What kind of men are we?

Dear Hannah,

One of the strangest periods of Roman history was the period right before the republic collapsed and became an empire.  The Romans weren't known for losing, but during this period, they lost nearly everything they put their hands to.  Catiline nearly overthrew the republic by rallying losers, bankrupts, drunks hipsters under the flag of looting.  A Numidian king named Jugurtha practically walked into the Senate, bribed a bunch of senators, and caused them to overlook his hostile foreign policy -- which cost a friendly kingdom its ruin. And beyond this pirates practically owned the seas, so that all sea trade had practically stopped.  Nothing was fought for, everything was bought.  Money, and not honor, was the currency; safety was lost out of cowardice. Jugurtha was told by the Romans themselves that everything was for sale in Rome, and he decided to prove them right.  Rome itself was plunder until Pompey arrived and in a moment of manliness and decision cleared the seas of pirates.  The republic was lost to Catiline until Cicero shouted like an angry patriot and placed his own life in danger to save it.  Rome was bought until Metellus and Marius arrived, turned down Jugurtha's bribes, and actually decided to stand by their allies. 

The strange thing about all of this was that Rome had always had the means to fight.  She'd always had the men and the arms, and certainly always had the connections to do it.  The fact of the matter was that until a few angry men stood in the senate and began to question the effeminacy and crookedness of the Roman people, nobody had been content to do anything about it.  Until then almost nobody effectively condemned Rome's broken promises to allies, or the fact that foreign tyrants made them all look like fools.  Nobody was manly enough to use the world's most powerful navy to get rid of an offensive but thoroughly disorganized piracy.  Simply put, they lacked the will to do it.  A general named Scipio said only years earlier that their triumph over Carthage would make them fat and lazy and ruin the republic.  Truer words have never been spoken: a common enemy meant a common vigilance.  Rome had ruined Carthage with arms and then decided to ruin herself with luxury.  She fought a dangerous general one day, and the next nearly lost herself to a rabble of her own indebted Ivy-league playboys.

It's been said many times before that great nations ruin themselves.  Sometimes they ruin themselves because they become so proud they pick fights they shouldn't; but more often they become so secure in their happiness that they forget happiness is the result of reason, justice, labor, and war.  As Moses once said to Israel, their greatest dangers lie not in the enemies that confronted them, but in the easiness which so often succeeds victory

The most pampered generations are the most likely to throw a good nation away.  Knowing neither the triumph of battle nor the ecstasy of building, and believing that things will remain exactly as they found them, and feeling that chance and not effort, happenstance and not heritage is the source of their comfort, they begin to imagine the current reality as their natural state, and trust nature to do what only imagination could have invented, and constant virtue purchased.  In short, never recognizing that a healthy preservation of anything good requires thinking and action as fresh and equally worthy as that which made it, and thinking that since they weren't responsible for building their world, others will continue to sustain it, the pampered generation stands most in peril of throwing away what the old generation has given them.  A man feels pride in his work, and a patriot feels pride in his heritage: both of them keep him hanging on to something.  But if death always parts the creators from the created, and leaves an inheritance to their children, the transmission of pride is the life-blood of great nations.  If our sons are reckless, we may blame that on youth: but if they are prideless, we must blame their fathers for not telling the best stories.

A lack of goodwill is our common lot with Rome -- a chosen, well-deserved lot.  If we share anything with the Romans, it is their delinquency, laziness, and effeminacy right before they remembered who they were.  But if the Romans were overrun with pirates, we're overrun far worse by illegal immigrants: the former required a war, and we only require a wall.  If Rome was embarrassed by Jugurtha, we're embarrassed far worse by The Islamic State.  If Rome was infested with layabouts, we're infested far worse by race-rioters.  Romans rioted,  partially rightly, because their citizens were indebted to banksters.   Americans riot not when innocents, but when known robbers, thugs, and menaces are shot by the police. 

We ought to ask ourselves a question, then, when we find ourselves more embarrassing than republican Rome at her worst.  We have to ask ourselves what kind of men we are.  And the answer, I think, is simple.  Unless men take stands in the Senate and remind us who we are before we become Mexico; unless preachers get into their pulpits and spur us into battle against an inexplicable yet stoppable Islamic evil; unless our fathers teach their sons that trials for citizens and not ignorant marches for robbers are the closest we'll ever come to justice -- a justice admittedly flawed, but the best we can manage outside of Eden -- then we are asking the wrong question entirely.  For we've been asking what kind of men we are, when it would much more fairly be admitted, especially in comparison with the enlightenment, fortitude, and bravery of our English and American ancestors, that we aren't really men at all.

Your Father,