Category Archives: History

Rule Five Cato’s Letters Friday

I’ve been re-reading Cato’s Letters, or Essays on Liberty Civil and Religious and Other Important Subjects (Complete), a series of essays  published by “The Library of Alexandria” and compiled by two characters using the nom de plumes John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.  The essays were first published from 1720 to 1723 and formed a strong influence on the thinking of many of our Founding Fathers.

Named for the famous Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato, he of the staunch republican opinions, the notorious Stoic who opposed the tyranny of Caesar unto his last breath, the Letters are a pioneering set of statements in favor of the principles of liberty, and of limits on and accountability of government.

From Wikipedia:  The Letters are considered a seminal work in the tradition of the Commonwealth men. The 144 essays were published originally in the London Journal, later in the British Journal, condemning corruption and lack of morality within the British political system and warning against tyranny.

I can’t recommend this work strongly enough.  A statement you’ll see just over to the right, one of the two founding sentiments of this blog, is from the Letters:  Nisi forte non de serveitute, sed de conditione serviendi, recusandum est a nobis or, in English, “We do not dispute about the qualifications of a master, for we will have no master.”

Damn right.

A few interesting excerpts follow.

From No. 11, The Justice and Necessity of punishing great Crimes, though committed against no subsisting Law of the State. 

Laws, for the most part, do not make crimes, but suit and adapt punishments to such actions as all mankind knew to be crimes before. And though national governments should never enact any positive laws, never annex particular penalties to known offences; yet they would have a right, and it would be their duty to punish those offences according to their best discretion; much more so, if the crimes committed are so great, that no human wisdom could foresee that any man could be wicked and desperate enough to commit them.

In other words, one of the few legitimate roles of government is protecting citizens from being deprived of their property by force or by fraud; but, should government fail in that task, the citizen has a moral right to redress by other means.

From No. 15, Of Freedom of Speech:  That the same is inseparable from publick Liberty.

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as publick liberty, without freedom of speech: Which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.

The only limits to freedom of speech, then, are that one may not cause physical or financial harm to another.  Thus incitements to violence are not protected, nor is slander or libel.  But “hate speech,” by which term many today choose to define as “speech I don’t agree with” not only is protected, but must be protected, else the very concept of freedom of speech is meaningless.

From No. 33, Cautions against the natural Encroachments of Power.

It is nothing strange, that men, who think themselves unaccountable, should act unaccountably, and that all men would be unaccountable if they could: Even those who have done nothing to displease, do not know but some time or other they may; and no man cares to be at the entire mercy of another. Hence it is, that if every man had his will, all men would exercise dominion, and no man would suffer it. It is therefore owing more to the necessities of men, than to their inclinations, that they have put themselves at last that he might do what he would, he let loose his appetite for blood, and committed such mighty, such monstrous, such unnatural slaughters and outrages, as none but a heart bent on the study of cruelty could have devised.

To simplify:  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It’s important to remember the context of the times in which these essays were written.  The early 18th century was a time when slavery was broadly accepted, when pirates were hanged without trials, when women were excluded from government altogether.  But the Letters are nonetheless an opening shot in the battle which continues today, here in the United States, where encroachments on liberty are daily proposed.

Go, then, and read these works.  You can get a free Kindle app for a PC and the Kindle version (linked above) is only four bucks.  You could hardly find a better way to spend four bucks.

Animal’s Daily Stoned Vikings News

A recent find makes one wonder if Vikings in a Newfoundland settlement may have been getting high.  Excerpt:

The discovery of cannabis pollen near a Viking settlement in Newfoundland raises the question of whether the Vikings were smoking or eating pot while exploring North America.

The researchers also found evidence the Vikings occupied this outpost for more than a century, way longer than previously believed.

Located in northern Newfoundland, the site of L’Anse aux Meadows was founded by Vikings around A.D. 1000. Until now, archaeologists believed that the site was occupied for only a brief period. The new research, published today (July 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the Vikings lived there possibly into the 12th or even the 13th century.

In August 2018, an archaeological team excavated a peat bog located nearly 100 feet (30 meters) east of the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. They found a layer of “ecofacts” — environmental remains that may have been brought to the site by humans — that were radiocarbon dated to the 12th or 13th century.

These ecofacts include remains of two beetles not native to Newfoundland — Simplocaria metallica, from Greenland, and Acidota quadrata, from the Arctic. The layer also held pollen from Juglans (walnuts) and from Humulus (cannabis), two species that don’t naturally grow at L’Anse aux Meadows; rather, the Vikings could have picked up all of these plant and animal species when they sailed south.

Now, color me skeptical.  While this find is amazing – actual, hard evidence of repeated Viking occupation in the New World, predating Columbus – the headline is sensationalist nonsense.  The presence of hemp pollen isn’t any sort of evidence at all that these Norsemen were smoking or eating marijuana.  All plants of the hemp family have a variety of uses, not least of which are rope and clothing, two things that a pioneer settlement needs plenty of.

It’s too bad; LiveScience does this fascinating story a disservice with an unsupported, sensationalist headline.

Still, the story itself, that’s interesting stuff.  Two hundred years before Columbus, men and women in open longboats, with no sextants, no compasses, no clocks, crossed the Atlantic and established a settlement in what is now Canada.  And, they did it more than once.  That’s courage you have to admire.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Here’s a really neat model of Imperial Rome, circa 4th century AD.  Excerpt:

Rome was not built in a day and the ‘most accurate’ model of Ancient Rome is testament to this as it took archaeologist Italo Gismondi 35 years to build.

The Plastico di Roma imperiale (model of imperial Rome) was actually commissioned by Mussolini in 1933 and is so realistic that a few shots of it were used in the film Gladiator.

The model can be viewed today in the Museum of Roman Civilisation in Rome, Italy.The Roman Empire began shortly after the founding of the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC and reigned for thousands of years until the fall of the last Western emperor in 476 AD

It is so useful because it helps a lot of academics visualise Rome to aid their studies and gives a lot more context to famous structures, like the Colosseum, which we are used to seeing as stand alone buildings.

Roman cities were laid out so efficiently that it can also teach us more and inspire us about infrastructure in modern society.

But here are a few things the article gets wrong:

The Roman Empire began shortly after the founding of the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC and reigned for thousands of years until the fall of the last Western emperor in 476 AD.

From the 6th century BC until 27 BC, when Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavian became effectively the first Emperor, is hardly “shortly after.”  And even then, Octavian, later Caesar Augustus, never called himself Emperor, only princeps, or First Citizen.

It evolved from a monarchy to a democratic republic and finally to a military dictatorship.

Rome was never a “democratic” republic.  While it did claim republican principles, in fact, the Roman Senate was selected from the nobility; the common people had very little say in affairs of state.

One of the most well-known Roman emperors is Julius Caesar, famously assassinated in 44BC, who is largely credited for his military mind and laying the foundations for the Roman Empire.

Caesar was never emperor.  He never used the title himself and never was referred to as such by his contemporaries.  He was Dictator, a position spelled out in and legal under Roman law.  While he was largely responsible for the fall of the Republic and the descent of Rome into tyranny, the title should not be applied to Julius Caesar.

But none of that should detract from the wonder that it took Italo Gismondi 35 years to build.  It was an amazing feat, this gifted man’s life’s work, and I’ve added it to my bucket list of items I must see when one day I visit Rome, that wellspring of Western civilization.