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Monday, June 23, 2014

When America Jumped Cicero

By Douglas V. Gibbs

Ancient Rome did not begin as an empire bent on world domination.  The civilization in Rome began as a republic that was individual-centric, defending individual rights through a system based on a written constitution (twelve tables) and a representative government based on the rule of law, rather than the rule of man.  Rome prospered under the guidance of an honest government, but began to crumble once the republic was set aside.  The legislature became irrelevant, and the judicial system became a puppet of the leadership.  A system of a redistribution of wealth was established, and the standards of morality were abandoned.  Women could abort their children up to the age of two, by leaving their child on the side of the road to die from exposure to the elements.  Homosexuality was normalized, and orgies were common and celebrated.  Right became wrong, and wrong became right.

About 79 B.C., a young lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, preached that it was time to return to honest government.  He felt that Rome could still be saved.  Cicero recognized that though they were tossing aside standards set by the early Romans, and the citizens were no longer worried about defending their rights, instead living on the gifts from the treasury the politicians had offered them for their votes, they had not passed the point of no return. They were fat, immoral, careless, and happy to live on the government's offerings, which had been taken by bureaucratic chicanery from the substantial men of business, but if the people would only realize their folly, and fight to restore the republic, Rome could be turned around. 

Change could not occur through the courts, Cicero realized after a conversation with his mentor, Scaevola.  "Of what use are records presented to tribunes, consuls, or senators if the government is determined to rob and destroy a man who had displeased them, or who possesses what they want?"

During a case when Cicero fought for a client's defense against confiscatory taxation, he proclaimed, "we are taxed in our bread and our wine, in our incomes and our investments, on our land and on our property, not only for base creatures who do not deserve the name of man, but for foreign nations, for complacent nations who will bow to us and accept our largesse and promise us to assist in the keeping of the peace - these mendicant nations who will destroy us when we show a moment of weakness or our treasury is bare. We are taxed to maintain legions on their soil, in the name of law and order and the Pax Romana, a document which will fall into dust when it pleases our allies and our vassals. We keep them in precarious balance only with our gold. Is the heart-blood of our nation worth these? Shall one Italian be sacrificed for Britain, for Gaul, for Egypt, for India, even for Greece, and a score of other nations? Were they bound to us with ties of love, they would not ask our gold. They would ask only our laws. They take our very flesh, and they hate and despise us. And who shall say we are worthy of more?"

Cicero did not save his client. But he did live to argue the cause of honest government and to talk with Sulla, the Dictator (Senate appointed leader), about integrity and fair dealing. Sulla had little faith in the people. He believed them too deeply interested in their own welfare to concern themselves, too timid to stand up for their rights. He told Cicero the middle class, the lawyers, the physicians, the bankers, and the merchants would make no sacrifices. He said none of your lawyers will challenge the lawmakers and cry to them, "This is unconstitutional, an affront to a free people, and it must not pass!" He asked, "Will one of these, your own, lift his eyes from his ledgers long enough to scan the Twelve Tables of Roman Law, and then expose those who violate them and help to remove them from power, even if it costs their lives? These fat men. Will six of them in this city, disregarding personal safety, rise up from their offices and stand in the Forum, and tell the people the inevitable fate of Rome unless they return to virtue and thrift and drive from the Senate the evil men who have corrupted them for the power they have to bestow?"

Rome continued to decay. The liberties of the people were being trampled upon in the name of emergencies (crisis), or they were relinquished voluntarily so as to be awarded government benefits.

Cicero, in his Second Oration before the Senate, had this to say: "Too long have we said to ourselves 'intolerance of another's politics is barbarous and not to be countenanced in a civilized country. Are we not free? Shall a man be denied his right to speak under the law which established that right?' I tell you that freedom does not mean the freedom to exploit law in order to destroy it! It is not freedom which permits the Trojan Horse to be wheeled within the gates. . . He who is not for Rome and Roman Law and Roman liberty is against Rome. He who espouses tyranny and oppression and the old dead despotisms is against Rome. He who plots against established authority and incites the populace to violence is against Rome. He cannot ride two horses at the same time. We cannot be for lawful ordinances and for an alien conspiracy at one and the same moment. Though liberty is established by law, we must be vigilant, for liberty to enslave us is always present under that very liberty. Our Constitution speaks of the 'general welfare of the people.' Under that phrase all sorts of excesses can be employed by lusting tyrants to make us bondsmen."

Years later Cicero appeared before the Senate again.

He said "The Senate, in truth, has no right to censure me for anything, for I did but my duty and exposed traitors and treason against the State. If that is a crime, then I am indeed a criminal."

Crassus, Caesar and Pompey were in the hall listening to Cicero, but turned away to reject his words. He said to them, "You have succeeded against me. Be it as you will. I will depart."

He then told the Senate: "For this day's work, lords, you have encouraged treason and opened the prison doors to free the traitors. 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 he carries his banners openly against the city. But the traitor moves among those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears no traitor; he speaks in the accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their garments, and 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 a city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared. The traitor is the carrier of the plague. You have unbarred the gates of Rome to him."

Cicero was exiled from Rome for his words. From outside of Rome he continued to plead the cause of honest government. The people were not concerned. They were satisfied living a mediocre life on the public dole. His friends were also satisfied, and did not wish to make waves. They were lawyers, doctors, and businessmen, and they told him, "We do not meddle in politics. Rome is prosperous and at peace. We have our villas in Caprae, our racing vessels, our houses, our servants, our pretty mistresses, and our comfort and treasures. We implore you, Cicero, do not disturb us with your lamentations of disaster. Rome is on the march to the mighty society, for all Romans."

Cicero was in despair. He began to write his book De Legibus, but Atticus, his publisher, asked, "But who will read it? Romans care nothing for law any longer, their bellies are too full."

Cicero, however, was not completely unheard. Brutus, the long-time sycophant of the ambitious Caesar, went to Cicero with his plea that something be done to save the nation. He confessed his error, he said he had believed in Caesar. Brutus believed that Caesar would restore the republic. Caesar had betrayed his trust.

Cicero replied, "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 and laughed delightedly at his licentiousness and thought it very superior of him to acquire vast amounts of gold illicitly. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the 'new, wonderful good society' which shall now be Rome's, interpreted to mean 'more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.' Julius was always an ambitious villain, but he is only one man."

Another man read Cicero's writings, and admired them.  His name was Thomas Jefferson.

The question is, have we, the United States of America, crossed the line that Cicero recognized in Rome?  Or are we still in a period like that just prior to the birth of Cicero?  Have we jumped Cicero, or are we on the verge of the final decline of our civilization?

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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