"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)
The other day I posted a quote from Cicero that lamented the decline of Rome into despotism under Julius Caesar because of an indifferent, indolent, disorganized and cowardly society, with a parallel to our own situation since Obama's reelection (though perhaps since his first election).
"Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and gave him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the 'new, wonderful good society' which shall now be Rome, interpreted to mean 'more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.'" (Marcus Tullius Cicero)A friend who lives in Romania understood this quote very well, since his country is the land of former communist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu, a man who had some parallels to our own Comrade Barack. My friend provided an extremely relevant and important article on Cicero that expands on the Roman parallel perfectly, Standing Up When It is Too Late. I lightly abridge and reformat for emphasis, but I think it is so important that I provide most of the article here for you to contemplate directly:
Footnote:There is a letter by Marcus Tullius Cicero, dated 18 December 50 B.C. This letter was written to his friend Atticus on the eve of the Roman Civil War. He wrote as follows:
"The political situation alarms me deeply, and so far I have found scarcely anybody who is not for giving Caesar what he demands rather than fighting it out."To explain the situation in brief, G. Julius Caesar had demanded the right to circumvent the Roman constitution, to break laws with impunity, to extend his command over a large army by using that army to threaten the Senate of Rome.
"And why should we start standing up to him now?" asked Cicero. The next day he wrote to Atticus: "We should have stood up to him [Caesar] when he was weak, and that would have been easy. Now we have to deal with eleven legions...."Though he hated the idea of civil war, the only course, said Cicero, was to follow "the honest men or whoever may be called such, even if they plunge."
And who were these "honest men"?
"I don't know of any," wrote Cicero in the same letter. "There are honest individuals, but [there are no honest groups]." ... "None were frightened of living under an autocracy", he lamented. The capitalists, especially, "never have objected to that, so long as they were left in peace."But civil war occurred nonetheless, because people are not free to be dishonest forever. They must admit to certain responsibilities, and oppose the advance of evil. The previous inclination to look away, to do nothing, to shrug off responsibility, proves in the end to be no more than a delaying tactic. They attempted to put off calamity, Cicero suggested, and made it all the more calamitous. That is all.
Why did the Roman Senate suddenly stand up to Caesar? What triggered their resistance? As with all free people, they began with policies of procrastination and appeasement. They hoped that the problem (i.e., Caesar) would go away. In the end, however, they discovered their mistake. Everyone still hoped for peace, though none believed it was possible. Everyone wanted to avoid war, but nobody saw a way out. Pompey stood before the Senate and gave voice to what everyone thought.
"If we give Caesar the consulship, it will mean the subversion of the constitution." [said Cicero]In other words, it would mean the end of Rome, the end of the republic, the destruction of their country.
...Why do free people fall into complacency? Why are threats ignored until the eleventh hour?
"Surely," wrote Cicero at the end of Caesar's dictatorship, "our present sufferings are all too well deserved. For had we not allowed outrages to go unpunished on all sides, it would never have been possible for a single individual to seize tyrannical power." Caesar's cause was not right, but evil, Cicero explained. "Mere confiscations of the property of individual citizens were far from enough to satisfy him. Whole provinces and countries succumbed to his onslaught, in one comprehensive universal catastrophe.."As for the city of Rome, Cicero lamented, "nothing is left ...the real Rome is gone forever."
Republics are slow to defend themselves against enemies that advance, like Caesar, under camouflage. But make no mistake, republics always defend. Groups and categories of men may not be honest or brave, but when they are finally confronted with the truth -- as individuals -- they see no other course. They stand up and fight. We should not be surprised, therefore, that Caesar was struck down in the Senate and killed by thrusting daggers. It is all too true, of course.
"We should have stood up to him when he was weak," Cicero lamented.The problem with republican government is its tardiness; or rather, tardiness in the face of danger. As Machiavelli wrote,
"The institutions normally used by republics are slow in functioning. No assembly or magistrate can do everything alone. In many cases, they have to consult with one another, and to reconcile their diverse views takes time. Where there is a question of remedying a situation that will not brook delay, such a procedure is dangerous."Machiavelli concluded, therefore, "...that republics in imminent danger, having no recourse to dictatorship ... will always be ruined when some grave misfortune befalls them."
This is the weakness of republican government. Here is the ground on which it dies. An obvious threat, like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor is not the greatest danger. It is the subtle, camouflaged threat, that creeps up from behind. It is this camouflage that gives reluctant men a way out. "We need not fight. We need not make a fuss. There is nothing to fear."
When this is the prevailing view, people who understand a given threat may ask: "What is to be done?"
As long as we are isolated individuals, there is nothing to do. The individual may be honest with himself, but groups are not honest. What prevails overall is an optimistic dismissal. "The threat isn't real."
This is how Hitler got so far. This is how Communism took over so many countries, and continues today under camouflage. There is nothing the individual can do that will sway the crowd. And as we are a republic, our political system operates according to the psychology of a crowd. The majority are caught up in the fads and media trends of the moment. Cynical and empty publicity characterizes much of our public discourse.
Are the Russians and Chinese arming themselves against us? Is Venezuela becoming a military bulwark for Communism in Latin America? Is Mexico being destabilized by the Russian mafia (via the Mexican mafia)? Has Canada been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence allied with Chinese organized crime? Are socialist revolutionaries inside the U.S. government subverting the nation's nuclear deterrent, foreign policy, and border security?
The crowd says "no" because that is what they want to believe. But one day the country will awaken. Then, and only then, Americans will stop going along as if nothing serious hangs over them. Will it be too late? Perhaps it will be too late to save the republic. But it will not be too late to save the country.
Cicero has an extensive fascinating history. From the Wiki, I offer you a sampling:
Marcus Tullius Cicero (January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. ..Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters is often credited for initiating the 14th-century Renaissance... The peak of Cicero's authority and prestige came during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and his impact on leading Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, and Montesquieu was substantial. His works rank among the most influential in European culture, and today still constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for the writing and revision of Roman history... Cicero also had an influence on modern astronomy.
"...He is credited with transforming Latin from a modest utilitarian language into a versatile literary medium capable of expressing abstract and complicated thoughts with clarity. Julius Caesar praised Cicero's achievement by saying “it is more important to have greatly extended the frontiers of the Roman spirit than the frontiers of the Roman empire"... Nicolaus Copernicus, searching for ancient views on earth motion, say that he "first ... found in Cicero that Hicetas supposed the earth to move."
"...Cicero the republican inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States and the revolutionaries of the French Revolution. John Adams said of him "As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight." Jefferson names Cicero as one of a handful of major figures who contributed to a tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence and shaped American understandings of "the common sense" basis for the right of revolution."
In Cicero's time,
...Caesar, seeking the legitimacy an endorsement by a senior senator would provide, courted Cicero's favour, but even so Cicero slipped out of Italy... Eventually, he provoked the hostility of his fellow senator Cato, who told him that he would have been of more use to the cause of the optimates if he had stayed in Rome. After Caesar's victory at Pharsalus, Cicero returned to Rome only very cautiously. Caesar pardoned him and Cicero tried to adjust to the situation and maintain his political work, hoping that Caesar might revive the Republic and its institutions.
...Cicero, however, was taken completely by surprise when the Liberatores assassinated Caesar on the ides of March, 44 BC. Cicero was not included in the conspiracy, even though the conspirators were sure of his sympathy. Marcus Junius Brutus called out Cicero's name, asking him to restore the republic when he lifted the bloodstained dagger after the assassination. A letter Cicero wrote in February 43 BC to Trebonius, one of the conspirators, began, "How I could wish that you had invited me to that most glorious banquet on the Ides of March"
Cicero became a popular leader during the period of instability following the assassination. He had no respect for Mark Antony, who was scheming to take revenge upon Caesar's murderers.
...Cicero and all of his contacts and supporters were numbered among the enemies of the state, and reportedly, Octavian argued for two days against Cicero being added to the list.
Cicero was one of the most viciously and doggedly hunted among the proscribed. He was viewed with sympathy by a large segment of the public and many people refused to report that they had seen him. He was caught December 7, 43 BC leaving his villa in Formiae in a litter going to the seaside where he hoped to embark on a ship destined for Macedonia. When his killers – Herennius (a centurion) and Popilius (a tribune) – arrived, Cicero's own slaves said they had not seen him, but he was given away by Philologus, a freed slave of his brother Quintus Cicero.
Cicero's last words are said to have been, "There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly." He bowed to his captors, leaning his head out of the litter in a gladiatorial gesture to ease the task. By baring his neck and throat to the soldiers, he was indicating that he wouldn't resist. According to Plutarch, Herennius first slew him, then cut off his head. On Antony's instructions his hands, which had penned the Philippics against Antony, were cut off as well; these were nailed along with his head on the Rostra in the Forum Romanum according to the tradition of Marius and Sulla, both of whom had displayed the heads of their enemies in the Forum. Cicero was the only victim of the proscriptions to be displayed in that manner. According to Cassius Dio (in a story often mistakenly attributed to Plutarch), Antony's wife Fulvia took Cicero's head, pulled out his tongue, and jabbed it repeatedly with her hairpin in final revenge against Cicero's power of speech.