Letter: Speech by Cato centuries ago still rings true today

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 11:11 PM


Even though I am not a historian, I do read it occasionally and this strikes a chord with me:

“I am very differently affected ... when I view our present situation and the danger we are in, and then consider the proposals made by some senators who have spoken before me. They appear to me to have reasoned only about the punishment of those who have entered into a combination to make war on their country, on their parents, on religion, and private property; whereas, our present circumstances warn us rather to guard against them than to consider in what manner we may punish them.

“ ... You who have always valued your splendid palaces, your pictures, your statues, more than the welfare of the state; if you are desirous to preserve these things which, whatever their real value be, you are so fond of; if you would have leisure for pursuing your pleasures; rouse for once out of you lethargy, and take on you the defense of the state.

“ ... Often I have complained of the luxury and avarice of our fellow citizens. ... And though you have little regarded my remonstrances, yet the commonwealth remained firm; her native strength supported her even under the negligence of her governors. But the present debate is not about the goodness or depravity of our morals, nor about the greatness or prosperity: no; it is whether this empire such as it is, continue on our own, or, together with ourselves, fall a prey to the enemy. We have long since lost the true names of things. To give away what belongs to others is called generosity; to attempt what is criminal, fortitude; and thence the state is reduced to the brink of ruin.

“... Do you think it was by arms our ancestors raised the state from small beginnings to such grandeur? ... But there were other things from which they derived their greatness, such as we are entirely without. They were industrious at home and exercised an equitable government abroad; their minds were free in council, swayed by neither crimes nor passions. Instead of these virtues, we have luxury and avarice; poverty in the state, and great wealth in the members or it: we admire riches and abandon ourselves to idleness; we make no distinction between the virtuous and the wicked; and all the rewards of virtue are possessed by ambition. Nor is it at all strange, while each of you pursues his separate interest; while you abandon yourselves to pleasure at home, and here in the Senate are slaves to money or favor, that attacks are made on the state. ...”

From a speech by Marcus Porcius Cato in 63 B.C.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” — Sir Edmund Burke.

Sharon Duff