Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How long, O Cruz...

We are a government of laws and a civil society that resolves its differences peacefully (unless you're an American citizen living somewhere that someone can fire a drone at you). Still, as I watch us dragged to the brink of default and the loss of the world's confidence by a group of ignorant, impudent know-nothings, I confess I have thought a great deal about a speech I read in Latin 45 years ago when I was 16, Cicero's first oration against Catiline. Granted, Catiline was plotting a violent coup, which Ted Cruz is not, but the effects of Cruz's behavior will cause a great deal more damage and hurt many more people than Catiline ever dreamt of. Here is the passage that keeps coming back to me:

"You ought, O Catiline, long ago to have been led to execution by command of the consul. That destruction which you have been long plotting against us ought to have already fallen on your own head.

"What? Did not that most illustrious man, Publius Scipio, the Pontifex Maximus, in his capacity of a private citizen, put to death Tiberius Gracchus, though but slightly undermining the constitution? And shall we, who are the consuls, tolerate Catiline, openly desirous to destroy the whole world with fire and slaughter? For I pass over older instances, such as how Caius Servilius Ahala with his own hand slew Spurius Maelius when plotting a revolution in the state. There was—there was once such virtue in this republic, that brave men would repress mischievous citizens with severer chastisement than the most bitter enemy. For we have a resolution of the senate, a formidable and authoritative decree against you, O Catiline; the wisdom of the republic is not at fault, nor the dignity of this senatorial body. We, we alone,—I say it openly, —we, the consuls, are waiting in our duty.

"The senate once passed a decree that Lucius Opimius, the consul, should take care that the republic suffered no injury. Not one night elapsed. There was put to death, on some mere suspicion of disaffection, Caius Gracchus, a man whose family had borne the most unblemished reputation for many generations. There was slain Marcus Fulvius, a man of consular rank, and all his children. By a like decree of the senate the safety of the republic was entrusted to Caius Marius and Lucius Valerius, the consuls. Did not the vengeance of the republic, did not execution overtake Lucius Saturninus, a tribune of the people, and Caius Servilius, the praetor, without the delay of one single day? But we, for these twenty days have been allowing the edge of the senate's authority to grow blunt, as it were. For we are in possession of a similar decree of the senate, but we keep it locked up in its parchment—buried, I may say, in the sheath; and according to this decree you ought, O Catiline, to be put to death this instant. You live,—and you live, not to lay aside, but to persist in your audacity.

"I wish, O conscript fathers, to be merciful; I wish not to appear negligent amid such danger to the state; but I do now accuse myself of remissness and culpable inactivity."

I am also reminded of how Old Hickory referred to his own Vice-President, whose Union-threatening obstructionism was on a level with that of Cruz, as "John Catiline Calhoun."

Our entire way of life cannot be held to ransom by ignorant, perverse fools. Something must be done, and I'm not sure what it is.

© Michael Huggins, 2013. All rights reserved.

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