Two Causes which Destroyed Rome – Baron de Montesquieu


Synopsis:

The eighteenth century political philosopher Montesquieu examines the constituent features of Roman culture which contributed to the collapse of the Roman Republic. Montesquieu argues that the increasing territorial, as well as material grandeur of the Roman Republic magnified already existing constitutional schisms, and that the primal bellicosity of the Roman people lingered as a tinderbox for civil strife long after external conflicts had ended.

Excerpts:

“The reason why free states are not so permanent as other forms of government, is, because the misfortunes and successes which happen to them, generally occasion the loss of liberty; whereas the successes and misfortunes of an arbitrary government, contribute equally to the enslaving of the people.

“Authors enlarge very copiously on the divisions which proved the destruction of Rome; but their readers seldom discover those divisions to have been always necessary and inevitable. The grandeur of the republic was the only source of that calamity, and exasperated popular tumults into civil wars. Dissensions were not to be prevented, and those martial spirits, which were so fierce and formidable abroad, could not be habituated to any considerable moderation at home.

“Those who expect in a free state, to see the people undaunted in war and pusillanimous in peace, are certainly desirous of impossibilities; and it may be advanced as a general rule, that whenever a perfect calm is visible, in a state that calls itself a republic, the spirit of liberty no longer subsists.

“It must be acknowledged that the Roman laws were too weak to govern the republic: but experience has proved it to be an invariable fact, that good laws, which raise the reputation and power of a small republic, become incommodious to it, when once its grandeur is established, because it was their natural effect to make a great people, but not to govern them.

“Rome was founded for grandeur, and its laws had an admirable tendency to bestow it; for which reason, in all the variations of her government, whether monarchy, aristocracy, or popular, she constantly engaged in enterprises which required conduct to accomplish them, and always succeeded. The experience of a day did not furnish her with more wisdom than all other nations, but she obtained it by a long succession of events. She sustained a small, a moderate, and an immense fortune with the same superiority, derived true welfare from the whole train of her prosperity, and refined every instance of calamity into beneficial instructions… She lost her liberty, because she completed her work too soon.

*All excerpts have been taken from Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire, Public Domain.

Philosophy and Progress – Seneca

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Synopsis:

In letter #90, Seneca examines the purpose of philosophy in life. He fuses his own Stoic philosophy with ideas on the art-of-living, the development of government, and the pursuit of wisdom.

Excerpts:

“If they had made philosophic knowledge also a common attribute and we were all born wise, then wisdom would have forfeited its principal quality, which is that it is not fortuitous.

“The natural measure which limited desires by essential requirements has retreated; to desire a mere sufficiency is now a mark of boorishness and wretchedness.

“Wisdom turns to the incorporeal and scrutinizes truth and its manifestations and determines the modes for distinguishing ambiguities in life or speech, for in both the false is mingled with the true.

“Virtue is not Nature’s gift; to become good is an art.

“Virtue can occur only in a soul trained and taught and raised to its height by assiduous exercise.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

Reason and the True Good – Seneca

Synopsis:

In letter #124, Seneca engages the fountainhead of the ‘true good’ in human action. He concludes that virtue is the cradle of happiness, and the cradle of virtue is reason.

Excerpts:

“And what is this good? I will tell you: It is a free and upstanding mind which subjects other things to itself and itself to nothing.

“We assert that ‘happy’ is what is in accordance with nature, and what is in accordance with nature is directly obvious, just as wholeness is obvious.

“As far as perception of good and evil is concerned both are equally mature; an infant is no more capable of the good than is a tree or some dumb animal. And why is the good not present in tree or dumb animal? Because reason is not.

“Confusion is applicable only where non-confusion can also occur, as anxiety is applicable only where serenity can obtain. No man is vicious unless he is capable of virtue.

“Pronounce yourself happy only when all your satisfactions are begotten of reason, and when, having surveyed what men struggle for, pray for, watch over, you find nothing to desire let alone prefer.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

Crowds – Seneca

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Synopsis:

In letter #7, Seneca grapples with the nature of crowds. He catechizes the influence crowds have on the human soul, and traces the remedies for its negative effects.

Excerpts:

“Contact with the crowd is deleterious; inevitably vice will be made attractive or imprinted on us or smeared upon us without our being aware of it. In every case, the larger the crowd with which we mingle the greater the danger.

“A single example of luxury or avarice works great mischief. A comrade who is squeamish gradually enervates us and makes us soft; a neighbor who is rich pricks up our covetousness; a companion who is malicious rubs some of his rust off upon us, however frank and ingenuous we may be.

“Retire into yourself, so far as you can. Associate with people who may improve you, admit people whom you can improve. The process is mutual; men learn as they teach.

“There is no reason why ambition to advertise your talents should lure you to the public platform to give popular readings or discourses. I should agree to your doing so if your wares suited such customers, but none of them can understand you. A solitary individual or two may come your way, but even him you will have to educate and train to understand you. ‘Then why did I learn all this?’ Never fear that you have wasted your effort; you learned for yourself.

“When asked the object of applying himself so assiduously to an art which would reach so very few people, he said: ‘For me a few are enough, one is enough, none is enough.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

Rhetoric – Aristotle (Cont’d)

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Synopsis:

In his treatise on rhetoric, Aristotle considers the requisite building blocks of rhetoric as well as its existent contemporaneous forms. He also examines the subjects of politics, virtue, happiness, and morality in his customary common-sense way.

Excerpts:

“…the moral excellences of a young man are self-control and courage.

“…the end of democracy is liberty, of oligarchy wealth, of aristocracy things relating to education and what the law prescribes, of tyranny self-protection.

“Achievements, in fact, are signs of moral habit; for we should praise even a man who had not achieved anything, if we felt confident that he was likely to do so.

“Thus all the actions of men must necessarily be referred to seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, anger, and desire.

“Application, study, and intense effort are also painful, for these involve necessity and compulsion, if they have not become habitual; for then habit makes them pleasant. Things contrary to these are pleasant; wherefore states of ease, idleness, carelessness, amusement, recreation, and sleep are among pleasant things, because none of these is in any way compulsory. Everything of which we have in us the desire is pleasant, for desire is a longing for the pleasant.

*All excerpts have been taken from Aristotle: Rhetoric, Chios Classics.

The Sole Good – Seneca

Synopsis:

In letter #76, Seneca underscores the element of reason in human existence. He also surveys the subjects of wisdom, virtue, bravery, and what ingredients aggregate into the human soul.

Excerpts:

“Wisdom is never a windfall. Money may come unsought, office may be bestowed, influence and prestige may be thrust upon you, but virtue is not an accident.

“What is best in man? Reason, which puts him ahead of the animals and next to the gods. Perfect reason is, then, his peculiar good; his other qualities are common to animals and vegetables.

“The sole good in man, therefore, is what is solely man’s, for our question does not concern the good but the good of man. If nothing but reason is peculiarly man’s, then reason is his sole good and balances all the rest.

“Folly may creep toward wisdom, but wisdom does not backslide to folly.

“…men bear with fortitude, when they have grown accustomed to them, things they had thought very difficult.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters, W.W. Norton.

Rhetoric – Aristotle

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Synopsis:

In his treatise on rhetoric, Aristotle considers the requisite building blocks of rhetoric as well as its existent contemporaneous forms. He also examines the subjects of politics, virtue, happiness, and morality in his customary common-sense way.

Excerpts:

“Justice, courage, self-control, magnanimity, magnificence, and all other similar states of mind, for they are virtues of the soul. Health, beauty, and the life, for they are virtues of the body and produce many advantages…

“In regard to war and peace, the orator should be acquainted with the power of the State, how great it is already and how great it may possibly become; of what kind it is already and what additions may possibly be made to it; further, what wars it has waged and its conduct of them. These things he should be acquainted with, not only as far as his own State is concerned, but also in reference to neighboring States, and particularly those with whom there is a likelihood of war, so that towards the stronger a pacific attitude may be maintained, and in regard to the weaker, the decision as to making war on them may be left to his own State.

“…it is useful not only to understand what form of government is expedient by judging in the light of the past, but also to become acquainted with those in existence in other nations, and to learn what kinds of government are suitable to what kinds of people.

“Let us then define happiness as well-being combined with virtue, or independence of life, or the life that is most agreeable combined with security…

“Internal goods are those of mind and body; external goods are noble birth, friends, wealth, honor. To these we think should be added certain capacities and good luck; for on these conditions life will be perfectly secure.

*All excerpts have been taken from Aristotle: Rhetoric, Chios Classics.