[New essay added: September 11,2007. In this essay I’ve added some of my own thoughts on trust and how it has affected both the ancient and modern world – especially in memory of the anniversary of the senseless tragedy of 9/11/2001.]
On the Ides of March 44 BC Julius Caesar died, and with him the Roman Republic fell. But the dissolution of the Republic had been going on gradually for many centuries before that dreadful day. It’s dissolution had started when the society which had been built as a cohesive collection of families firmly united in the furtherance of the family of all families, the state, began to lose the moral foundation upon which this particular society relied.
This came about in three very important ways affecting all the three classes of their society.
First: the Patrician class, the original fathers (from which the word Patrician is derived) 1 and guardians of the state began to betray the trust upon which their “children” (the plebs and equestrian class) relied. Greed and arrogance had sidetracked them from their duty to serve and defend, and harmoniously unite all the other classes, and had led them to the expansion of the Republic for gain and the acquisition of power. Instead of the selfless public servants and providers of old, they became the taskmasters of the state.
Second, the rise of the Equestrian class and its acquisition of equal status within the ruling class, which resulted in a new amalgamated ruling class called the Nobiles, had further brought together the lethal combination of power and wealth, which resulted in the first military-industrial complex within the state. This further reinforced the demise of the “public servants”, and the rise of the “rulers” in a state, which was no longer, a family model, but a master-slave society.
Third, the Plebs 2 , clients and freedmen, or the “rabble” as Cicero referred to them, had even further lost what little dignity they had, as they were gradually being driven from their places in agriculture and industry, by the ever expanding influx of foreign slaves who worked practically for nothing. Now, in many cases, they were forced into outright beggary or to choose a military life (if they were young and strong enough). This further eroded all the trust they felt in their new “masters”.
With each class no longer united through the familial trust, which had originally held the state together, it is not surprising that civil war and constant political intrigue became the norm instead of the exception. In such a climate, tyranny of one form or another is sure to follow; for the breakdown of all trust in a society will result in chaos, which without a doubt will only be remedied through tyrannical force or martial law. Whether this tyranny is temporary or final depends on whether trust can in some way be reestablished. Caesar had tried and had in many ways succeeded in reestablishing this trust with the lower classes, but he failed with the upper classes because he probably realized only too late, that these were not the soldiers whose warrior's code he had shared for the last quarter of a century, but a despicable “rabble” (to use Cicero’s own words to describe even more accurately those of his own class) that lived by a different code, namely: “profit and self aggrandizement at any cost”.
Having said all of this concerning the demise of one democracy, and the importance of trust in a society, have we, moderns, made any strides in the last two thousand years of so-called progress, which shows that this all important trust is still alive and well in our “modern” society?
Every reader will have to decide this for himself.
In my own life, I have learned that trust, loyalty and devotion are the wellsprings of good relationships; can anyone doubt their importance in a society?
At any rate, in my own more than half a century of life on this earth, I find the last thirty years of our society to be a determined backward slide from any progress made in the preceding years. Overall trust in society, not only between people and government, but also between people and people seems to be approaching that critical mass, reached in the late Republican era. Many ominous situations, so very startlingly recalling the late Republic, seem to have surfaced again.
But even more ominously, the hypocrisy with which this society seems to conceal the same old motives of “profit and self aggrandizement at any cost”, under the cover of seemingly altruistic motives, makes me wonder if the old heathens were not more Christ-like in their outlook than the Christians, Muslims and Jews of today.
All of this has been even further exacerbated by a predatory and destructive technology 3 , which in its very implementation has shown how far our trust has been destroyed. Our popular culture, using this same technology to glorify the deceiver, the spy, the assassin and the successful criminal as heroes, has also held forth duplicity as some kind of clever moral behavior to be emulated. The result is a society that is obsessed with passwords and security; indeed whole industries having sprung up to support and further feed distrust. The result: governments spying on citizens it doesn’t trust, and citizens resenting the total loss of all privacy.
On top of all this, a predatory group, called terrorists, have become the new freedom fighters, fighting injustice by killing the innocent, and in this way actually fueling the lack of trust in society by creating even more distrust. But then how do our governments fight this: by themselves killing innocents in their quest to kill the terrorists; thus they actually feed the very thing the terrorists are seeking: the destruction of trust! Fighting evil with the same methods accomplishes nothing, except furthering the aims of the evil ones. If anything we should be learning from the terrorists, since they have succeeded in destroying our trust in our own society, while we have not even dented the trust and loyalty they show in their organizations. Their organizations grow, as faith in our own withers, with every innocent death we cause. Terrorism thrives on fear. Fear grows through injustice, inequity, misery and chaos. Eliminate this complex and you will eliminate the terrorists. As even Sulla well knew, for every Italian he killed he made a hundred more enemies.
So if trust has been lost how do we regain it; certainly not through wars and retribution? We should never allow distrust to grow to such proportions in the first place.
The first step is by fostering trust in all. By growing people who understand the importance of trust, loyalty and devotion in their dealings with others, people who are brought up in a family where such values are ingrown through an environment of sincere love among its members. Fear is at root the cause of all hate, revenge and lack of trust; and fear grows where love is absent. The growth of greed and a love of power is a reaction to fear, and grows in the poor and the poor in spirit. Growing up in a loving family environment can offset the effects of a treacherous world. Such was the case with Caesar and his family, particularly he, his mother and aunt, and later he and Cornelia would nurture Julia on this same love.
But the same also holds for a society. Caesar’s society bred the cruelty and distrust it fostered by the misery it caused its citizens and their charges (not only the institution of slavery, and the gladiatorial ring, but also the misery they caused their clients and the poor). Its reaction to (at least at first) the fear of being overwhelmed by the barbarian nations that surrounded it might have very well triggered the initial aggressive postures in its leaders, but then it most certainly fostered the greed that followed it. Greed promotes acquisition, and acquisition promotes power, finally the misuse of power, from the results of greed, creates distrust and duplicity.
When Rome was a united family of all families, she was invincible, as Pyrrhus, the King of Epirus, had discovered. When Caesar fell, Rome also fell to the destruction of the trust that made her the great mentor and arbiter in a world of chaos. The Empire was born, but trust was replaced with force and cruelty, which would eventually erase her and all her achievements from the minds of men. Caesar failed because he attempted a physical cure for a spiritual malady. His attempt was the only means available for him because of the limited outlook of his civilization. Christianity has broadened our outlook. And yet today we are still attempting to cure a disease of the soul with armies; is it no wonder the disease only worsens?
1 This is not strictly true, The word Patrician is “Patricius” which probably derived from “Pater”, father, but which translates more as “Patron” (or the title “lord” as used in the middle ages, as distinguished from vassal), but the Roman usage was more like father in that the client was more like a dependent relative or family member than a servant. The Patron had a duty or obligation towards his client family: religious, moral and legal.
2 The original Plebs were the clients, who were the servants and dependents to the Patricians. As time passed there were other freeborn people who came to live at or around Rome, and these also joined the ranks of the Plebs. By the time of Caesar, freedmen, ex-slaves who were now free, also joined these. The original clients were all relatively poor, but as time progressed and immigration increased the plebs became a motley assortment of rich and poor. The richer Plebs soon distinguished themselves as what were termed “new men”, and joined the ranks of the Equestrian class. The original Plebs had no say whatsoever in government. As time progressed Rome went from an Aristocracy to a Monarchy to a Democratic Republic. As this occurred the Plebs gradually gained more and more say in government, the culmination being the incorporation of the Equestrian class into the Nobiles.
3 I guess I shouldn’t call the technology itself predatory and destructive; but the way it is used (at least by many) certainly is.