Friday, September 19, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" I.IV

Part I: Reconstruction

IV. Regnum Caesaris Regnum Diaboli

Between the collapse of this system and the rise of Christianity, there were three phases:

  1. accommodation to the Augustan order;
  2. the fulfillment of the promise of this order;
  3. the collapse of Augustus' reconstruction, culminating in the integration of Christianity into the empire. (114)
These roughly match the next three centuries (not exactly of course). 

First, accommodation and adjustment, that is, accepting Augustus and his system as the embodiment of the "logos of classical order", involved:
  • unifying the Mediterranean;
  • subjecting that unified body to "Romanitas" (115).
The Caesars worked to these ends, through vis (force), auctoritas (authority), and consilium (agreement).
  • vis: (military force or power) This is not limitless expansion, that was a factor of the Republic and Republican individuals--the Empire was about protection only! (115-116) Expansion had collapsed the Republic, so in the army discipline especially had to be maintained, which became a question of
  • auctoritas: (authority) This was built on the personal relationship between the Emperor and the army. This, in turn, was partly discipline, and partly 1) the military's professionalization and 2) the loss of Senatorial control over the army. (116-117) This isolated the army from the people, the only point of mediation henceforth being the Emperor. (117) Inept or weak Emperors lost control and things under their rule went south.
  • consilium (agreements, peace) This was not so much the Emperor's executive as it was his judicial function, and his relationship to the law. (118) Magistrates increasingly took the place of professional juries under the principate. (119-120) In criminal law, this made the Emperor supreme and risked corrupting the system. (120) In private law, rights and obligations grew. (120-121) These were granted and enforced by the Emperor (121), and guided by his inclination (122), which was shaped by classical principles, which were then projected into the future.
Augustus' problem was the ideal manipulation of the physical and human world (122-123) in the face of fortune. This was the challenge of the art of statesmanship squared off against fortune, which meant that luck was somehow involved. But it was also understood that overcoming the luck and unknown experienced in nature was done through societal discipline. (123

"Societal discipline", in this case, meant mostly the Roman peoples (provincials were mostly ignored for the time being), especially the rich and the oligarchs. (123-124) These never really came to terms with the principate, and finally ended in extinction. They could never forget the fact that they once had held power. (124) Cato became their role model, but how could they expect to live to the standards of earlier generations when the path through the political ranks to those standards is now closed off to them? (124-125)

The Senate was both the source of legitimacy for the Emperor and superfluous (albeit traditional). And so it died, but slowly. (125-126) "But if the pax Augusta spelt doom for the aristocracy, it was not less fatal to the heirs of the founder himself." (126) The charges against them raise questions of what is virtue and vice in a state, or for an emperor. (127)

The Emperor was to be the embodiment of Roman virtue, which Augustus was and all others struggled to be. (127-128) 

Tiberius eventually broke under the strain. (128-129)

The Emperors could not be gods and so became beasts (129), all while increasingly being accepted as divine. (130) Philosophy steps up to justify this charge (131), and court pomp starts to look Oriental and Hellenized. (131-132) But this just highlights the role of the Emperor as the center of the order, the type that holds the state together. (132) Originality and personality were abhorrent. Adoption, rather than hereditary dynasticism was the way to meet this ideal. (133)

Tacitus writes from an aristocratic conservatism, condemning both dictatorial extremes and mass revolution. (133-134) Tacitus is a hesitating figure, not always sure what to do with his material. (134-135) The best he can muster is the praise of rustic virtue, and the "dreamworlds" to which he escapes. (135) His problem is ultimately spiritual, and revolves around the divinity of the Emperor, which he knows through common sense to be wrong, but finds no intellectual grounds to object. (135-136) And so reason itself breaks down and he must fall back on fortune. (136) For immortality he turns to posterity, and so appeals to virtue and vice and their examples. (136-137) This climaxed in the five good emperors. (137)

The Empire was at peace, expansive and united in a cosmopolitan classical ideal. (137-138) There was no external (137) or internal (138) existence. The only major revolts were those of the Jews (138-139), and even they were eventually tolerated, leaving only the Christians as the persecuted minority. These emperors were solid and, mostly, constitutional. They fixed the military, the economy, and society to the best of their very considerable abilities. (139-140) They set about fixing up the empire and encouraging service. (140) The spirit of the times was that of stability (141), and was inherently conservative. Food was secure and the land was open for settlement. (141-142) Stability in this context meant no innovation. (143)

Thus, the peace and prosperity of the Antonines was material, but it was also spiritual--the fully realized "good life" as envisioned by the Classical philosophers. "Translated into terms of concrete fact, this meant that the Antonines had succeeded in constructing a world which was adequate to the demands of civilized man." (144) This was Aristotle's ideal life on a grand scale. (144-145) The pinnacle of this was education, which 1) dissolved "all forms of particularism," and 2) built "'universal' standards of judgment and taste." (145) This education involved a "combination of literature (grammar and rhetoric) with philosophy." (146) 

This form of education mixed with a lack of freedom resulted in  a rise of crappy fluff. (146-147) And yet at the same time it provided a door to social life. (147

The true value of criticism is the question of the nature of philosophy. At this time, "philosophy" was restricted to the study of man (not nature). (148) Thus, philosophy had become isolated from other sciences (which had, in turn, atrophied). (148-150) 
On the other hand, jurisprudence as a science now rose to new heights. (150) How to relate (or discriminate) the ius naturale (natural law) from the ius gentium (human law) was the question at hand.

Yet, "law" does not equal "change", and flexibility was what was truly needed in the Third Century Crisis. (150-151) Constantine, Theodosius, and Diocletian all had some effect, but none could stem the lifeblood of the Empire from flowing out in Christian/pagan/heretic contests. (151-152)



The Third Century (and its depression) had three stages:
  1. 235-252 (Maximin to Decius), the period of disintegration;
  2. 253-269 (Valerian and Gallienus), the period of demoralization and anarchy;
  3. 270-284 recovery begun by Aurelian
This last period was marked by conflict between two aspects of Roman government. (152-153) Anarchy and terror reigned in the Empire. (153) Even economic, "spiritual, and intellectual life" were affected. (154) Literature and philosophy fell to "Orientalism," and Christians began to preach apocalypse. (154-155)

But what was the cause of this collapse? (155-156) 
[Various causes proposed, 156-157]
Ultimately, the collapse was intellectual and moral. (157) The Western mind had failed. Because the Romans themselves never figured it out, the problem must have been in their blind spot and tied to the "classical logos of power." But reason could never fully see this logos, and so fear of the unknown crept in. (157-158) "Luck" came to be a dominant explanation for the way of the world (158), followed by fate, in turn followed by astrology and superstition. (158-159)

Escape from this fate/fortune tyranny meant turning to Orientalism, especially Gnosticism. (159) Escape from the material to the spirit saw an alternation between libertinism and asceticism and, eventually, self-destruction--the very problem that Rome and the Emperors were trying to escape. (160)

This effort, the mix of character and circumstance, was bound up in the person of the Emperor. (160-161) This led to a war between conservative and innovator, neither of whom had solid grounding. This is typified in the "heresy of individual emperors," embodied in the cracking up of Roman religion. (161) As the Pantheon expanded, we see that the Roman spirit was one of confusion, not really toleration. (161-162) This too sowed the seeds of future break-up (162), other than merely the occasional repression of philosophies. 

What philosophy there was remained disconnected from the real world, as did literature. (163) That philosophy had fallen, we see in Diogenes, who shows the development of philosophy in 1) physics; 2) ethics; 3) logic. These three patterned all subsequent thought (164-165), even as materialistic and idealists, dogmatists and skeptics, fought over application. Stoicism, though destined to collapse, was the most important of all, with its doctrine of fate and its precept to "follow nature" (165), which is to "follow reason" (166), and which builds the "city of god." But because "order" and "process" could never truly be reconciled through human reason, Seneca increasingly withdrew into the fantasy world. (166-167)

The only viable alternative to Stoicism (other than Skepticism) was Platonism, which argued the connection between the subjective material and the objective/spiritual logos. Thus Plutarch, writing on fate, argues for the blending of fate and intellect (167-169) as a means to reconcile fate and virtue, which he then demonstrates as connected. In Egyptian myth, Plutarch sees that the resolution of this problem can only occur in the realm of transcendence. (169-171) But, in this, Plutarch opened the "gap between God and the universe," leaving room for intermediary demons and the study of demonology, but also leaving room for Plotinus. (171-172)

Plotinus is the last "effort of classical reason", drawing on Plato's core thought--though he turned to the "intuitive and mystical aspects of Platonism," rather than to the more objective sides. yet, Plotinus still falls back on salvation through reason and knowledge (172), and ultimately retreats into escapism. (172-173)

The problems of the Third Century also had military and financial aspects, but still remained questions of virtue and vice (173), the task of this century was the "restoration" of the glories of the Second century. But since philosophy had abdicated, it fell to the military to perform the task, especially under the rule of the Illyrian Emperors. (174) Their efforts were a mix of military pressure and moral/political flexibility, culminating in Diocletian (174-175), who turned the Empire into a vast, bloated bureaucracy that had the goal of restoring the old system, but which ended up burdening everyone. (174-175) Likewise his policies led directly to persecution (175), though he saw the failure of his policies and the rise of toleration. (175-176)

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