Liveblogging World War II: June 30, 1943
L'Espret de l'Escalier: June 30, 2013

On the Perpetual Decline of Things, and Niall Ferguson: Answering Ashok Rao's Request Weblogging

Ashok Rao calls for help via the Twitterphone:


Screenshot 6 30 13 9 11 AM

Needless to say, Ashok needs no help. If he wished, he could certainly say, in the immortal words of Darth Vader:

I've been waiting for you, Niall Ferguson. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master…

Nevertheless, I will answer the Twitterphone…

When in 1842 Thomas Babbington Macaulay published his Lays of Ancient Rome--his attempt to write down the poems that the poets of the Roman Republic would have written had they been Scotsmen--he knew damned well what he was doing when he had the narrative voice of his poems lament the fact that the narrative voice's today was an Age of Degeneration:

Then none was for a party;/Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,/And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;/Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers/In the brave days of old.

Now Roman is to Roman/More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high,/And the Fathers grind the low…

For Macaulay understood that for the Old Fogies of every generation (and for the Young Fogies who seek their patronage), things are always worse. And, indeed, for the Old Fogies, they are: they can remember how forty years ago their backs didn't hurt, and they could see, and the world seemed full of possibility.

And Macaulay also knew that this is merely how the Old Fogies view the world, and not a description of reality. Therefore he has his narrative voice continue the passage contrasting the civic virtue of Horatius's Rome with modern degeneracy by writing:

As we wax hot in faction,/In battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought/In the brave days of old…

Reading this, everybody is supposed to recognize that it was the Romans of the narrator's day who conquered the Mediterranean Basin in a fit of absence of mind, while the Romans of Horatius's day were repeatedly paying tribute, ransoming their city from the Gauls, and seeing entire armies of theirs pass sub jugum, and to understand the gap between the narrator's perception and reality.

But what Thomas Babington Macaulay knew, [Niall Ferguson apparently does not…]

From "Horatius":

"Horatius," quoth the Consul,/"As thou sayest, so let it be."
And straight against that great array/Forth went the dauntless Three.
For Romans in Rome's quarrel/Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,/In the brave days of old.

Then none was for a party;/Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,/And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;/Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers/In the brave days of old.

Now Roman is to Roman/More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high,/And the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction,/In battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought/In the brave days of old.

Comments