Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" I.I

Part I: Reconstruction

I. Pax Augusta: The Restored Republic

Augustus claimed to have created (well, "restored") an ideal and permanent constitution. His goal was to unite power, service, freedom, personal rule (his), and Rome all into one body. (3)

The need for such a solution comes when Rome expands beyond Italy to Carthage (in the South) and East. Once this happens, the traditional methods of government of the Republic no longer suffice. (4)*



Julius Caesar was the first to attempt to solve this problem, largely by using the Populares (the passing of laws through popular institutions, generally flexible/liberal/popular in scope) to overcome the Optimates (the passing of laws through the Senate and upper-level offices, generally traditionalist and stable). Julius Caesar's activities in Gaul (France) and his propaganda led to a "wholesale corruption of the Roman world." (5-6) He built a power base in Gaul to counter Pompey's Italian one, but in doing so created a whole new thing that hadn't been seen before. (6)

Personally, Julius Caesar was an example of moderation during the war. He fought, and then ruled, with mercy and moderation (clementia), especially in his handling of debt laws. (6-7) Julius Caesar's victory meant reform, albeit fairly standard and conservative reforms for the Greco-Roman world. (7) And yet, the imposition of mild reforms could not fix Rome's problems. (7-8) Finally frustrated, Julius Caesar did away with the dignity of the Republic and seized all power for himself on the model of Alexander the Great. (8-9)

Julius Caesar was, at the end of the day, a political scientist, not a visionary. Hence he has a very mixed legacy. (9-10) Julius Caesar is in some sense a force of "sublime egotism." (10) His assassination served as a sort-of warning to Augustus Caesar as to how not to govern (11), and also demonstrated that the death of a monarch was not the death of the monarchy. (12) Consequently Cato, not Pompey or Caesar, became the model of Roman Republicanism (12-13), virtuous but with no practical hope for the prevention of monarchy (only the form the monarchy would take was in question). (13)

Mark Antony only emphasized the Hellenization of Roman leadership, though in much less subtle ways that Julius Caesar had. (14)

Octavian (Augustus Caesar), on the other hand, championed publicly the "Latin spirit" in the traditional sense. (14-15) He phrased his rise as a contest between West and East, Roman gods and virtues versus Eastern monsters. (15-16) Thus, peace for Octavian meant a traditional restoration of Rome as his goal and guide. (16) The "pax Augusta" may then be seen "as a final and definitive expression of the spirit of classical antiquity." (17) This is contrasted with the preceding period of Senatorial dominance, which was an usurpation of the traditional "civic ideal", as we see in Sallust. (17-18) Again, this usurpation was caused by the growth of Rome geographically. (18)

Putting it in these terms makes Octavian a conservative, merely seeking to set Rome to rights (18-19) even as those traditional ways passed in his ascendance (19)--which in turn was nothing less than various magisterial powers being transferred to one person, the Princeps ['first citizen,' another name for the Emperor]. (20) The old Republican system of checks and balances was now dead (21), as all things inclined--intentionally or otherwise--towards the Emperor, making it ultimately the indispensable Roman institution. Its job, in turn, was to pursue the res publica, the common good (21-22), especially through peace and defense. (22) This goal was accomplished by:

  1. "The maintenance and extension of individual civic rights." (22) Specifically, this was done by colonization and by the assimilation f barbarians. (22-23)
  2. "The purgation of society"'s evils and the "inculcation of a public spirit." (23) How this was accomplished will be discussed later, but it should be noted that the means were to be political. 
The emperor thus avoided the extremes to which liberalism could lead and found a new way to express and exercise power. (23)

As a result, the state becomes the vehicle of the rule of law, which is "the most characteristic aspect of the Roman genius." (23) Under the emperor, the law becomes a function of "scientific and philosophic principles" rather than a function of faction and personal interest.  

As party and social politics faded, the claims of a culmination of civilization increased (24), for "faction", while not completely disappearing, was being replaced with "reason and equity." (24) As public rights and powers were sacrificed, private rights began to flourish.

Thus, the Greek polis and the Roman res publica find full expression in the Emperor as the agent of justice over against faction (24-25) and the evils of human nature. (25) We see this in the deification of Augustus' person and Rome as an idea. (25-26)


*Citations underlined note pages especially key to understanding the themes and ideas.


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