Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cicero's Warning

Here are words of a man who lived over two thousand years ago in circumstances not too dissimilar from those we find ourselves in today. His words might cause us to pause and reflect. The man is Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of the chief citizens of Rome in the first century B.C. and one of the most famous of all Romans. He writes:
A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.
I hope Cicero was right that a nation can survive fools and the ambitious. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure he's right that a nation cannot survive corruption that starts and spreads from within. When the pillars of society, the institutions that bind us together and strengthen us as a people, are undermined we become like a massive tree that's hollowed out by years of internal decay and which crashes to the ground in the next strong wind.

When people are conditioned by those who want to see us fall to lose trust in their government, their courts, the news organizations and the free market, when our citizens are encouraged to no longer value family, church, school and the Constitution, when everyone is propagandized to believe that all that matters is their own personal happiness and that the way to achieve that is through accumulating consumer goods, entertainment and pleasure, then we, like that tree, like ancient Rome, will be too corrupt to withstand stresses imposed from outside.

One way to avoid that fate is to recognize that there are many voices out there whose rhetoric is designed to erode our confidence and faith in the institutions that made America great (I apologize if that sounds Trumpian. I don't mean it to.). The second thing is to stand up to those voices or stop listening to them altogether. The third thing is to get about the business of repairing the damage that has been done to those "pillars of the city."

If enough people commit themselves to this project then perhaps we can avoid the fate that Rome suffered. If not, if we lose the will to resist, as Cicero puts it, then how will we keep the human wolves at bay?