Monday, May 22, 2006

Deja vu?

My friend Kahunah at Dogs of Atlantis and I are having a debate over what the current state of our country is. He sees it resembling the end of the Weimar Republic, and I thought of Rome. I told him our loss of the Soviet Union as rival was akin to Rome losing Carthage. And, to quote Augustine:

“Moreover, a people becomes avaricious and luxurious by prosperity; and it was this which that very prudent man [P. Cornelius Scipio] Nasica was endeavoring to avoid when he opposed the destruction of the greatest, strongest, wealthiest city of Rome's enemy. He thought that thus fear would act as a curb on lust, and that lust being curbed would not run riot in luxury, and that luxury being prevented avarice would be at an end; and that these vices being banished, virtue would flourish and increase the great profit of the state; and liberty, the fit companion of virtue, would abide unfettered.”
-- Augustinus, Bishop of Hippo, City of God, I, 31

Scipio Nasica lost his case, and Carthage was despoiled.

The result of this? Consider the following, written in 1961 during the days of the Kennedy White House -- considered by many as our last days of innocence:

“Wherever crowds gather in suffocating numbers, wherever rents rise steeply and housing conditions deteriorate, wherever a one-sided exploitation of distant territories removes the pressure to achieve balance and harmony nearer at hand, there the precedents of Roman building almost automatically revive, as they have today: the arena, the tall tenement, the mass contests and exhibitions, the football matches, the international beauty contests, the strip tease made ubiquitous by advertisement, the constant titillation of the senses by sex, liquor and violence -- all in true Roman style. So, too, the multiplication of bathrooms and over-expenditure on broadly-paved motor roads and, above all, the massive collective concentration on glib ephemeralities of all kinds, performed with supreme technical audacity. These symptoms are the end: magnification of demoralized power, minifications of life. When these signs multiply, Necropolis is near, though not a stone has yet crumbled. For the barbarian has already captured the city from within.”

-- Lewis Mumford, The City in History (New York: 1961), p 262; quoted in Arthur Kahn, The Education of Julius Caesar (New York: 1986), p. x.

Not too long after 1961 -- indeed, perhaps because of Kennedy sucessfully standing up to the Soviet premier, Russia declined as a power and fell apart. And the threat of Russian reply held the United States in check from anything too extreme. As did our reply check the Kremlin. And both of which kept Germany divided long enough to prevent her rise to power again [unlike the Treaty of Versailles, which attempted to do the same thing]. Without them, who is to check us from devolving into a war such as Rome had with her Italian allies 90 B. C. over the question of Citizenship? Or check us from the next generation after that war, when Julius Caesar wound up witnessing the fall of the Roman Republic?

Monday, May 15, 2006

The golden door....

I was talking to a cousin of mine yesterday over how I had gotten some mail delivered. It was a response from the Louisiana Secretary of State, and his office was sending me copies of vital records I requested. My cousin found it very tormenting that her grandmother's great-grandfather was a native of Spain. This cousin thoroughly enjoys the language, culture, and food of Germany [and wants to go visit there]. But French and Spanish ancestry my cousin found mocking; yet German was different.

With the immigration battle raging not far away in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona [at least, the front line of it], I told her that FDR was right: save only for the Native Americans, we all come from immigrants. Ours had come legally and gotten naturalization. For New Orleans, they mostly came from France at first, and then Spain; only later Germany and Italy. And Spain tied her policy to France ever since 1700 when Carlos II of Spain chose his French cousin as heir: the royal family of Spain is senior male line to the throne of France. Only the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 bars them from it.

In my case, all my Spanish lines are legal, but many of the protests center on their cousins since Mexicans are mostly either Spanish -Indian or pure Indian. [And we're not even counting the ones coming from Central American countries up through Mexico to here...]. So is it any wonder that the cousins of the Natives we European immigrants massacred, interred, and coughed on are coming back? Quel suprise!

Friday, May 12, 2006


For my first post, an introduction. What struck me about an ancient wayfarer? Two things, mostly. First, of all the functions I assumed in my childhood, the one of messenger to my parents is the one I recall most. My parents agreed on very little in their marriage, and often needed a messenger lest their communication devolve to shouting matches. I was Hermes to their Zeus and Hera.

And as for the other reason, it has to do with my deep interest in history and genealogy. I like to think that Augustine wasn't off track in seeing a continuity in History. The path that history chooses to follow are often winding roads, crossing over itself many times in various places. But the path remains unbroken.

So I hope to put here many interesting pathways that don't seem to have a glaringly obvious connection. Until we follow them.

This allows all sorts of things. Among others, Cicero's hope for all social classes to get along. And, with my genealogical arguments, for a great many of our population to embrace itself as one big family.