Vital Signs

Thirst for Empire

Tacitus, writing about Caesar Augustus and the beginnings of the Roman Empire, says, “How few were left who had seen the republic!”

How few are left.  Tacitus also mourns that the “State had been revolutionized, and there was not a vestige left of the old morality.”  John Dickinson, who, like many of the founders of the American republic, was a student of Tacitus, warned in his defense of the Constitution that two things would doom the American experiment.  One is the “imitation of foreign fashions.”  He said, “May her citizens aspire at a national dignity in every part of conduct, private as well as public.” 

Dickinson said that the other thing was even more dangerous: the “thirst of empire.  This is a vice that ever has been, and from the nature of things, ever must be, fatal to republican forms of government.”  How few are left who have seen the republic.

Private conduct aside—and it is very difficult to convince even the small minority of our young people who have been reared in two-parent Christian homes that there is a direct relation between the health of the soul and the health of the republic—our good leaders are now seeking to be emperors.  I think we do have good leaders.  George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice—all are good and decent people,...

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