Writing about the French terror campaign to defeat the terror campaign of the Algerian independence forces (the 20th century one that almost destroyed the struggling French state), Albert Camus made a last-ditched effort to persuade his two homelands—France and Algeria—to overcome their clash of civilizations. Continue reading
If it is unfortunately true that sometimes the barbarian hordes really do come charging down without warning from the hill on the horizon, it is nevertheless far more likely that dire threat to “our way of life” will instead saunter smiling straight through the front door. For liberty, silence is death. Continue reading
Learning his own history is the free man’s first defense against government abuse of power. Continue reading
“Down to the destruction of Carthage, the people and Senate shared the government peaceably and with due restraint, and the citizens did not compete for glory or power; fear of its enemies preserved the good morals of the state. But when the people were relieved of this fear, the favourite vices of prosperity – licence and pride – appeared as a natural consequence. Thus the peace and quiet which they had longed for in time of adversity proved, when they obtained it, to be even more grievous and bitter than the adversity. For the nobles started to use their position, and the people their liberty, to gratify their selfish passions, every man snatching and seizing what he could for himself. So the whole community was split into parties, and the Republic, which hitherto had been the common interest of all, was torn asunder….The people were burdened with military service and poverty, while the spoils of war were snatched by the generals and shared with a handful of friends.” — Sallust, The Jugurthine War/The Conspiracy of Catiline, pp. 77-78 (Tr. S.A.Handford), Penguin Books, 1963.
Three millennia ago the ancient dynasty ruling the then-emerging Chinese state had a bulletin board – not for the regime to post notices to the people but for the people to post criticism of the regime! Time passed, governance declined, and by the fall of the Ch’in dictatorship, this wonderfully modern democratic practice had been replaced by laws against “slander and magic incantations”—laws so severe that they scared even officials into silence. (Sima Qian, Emperor Wen)
When Liu B led his army to overthrow the Ch’in and set up the new Han dynasty, this man-of-action focused on the immediate military needs of reestablishing peace and evidently gave little thought to the issue of freedom of speech. The more reflective emperor Wen who headed the post-rebellion generation, however, gave serious thought to the quality of governance…
“Clematius, an utterly innocent man, was put to death without being allowed to open his mouth or speak.
After this act of wickedness, which, now that cruelty had been given free rein, aroused fears that it would be repeated in other cases, a number of people were found guilty and condemned through mere misty suspicion. Of these some were put to death; others suffered confiscation of their property and were driven into exile from their homes; left with no resource but complaints and tears they supported life on the charity of others, and when what had been a just constitutional government was transformed into a gloody despotism many rich and noble houses shut their doors. In the past savage emperors had often preserved the appearance of legality by preferring charges against their victims in the courts of law, but now even a counterfeit accusation was felt to be superfluous; as one mischief was heaped upon another whatever the implacable Caesar had resolved was immediately put into effect, as if it had all the force of a deliberate legal decision.“–Ammianus Marcellinus The Later Roman Empire (AD 453-378)(Tr. Walter Hamilton), London: Penguin Classics, 2004).
Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman military officer and historian, chronicled the decline of the superpower of his day.
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.”
[“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.”]–Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Tr. Allen Mandelbaum (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1980)
Dante may have been thinking of individuals, but the message applies as well to factions, elites, political parties, countries, cultures, and civilizations.