Among the intricate threads of history, the tapestry of Western Civilization has ever been woven in blood and conquest, as imperial expansionism endlessly drove one group of people into ever fractious contact with other groups of people. If the crown jewel of ancient Western Civilization, the Roman Empire, itself the bloody progeny of the Roman Republic, can be considered the political, philosophical, and technological zenith of the ancient Europeans, then the person of Marcus Aurelius can be considered its highest achievement.
The Emperor who died twice, Marcus Aurelius was the last of the “Five Good Emperors” of Rome, leaving behind a legacy of imperial expansion, military stability, and the height of Greco-Roman philosophy, Stoicism. His life was quintessentially Roman, and his life story remains one of the lasting examples of the very “best” of the Western Civilization that would inform the Renaissance over a thousand years later.
“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”
Marcus was always known as a thinker, a product and avid student of both Greek and Latin traditions. His “Meditations” are rightfully considered the equal to the likes of Socrates and Aristotle. He was both a conscientious and judicious ruler, and, above all, a product of the civilization from which he came. Though, in reality, it may be his own personal experience, as much as the society that bore him, that informed the man and Emperor that he would become.
Ever since he was a young man, Marcus Aurelius struggled with a chronic ailment that left him weak and in physical pain his entire life. Where such continuous illness may have left some bitter and angry, Marcus approached his constant physical discomfort philosophically. Over the course of his life, he continued to develop and expand this personal philosophy to all adversity in his life, both personal and political.
The great tragedy of Marcus Aurelius’s life, however, came at its end. After dedicating most of his adult life to pacifying the powerful and savage tribes of “Germania“, it was Marcus’s great hope to, once and for all, end the threat to Roman civilization posed by these fierce and uncivilized cultures that had been battling the Roman legions for centuries. These wild and comparatively brutish societies had carved out large territories in the dense European forests at the edges of the Roman Empire.
With the end of these centuries long conflicts in sight, Marcus entrusted his son, Commodus, with the task of securing lasting security for Rome. Upon Marcus Aurelius’s death, however, the seventeen year old Commodus walked away from cold and death of Germania and devoted himself instead to the pleasures and distractions of Rome that his father had largely denied himself. Where Marcus Aurelius had dedicated himself to philosophy and the security of Rome, Commodus dedicated himself to lavish living and bloated egotism, going so far as renaming Rome, her holdings and even the Legions after himself.
After just thirteen years as Emperor, Commodus, the heir of Marcus Aurelius, was strangled to death in his bath, and centuries later, the heirs of the same savage tribes of Germania that Marcus Aurelius had dedicated his life to fighting, sacked Rome, plunging Europe into over a thousand years of darkness.
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations-
While the parallels of the last “Good Emperor” of Rome, his misbegotten heir, and the agonizing slow and bloody decline of Rome to the events and characters of our present national crisis should be painfully clear, there is a cultural and philosophical context that must not be missed. History does not necessarily have to repeat itself, and those that wish to defend Western Civilization must do what Commodus, in his time, and our present political leaders, in our time, have failed to do.
At over two centuries old, our Republic is no longer young, but it isn’t old when compared to the over eight centuries of the Roman Republic and later Roman Empire. Though we have clearly lost our way culturally and politically from the ideals of the Founding, by learning from the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius and ignorance of Commodus, we can yet avert and, with luck, reverse the decline of our own civilization. Domestically, the Culture War has, especially for the last century, gone increasingly in favor of those who grand stand politically for their own benefit.
While social equality and political justice have vastly improved for many who have been denied both for so long, the government has in the meantime increasingly encroached upon the very principles of individual liberty that not only gave birth to our nation, but provided the very bedrock upon which the celebrated advancement of justice and equality was built. The great tragedy of our time is that, over the course of just a single century, the ideology of our Founding Fathers has become demonized by the people who claim to love the Founders most and defiled by those who claim to love the Founders least.
“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations-
Few other words in the American vernacular provokes such visceral responses from both sides of the political divide as does the word “Liberal“. American Collectivists long ago claimed the term for themselves, contorting the social, political, and philosophical values of the ideology to fit their government centered ideology, while purging the values of individual liberty and sovereign property rights from the term. This usurpation of not just a word, but the Founding ethic of our Republic, would have been impossible, except for the unwitting ignorance of their opposition.
Americans who think themselves the political progeny of the Founding Fathers, as well as the political opposition of Collectivists who have come to dominate our politics, have capitulated the usage of “Liberal” to the Left. Now when these self described “patriots” use the word “Liberal“, it’s usually as a short hand for the very Leftism, Communism, and Collectivism they oppose. These people inject the word with all the partisan venom they can muster, casting the word from their mouth like a rotten morsel of meat.
Even when these people are shown the truth, these people still cling to their prejudices and habits, spitting the word like a curse from their lips, and just like that, the ideology the word represents remains cut off from them. If these people cannot be bothered to reclaim something as simple as a word, how do they fool themselves into believing that they can ever hope to reclaim their nation?
Liberty is For The Win!