Why do academics tend to terminate with extreme prejudice attempts to study western civilizations such as that of ancient Rome? Perhaps they fear the lessons that moderns might learn from them.
For example, ordinary Romans only worked two days a year to support the empire, according to Dr. J. Rufus Fears, a distinguished professor of classics at the University of Oklahoma. That’s the kind of food for thought that most government-subsidized pedagogues want to starve students and their parents of.
America’s Founding Fathers studied the Roman Empire of the first and second century extensively, Dr. Fears points out. Indeed, Edward Gibbons’ classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire first appeared in 1776.
The connection to the Founding Fathers, of course, makes the study of the empire even more problematic for trendy academics. But, as with much else that the higher, and lower, education establishments censor, there is much that everyone can learn from this particular period of history.
“For the Founders, history was the most important discipline a free citizenry could study,” Dr. Fears says. “Today we have a lot of historical knowledge but not much historical thought.”
Dr. Fears defines historical thought as “using the lessons of the past to plan for the present.” For one thing, the Roman Army tried and failed to tame the Middle East.
Ironically, the Roman Army at the height of the Empire had about as many men under arms as the U. S. armed forces currently do—360,000. Although he warns that “the Middle East has been the graveyard of empires,” Dr. Fears gives the U. S. a fighting chance in the region.
He bases this optimism on what he sees as the altruistic goals of the American forces in the region, namely spreading freedom. Here too, history does give some cause for hope. “Today more people live in freedom than at any time in history,” Dr. Fears says.
The classical scholar offered a number of insights on the ancient Romans that did not always fit modern conceptions of the society. For instance, Roman rulers placed a premium on individual freedom and even slaves could, and did, demonstrate upward mobility by buying their way out of bondage.
In his lecture at the Heritage Foundation, Dr. Fears also noted that the civil service in Rome acted as a key check and balance upon miscreant emperors such as Nero and Caligula. “Why does the West produce a Rome and the East a Genghis Khan?,” Heritage communications director Mark Tapscott asked Dr. Fears.
“Freedom has never flourished anywhere that has not been touched by the genius of ancient Greece,” Dr. Fears answered. Dr. Fears, the author of The Theology of Victory at Rome and The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology, is not exclusively an armchair academic content to rely solely on secondary sources: He has gone on archeological digs in Italy.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.