Monday, September 15, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" I.III

Part I: Reconstruction;

III. Roma Aeterna: The Apotheosis of Power

Augustus claimed not just to have solved the problems of the Roman Restoration, but all of the (political) problems of mankind. (74) Since the days of ancient Greece, men had been striving to rise above barbarism and civilize themselves. This gradually became a "vision of power" (74-75), which included:

  1. "the excellence of man as man", and 
  2. the realization of the ideal through latent human characteristics. (75)
The Greeks had looked to nature for these, but never to the self-sufficient individual. (75) 

All of this raises the questions of community. (76) Is the community fundamentally based on power, or justice? (76-77) 

The countless Greek attempts to find an answer through the varieties of poleis all failed. (77) Not that these states (Sparta excluded) consciously sought the ideal! (77-78) In general, the Greek state in question was a mere middle-class creation. Yet even this middle-class creation shows a longing for a just and lasting society. (78)

[Idealism defined, page 78.]

Platonic idealism struggles through Plato's conception of existence (78-79) to try to discover where the idea of a just society may be achieved. (79-80) A question he never satisfactorily answers.
Aristotle sought (and found, through biology) transcendent order in nature. It is the nature of man to aim at a transcendent telos, which means that Aristotle ends very nearly where Plato did. (80-82) That is, the polis has a telos, which is to help man escape the flux of the world and move towards the transcendent goal. (82) This becomes the basis for judging constitutions. And although the constitutions of Aristotle's day failed to meet this goal (82-83), statecraft remained the means by which this goal was pursued (83-84), and the means by which passions were restrained and "justice, peace, and freedom would be achieved." (84)

Practically, even as Plato and Aristotle wrote, the Greek world was tearing itself apart (84-86) and being remodeled by Philip and Alexander. 



What is Alexander the Great's role in the history of politics? Functionally, he both destroyed the polis and delivered the Greeks. (86) He did this partially by entering at the practical level into the theoretical conflict between "hero" and "citizen." This conflict was decided at Chaeronea. 
Alexander saw himself as the hero, the new Achilles and Hercules. He is seen as unifying humanity in a cosmopolitan whole. The main thing to note (whatever the validity of someone like Tarn's view) is that his (Alexander's) method was political. (88-89) He ruled as King: hereditary, salvific, philosophical, and lacking only eternality. (89) Again, whether true or not the effect was to sweep all people--even the isolated Jews--into political life. (90

Where the "hopes" of Alexander and his successors "gradually faded," they were transferred to Rome--first in the Republic (90-91),. The Greeks, as we see in Polybius, now look to Rome (91), even to the point of tying it to Troy, and so to their own past. (91-92) Despite conquered/conqueror tensions, the two were spiritually united. (92) And though Polybius' beliefs that the Romans had 1) cured faction and 2) brought peace to the Greek world were premature, it was the same note sounded under the Empire of Augsutus. (93)

What chance did Rome have where Greece had failed? Obviously, the answer to this question would depend on the character of the leader, and Augustus was a mix of idealist and opportunist. (93-94) 
But even this wasn't really enough, the people as well had to be virtuous. (94-95) But what was Roman virtue?
Caesar had identified it with flexibility and adaptability, (95) at least in material terms. Moreover, "classical idealism" (as in Livy) believed that history was an ideal model for virtue, and could be chosen over the "vice" of the modern times. This was an abstraction, and ignored the flux of reality. (96-97) What's more, it reduces man to a "specimen", rather than treating him as a man. (97-98) This in turn leads to the natural/conventional distinction, which can only be bridged through the "justice of the polis." (98) Thus, a system is constructed which attempts to replace human order with cosmic order--often by force (even with "wisdom" being the force in question). (98) So Livy's History becomes Plato's "noble lie", imposing a view rather than searching for truth--an imposition done largely through poetic means. (98-99)

Livy uses a unique combination of "virtue and fortune." (99) But what do these mean?
  • Fortune: This idea is obscure, yet still worshiped by the Romans. (99) It was inherently tied to virtue, though philosophically the two could be opposed.
  • Virtue: This is also called "the arts" and is political, as well as being opposed to vice. Both "virtue" and the "arts "are "mannequin" forms, rather than actual descriptions of something. (100-101) This shows most in Livy's view of religion (101), which he sees as a form, "utterly pragmatic" and unconcerned with either truth or falsehood, focusing on only function and utility. (101-102)
[For more on this, read Machiavelli's reflection on Livy in Discourses on Livy, where he explicitly discusses the Fortune/Virtue relationship.]

The problem is that the opposite of "order" is "change," which is both a real-world fact and a problem. (102-103) If we use physics and nature as the rule, we come to natural = legitimate, and the classical definition of justice. This means that the telos of nature provides both the goal and the limits of the state (103) and the individual.
As a result, a deep conservatism becomes the order of the day, albeit one which needs a strong leader to prevent change and to control the masses. (104) "Thus envisaged, the problem of politics is to reconcile 'liberty' with 'authority.'" (104) 

For Sallust, states are constructs imposed by the (Platonic and ideal) forms, and hence both legitimate and capable. (105) Thus through the forms we gain freedom. But, the forms are impeded by the matter, just as the statesman is impeded by the mob. (106-107) So compromise must be achieved, but it must be a compromise that places people by nature. (107) 

Livy's "moral intention" is problematic, because of the morals he has to work with. (107-108) But how does he choose those morals? We must see his underlying presuppositions, namely he assumes that the principate is the solution to modern political problems. (108) This is because traditional solutions (the Republican institutions) have broken down under the relentless assault of unquenchable passions, and a second founder is needed to renew the forms. Augustus' multiple authorities (general, family member, kind, etc) reinforced this.

Thus, Augustus' power is 1) "formally correct", and 2) based on the virtues of "virtus, clementia, justitia, and pietas," all of which call forth the strength of the past as the source of legitimacy. (109-110) Augustus was understood to be the hand of providence in blessing mankind. (110)

The Caesar cult was based in classical ideals. (110-111) The idea of the great man, or hero, who surpasses all others in virtue (and intelligence, and courage) and fortune was common. Both Plato and Aristotle thought them to be near (or even actually) divine. (111) The Romans bought into this, though they divinized the virtues, rather than the man. (Greek heroes tended personally towards immortality.) (112) The power cults (Hercules) were especially strong, and led to Augustus Caesar's "recognition... as a political god." (112-113) Thus the "superman" became the goal (telos), and virtue and fortune the backbone and foundation of the state. (113)

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