The Old Benedictine Western Civ: 101. What Were the Highs and Low-Points? And Most Important—Why Did Rome Fall?
Q. What did those old Benedictines circa 1946-50 tell you about ancient Rome?
A. The good points: The Roman Senate was respected because it stood aloof from the people and it was properly aloof because its members were not elected but came from the aristocracy…The unwritten constitution was a tangle of aristocracy, monarchy and democratic…each year thecuriaa group of the city’s most patrician families elected two consuls each to govern—each having veto power over the other. The consuls were to be extraordinary military men who didn’t have much to say or do in peacetime but as they were highly skilled officers, theywere freeto operate across the board in war. Important to note—the Romans lost many battles but never until the very end, a war. When the consuls’ terms were completed, they had to justify their actions and defend themselves against the Tribunes…who were elected by a convention of plebes—not elected by the individual plebes, understand, but by a group of them, thus keeping power one step away from the mob. And when a consul fouled up---.
Q. Yes-yes, when one fouled up, what action did they take?
A. Take the case of one consul who was itching for a fight with
Rome’s archenemy Hannibal who utterly was outfoxed by Hannibal in the battle of Trasimene in the Second Punic War. Hannibal led this guy into a narrow pass by feigning that he was in full retreat but once the Roman quarry was locked up there, the “retreating” Carthaginians hit them from all sides. Both Roman consuls were killed side-by-side along with 15,000. A disaster.
Q. What did the Tribunes, the Roman Senate, do?
A.They gave them huge praise and bestowed great military honors on their memories recognizing that they were brave men who happened to be rash. Instead of getting angry, Rome chose other consuls who did not give a single thought to cutting and running but adopted different, more prudent strategies. They kept the war going, biding their time, stalling long enough to catch the cocky Hannibal napping, destroying his armies in Spain, prompting an angry Hannibal to return to Africa where the Romans defeated him in 202BC—his only defeat.
Q. What did those old Benedictines tell you was the lesson learned?
A. That Rome won the war because it would not quit. Q. Why did Rome fall?
A. Not because of Christianity which was Edward Gibbon’s theory…that the religion made the Romans into pussy-cats, effeminate and decadent. Rather it was the “bread and circuses” mentality—free food and entertaining games provided by the state. There was also a decline in population; Rome fell into recession. At this point the Barbarians invaded because you try living on the Steppes of Russia when you could live in the sultry climes of Greece and Rome. In essence the welfare state killed Rome—not debauchery of the flesh but weakening of the will, producing a yen to take more and more from the state. But Rome gave us an admirable mixture of governance between aristocracy, meritocracy and a slight taste of democracy—very slight.
That the old monks taught us was the enduring lesson of Rome—and my professor said, “gentlemen, don’t knock it.”
Q. What’s next on this agency forWestern Civ:101? A. Israel. Q. When? A.When I get around to it.