By Harry Grigorian '19
So often do we look to the past for advice on the present. However, we don’t look back quite far enough. When Americans talk about “good government,” the early years of our republic—the courage, the ideals, the leaders—are often invoked. Of course, some of America’s darkest marks, slavery and few women’s rights, were at their nadir, but I think most Americans agree that the Founding Fathers had the right ideas. But they lack all the answers.
Perhaps the best place to look might be the origins of our Founders: Europe. Perhaps even the greatest power to ever exist on the continent. Rome. A Latin course is incomplete without a survey of Rome’s greatest leaders, generals, and poets—Caesar and Cicero, Constantine and Lepidus, Ovid and Vergil. These statesmen created the greatest political entity until the British Empire, and a closer look at how they ruled their lands might teach us how to better rule ours.
As a quick disclaimer, I’ll add that I know living in Rome was terrible for everyone who was not either a citizen or in the family of one. Even the citizens were not privy to antibiotics, televisions, or worst of all, AirPods, but there was something special in their government that allowed them to be Europe’s preeminent political powerhouse for centuries.
Romans were unconcerned with Twitter followers. They cared about virtue. There is an inherent problem with states like ours: re-election. Politicians in our country—especially House members who, being up for election every two years, are almost always on the campaign trail—only care about soundbits. They care about what will make the NowThisPolitics or Breitbart Instagram the next day. Roman Senators faced nominal re-election, and were essentially guaranteed to remain a Senator or some other position, barring any egregious corruption, until they died.
These Senators, with the cloud of re-election nonexistent, could act as they saw fit. They could execute things that they thought would benefit the Republic even if it would anger a majority of the state. Also, because their debates were not televised (duh) they could actually try to persuade each other with logic. A Roman Senate debate was boring; there were no ad hominems, no crocodile tears, no cheesy lines. Unexciting, but effective.
(Most of) These Senators cared only about doing good—about enacting justice—for their state. The Romans cared about what was right, not what was easy. So many Senators died in Rome’s Civil War in the 40s BC fighting for republican values: government by and for the people. Could you imagine all of our Senators picking the same side if a Civil War over constitutional power broke out in the US today?
It seems so simple for me to say that morals should govern our country, but is that what we see? Do we think politicians care only about their constituents, or do they have ulterior motives? Do they care about the struggling farmer back home in Mississippi or the single mom in Minneapolis? I bet they do, but they also don’t do anything without their own interests in mind. I have no grand conclusion to show you, no final thesis. Rather, consider ancient history as a good guidebook. After all, where do you think our Founding Fathers looked?