Lessons from Rome about Liberal Unity
Rome, I have been told by a certain Titus Livius, was a city founded upon the principle of clemency. Romulus, knowing well that his survival depended partially upon numbers, granted safe haven to any man, foreigner and Italian alike, in search of a new life. The city being filled with men on the lam, it soon took on a reputation of its own: Rome was known as a place in which aspiring Mediterranean foreigners could forego social and legal encumbrances and, if they had particular nobility of character -- or, at least, an upwardly mobile character -- could thrive according to their own personal merits.
The Roman identity, of course, took quite a while to set in the citizens' minds. Livius actually attributes the cohesion of the young nation to a long period of monarchy, in which authorities such as Numa codified the religious and cultural qualities of Rome from a cacophonous mess into a unified whole, and an actual Roman identity began to form from the process. It was this personality, Livius says, which allowed the Republic itself existence, since bands of foreigners with no loyalty or common identity would have been unlikely to imagine any public good beyond the personal, or to possess a romantic passion for so youthful a state. These patriotic virtues, of course, would come in later years, and in many ways, men still view Rome with a certain fondness, a glory rebirthed in many aspects in Western culture not only according to style, but in certain republican forms of substance.
But for a very long time, particularly in the younger years of the Republic, Rome was far from being intact. Two particularly troublesome matters, those addressed in biblical law and almost entirely ignored by modern Westerners, brought Rome to the brink of civil war for decades. That is, the lower classes became so entirely indebted, and property so predominantly divided amongst the wealthiest class, that a sharp division permeated Roman consciousness. And when debts and landlessness became unbearable, morale plunged beneath safe levels, empty rhetoric and slander prevailed, the people's anger mounted, and violence overflowed into the streets.
Yet Rome survived. Between an understandable class warfare and an originally liberal immigration policy (the latter of which was responsible for both the first Tarquin, one of Rome's most notable monarchs, and Numa himself), one can only marvel at her cohesion. It would be a mistake, though, to attribute Roman solidarity entirely to Numa's laws, as no identity-related policy can counter two inequalities so ominous. In fact, it seemed that for quite some time, every year Rome appeared on the brink of collapse.
There was one particular issue, according to Livius, which accounted for Rome's survival, and, though disclosure may disappoint conservatives, it was not entirely national culture. And, though disclosure may likewise disappoint leftists, it was not forcing the wealthy to bear greater burdens, as patricians already shouldered the majority of the nation's duties (the poorest class, historians note, was not even permitted to serve in the armed forces, and the rich bore a higher proportion in taxation for quite some time). Rather, Rome survived because she was repeatedly threatened and invaded by foreign armies.
"Shared danger," writes Livius, "is the strongest of bonds. It will keep men united in spite of mutual dislike and suspicion." And united it kept Rome. For the most part, Roman soldiers, though they considered one another enemies at home, became brothers on the battlefield: squabbling except on a few disastrous occasions was left behind, and when more ominous threats appeared on the horizon, men ceased rejecting their neighbors. In comparison with countrymen, the oncoming foe seemed more oppressive, and so both poor and rich, immigrant and native joined hands in self-defense.
This, really, is a parable for the ages. Men who find no reason to reside in the same cabin suddenly feel quite comfortable together when a bear is noticeably lurking outside, and even irreverent cinema, an industry increasingly void of morality and sensibility, acknowledges that when alien invaders spot the sky, mankind's differences become comparatively negligible. Then man fights not for issue, but for existence; he wars not over the particulars of wealth and identity, but rather so that he can have wealth or identity at all.
And this brings me to a particular issue about the modern left, and particularly about the Democratic Party. On some level, I've in recent years been perplexed by their cohesion, a union mysterious in itself, since those under its umbrella have so little in common. Within the party are so many cultures and classes that one almost expects that at any moment, the party itself could collapse. It manages to conglomerate Jews and Arabs alike, blacks and Hispanics, citizens and hostile illegal aliens, and perhaps most puzzlingly, Muslims and homosexuals and feminists, all the while -- somehow -- being able to march in a cohesive direction, feet closely in step, hauling the nation with every passing season into baser forms of barbarianism.
But if one considers closely the existence of so diverse a party, one aspect becomes almost blindingly obvious. In short, these peoples have no real reason to cohere together on their own. Yes, they pretend to include all, that no enemy exists, that there is room for each and every one's beliefs inside the tent of benevolence; and yes, they march uneasily in step, to the tune of a sole piper. But benevolence does not alone cement their noticeably flimsy bonds. Rather, they unite because they have a common enemy.
It is unnecessary to even define the enemy they oppose; enough can be determined from the nature of their laws, which overtly punish certain people without mercy and reward leftist-friendly parties with specific, unelected privileges. And if one happens to belong to any one of the categories demonized by the educational and media elite, the trajectory of Democratic salvos is anything but unclear. Their enemy, so viciously opposed, is historical America itself, and should a man engender those qualities of civilization so properly credited for the very value of Western existence and liberty, he will undoubtedly find himself a host of assailants parading as his fellow citizens, who behind their poorly constructed façade are really nothing more than national, cultural, and even religious traitors.
But unlike the people of ancient Rome, these Democratic partisans are not defending themselves from invasion; they are the invaders. They have no historical root in America -- their contemptible ideologies would have gotten them tarred and feathered in the great majority of American history -- and they possess neither patriotism nor heritage by which to bond blood and soil. As a rebel army, they sack both present and future generations of inheritance, taking plunder for themselves as though the nation itself were burning, enslaving children with unmanageable burdens and permeating so virulently our American institutions that the endeavor might as well be considered biological warfare. In short, they are united, e pluribus unum, against America. And should Americans so highly value their national and religious heritage as to consider both worthy not just of admiration and preservation, but of restoration and propagation, it is of utmost importance not just to define who we were and who we are, but who we aren't and who we are committed to never be. Let liberty in righteousness, integrity in camaraderie, and heavenly justice constitute our identity, and let any who oppose these find themselves another nation.
Jeremy Egerer is a convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.