Death Match: Cicero v Obama
Old things aren't always applicable to current things...but you may find that, most of the time and in some way, they are.
For example, yesterday in church, the homily by the sub-deacon was not his own: rather, it was one written 1500 years ago by Gregory the Great. Although my first instinct was to think, "Oh no...I'm not going to be able to follow all the medieval language and references in this thing!" the homily he proceeded to give was incredibly clear and informative on the Gospel reading.
Admittedly, theology is more static than politics. However, when I was reading "On the Good Life," by Roman orator Marcus Cicero, I was astounded by the applicability and current relevance of many of the words he wrote over 2,000 years ago to modern America's actions regarding property ownership.
Property ownership is a foundational principle of America. John Adams called property "as surely a right as liberty." The recently passed stimulus bill, I believe, throws the concept of this right out of balance--to own property means being able to afford property. For example, we have the right to bear arms...does that mean the government should buy us all handguns? And what if it bought certain people guns, but not others? Moreover, what if it taxed you more to pay for that other person's new-found property?
Cicero faced a similar scenario in Ancient Rome of politicians destroying the equilibrium, and therefore, the justice, of property ownership. Here are a few things he had to say about it:
"When politicians, enthusiastic to pose as the people's friends, bring forward bills providing for the distribution of property, they intend that the existing owners shall be driven from their homes. Or they propose to excuse borrowers from paying back their debts.
"Men with those views undermine the very foundations on which our commonwealth depends. In the first place, they are shattering the harmony between one element in the State and another, a relationship which cannot possibly survive if debtors are excused from paying their creditor back the sums of money he is entitled to. Furthermore, all politicians who harbour such intentions are aiming a fatal blow at the whole principle of justice; for once rights of property are infringed, this principle is totally undermined."
But how do we keep this from happening when families are losing their homes and their jobs?
It's a shame we didn't listen to Cicero 30 years ago:
"The real answer to the problem is that we must make absolutely certain that private debts do not ever reach proportions which will constitute a national peril. There are various ways of ensuring this. But just to take the money away from the rich creditors and give the debtors something that does not belong to them is no solution at all. For the firmest possible guarantee of a country's security is sound credit...
So the men in charge of our national interests will do well to steer clear of the kind of liberality which involves robbing one man to give to another."
It is important to note that Cicero was a wholehearted advocate of generosity; moreover, generosity to the genuinely poor, not those to whom the giver will gain popularity and status by donating. However, he also believed the state is not a charity, and especially so if it is "distributing property" forcibly.
I really am hoping that this "stimulus bill" fixes things. My skepticism is enormous, but since there's nothing I can do about it, I am pulling for its success. Nonetheless, I think my fears regarding the implications this bill may have on our foundational American principles are well founded.
If only Cicero could speak in Senate...
February 16, 2009