, who lived from 753 to 673 one isn't sure how much of what was written is legend and how much based on actual fact. Nevertheless, this is part of Rome's history and believed by Romans, more or less, from the time of Pictor (circa 200 B.C.) to Livy's time and beyond. With that disclaimer, let's look at Rome's peace-loving king Numa:

Rome's first king was the very warlike Romulus. Numa was not like that. He "prepared to give the community a second beginning, this time on the solid basis of law and religious observance. These lessons, however, could never be learned while his people were constantly fighting; war, he well knew, was no civilizing influence, and the proud spirit of his people could be tamed only if they learned to lay aside their swords. Accordingly, at the foot of the Argiletum he built the temple the temple of Janus to serve as a visible sign of the alternations of peace and war: open, it was to signify that the city was in arms; closed, that war against all neighbouring peoples had been brought to a successful conclusion. Since Numa's reign the temple has twice been closed . . . Numa himself closed it after first securing the goodwill of all the neighbouring communities by treaties of alliance.

"Rome was now at peace; there was no immediate prospect of attack from outside and the tight rein of constant military discipline was relaxed. In these novel circumstances there was an obvious danger of a general relaxation of the nation's moral fibre, so to prevent its occurrence Numa decided upon a step which he felt would prove more effective than anything else with a mob as rough and ignorant as the Romans were in those days. This was to inspire them with the fear of the gods."

Livy then goes on to describe how Numa did that; which I'll skip, but Livy tells us that Numa accomplished his goal, after which ". . . the whole population of Rome was given a great many new things to think about and attend to, with the result that everybody was diverted from military preoccupations. They now had serious matters to consider; and believing, as they now did, that the heavenly powers took a part in human affairs, they became so much absorbed in the cultivation of religion and so deeply imbued with the sense of their religious duties, that the sanctity of an oath had more power to control their lives than the fear of punishment for law-breaking. Men of all classes took Numa as their unique example and modeled themselves upon him, until the effect of this change of heart was felt even beyond the borders of Roman territory. Once Rome's neighbours had considered her not so much as a city as an armed camp in their midst threatening the general peace; now they came to revere her so profoundly as a community dedicated wholly to worship, that the mere thought of offering her violence seemed to them like sacrilege."

COMMENT: At this point my mind skipped ahead to more modern pacifistic schemes. I notice first that the moderns don't advocate the sort of commitment to religion that Numa did. Why should the modern commit to pacifism? Simply because pacifism is better than war -- that's all the argument we get. Not killing people is better than killing them. We can notice up front that Numa's long reign was followed by that of Tullus Hostilius who much preferred the warlike ways of his grandfather Romulus. We may presume that Numa's efforts had a civilizing effect on Rome, but they didn't bring peace beyond his reign and they didn't turn Rome into a pacifistic city. But ignoring the events that occurred after Numa for a moment, and assuming that what he did was good, what do modern Pacifists have of a like nature to attract modern converts?

Numa isn't described as being an abject pacifist. Livy describes his concern as civilizational. Numa wanted to civilize Rome. He didn't declare for pacifism "no matter what." The Temple to Janus could be opened again if Rome were attacked, but Rome preferred (in the days of Numa) peace to war.

We Americans, at least those of us who love rather than hate our nation, think of ourselves as peace-loving. We prefer peace to war. In the days before Britain turned over their reigns as being the world's policeman (more or less), it was difficult to get America into a major war. Anyone who examines the history of any war we got into will see that the buildup to our wars was slow. In the days before the Cold War we didn't have an effective standing army. We needed to be provoked in a serious way before we opened our temple door. Yes, I have heard the anti-American assertions that the provocations that sent us to war were not always very serious, but that was not the view of those in government who called for the war. Our tradition is of being slow to anger and slow to war.

Assuming what I have written in the previous paragraph to be true for the sake of discussion, what could our pacifists or even our peacemakers present to other nations as something to be emulated? Numa's Rome could describe its commitment to religion. Can we in the U.S. do that? A majority here describe themselves as Christian; why can't we build upon that? The reason is that, unlike our Islamic neighbors, we relentlessly separate Church from State. We can't say that we are a Christian State committed to peace.

We in the West do have a Christian history, but in modern times it has been replaced in many social arenas Secularism. Okay, what about the Secular pacifists, what do they have to offer to other nations as an example? Can they point to their own piety, to the way they worship at the Secular temple of Janus of the Closed Door? I don't think so. When China, among other nations, looks at us, they see licentiousness, profligacy, and self-indulgence. Numa wanted his Romans to be a civilized moral people. If our Secularists could put forward that sort of example, the Chinese for one, would be impressed, but they can't. In the interests of "liberty" aka "licentiousness" they are busy nullifying most of the virtues our founding fathers admired. Instead they exalt "civil rights." These Civil Rights, unfortunately, don't match any set of "moral virtues" known to man.

I am very much in favor of Civil Rights. They are neutral -- at least they ought to be when it comes to virtue -- but I notice that the neutrality has begun to suffer. We, like most nations in the West, are going to great extremes to protect the "civil rights" of Radical Muslims, but when a modern day Christian pastor behaves like a Muslim radical -- in a mild way -- the whole force of American Secularism and a few other isms descended upon him in a far from mild way. Prior to Terry Jones' Koran burning intention, I would have described myself as opposed to book burning of any sort, but why, if America respects the right of any American, or anyone else, to burn an American flag, or a Bible, do we jump all over Terry Jones for only threatening to burn some Korans? If you in Muslim lands want to burn Bibles and our American flag, then I say back off when one of our civil-rights protected citizens wants to burn some Korans.

Francis Fukuyama imagined that when all nations became Liberal Democracies, something he believed was inevitable; the world would be permanently at peace since Liberal Democracies don't war with one another. Despite our disinterest in piety and morality in the West, Fukuyama, would say, we are destined for world peace. Samuel P. Huntington didn't believe that. He believed that the world's eight Civilizations were going to go on clashing with one another, perhaps not forever, but on into the future that he saw.

Realistically, peace, including world peace is only achievable when there is either a balance of power or one nation has whipped all the others -- as Romulus whipped all the cities that neighbored Rome. The UN was initially based on that concept. The idea was that if the major nations banded together they could stop any of the lesser nations from fighting wars. But as we know that was about the time the Cold War started; so almost immediately these major nations started warring (coldly). Now, who knows what the UN is?

And we mustn't forget Tullus Hostilius. He wasn't as civilized or as pious as his predecessor, but he was at least as true to human nature, probably more so. When we think of Rome today, we think more of warlike rules like Hostilius than of the peaceful ones. But it is possible to think of both of them as types of any successful nation. Most of us in the world want our neighbors to have peaceful intentions, to be willing to work hard for a peaceful solution to any problem, but at the same time, we realize that if all such attempts fail, then war may be the recourse , at least it will be for any nation interested in self-preservation -- unless that nation has relatively little power, in which case it will seek to ally itself with some nation with a greater ability to conduct a war, much as Kuwait did when faced with an attack by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

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