HILL: The Roman Way to save America

A construction worker is framed by a statue of Roman Emperor Julius Cesar in downtown Rome, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The essence of being an American comes from the philosophies, the ethos, the literature and the history of the Roman Republic and Greek democracies dating back 2500 years.  

There’s no getting around those two basic fundamental facts. 

The very definition of our form of government, our democratic republic, comes from the Greek dēmokratia (rule by the people) and the Latin respublica, (thing of the public). We Americans live in “a thing of the public ruled by the people”, if that clears anything up for posterity’s sake. 

One basic fact which has been proven time and time again is that great leaders lead nations to great success. Crummy leaders don’t. 

Edith Hamilton, the renowned classicist educator and authority about Greek and Roman culture and history, wrote “The Roman Way” in 1932. Here’s what she had to say about what it took for the Roman Republic and to prosper for over five hundred years: 

“The thing of paramount importance (to a Roman), away beyond everything else, was politics. Throughout the great days of the Republic, it had been the field both of duty and honor. A good man, a great man ― both terms were synonymous with a patriotic man. Goodness apart from patriotism did not exist to the Roman. All the men who counted, (such as Cicero, noted nearby in abridged version of his essay “On Old Age”) whether by birth or property, had been brought up in the tradition that they were bound to be politicians first; whatever else they might take up must be treated as of secondary importance… 

“The best brains, the strongest characters, had always been at the absolute disposal of the state. Her service had been at once their chief obligation and their greatest joy”. 

Do we have the “best brains” and the “strongest characters” now in America serving in public office at every level of government? We certainly have an open democracy where any citizen can pay the filing fee and become a candidate for public office which is, in itself, a great and admirable part of a free society. No one wants to live in an America where only a chosen few get to rule due to wealth or hereditary status. 

Do we have “the very best” elected representatives serving in government who have proven they are “the smartest” or “have the highest moral and ethical character” in any field of endeavor outside of politics? 

Hardly. In many cases, political party leaders and independent campaign committee directors have chosen a person to run for a particular office regardless of their talent or ability.  They were chosen to toe the party line and vote as they are told by party leaders.  

What kind of true leader can such a person be really if they are told what to do by others? 

Such candidates win by default because men and women of great ability have willfully chosen not to run against them. It is as if top-ranked Duke or Carolina basketball teams have chosen to not take the court against a far inferior D-3 or NAIA college team. 

Is it too much trouble for anyone to fight to restore America to its foundational principles? If good-to-great people won’t do it, who is left to do it then? 

Who would be in an ideal Senate if America followed the Roman example? Would it be full of leaders such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos; Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brady and 94 other proven leaders from every sector of the United States society and economy? 

That is what the Roman Republic Senate used to look like 2,500 years ago. That is what it looked like at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1776 and in 1787 when the very best and brightest citizens essentially volunteered their enormous talents to pass two of the greatest living documents in world history, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

Today, our greatest leaders are not in Washington, state capitals or serving in local government.  They are at home, at work or on a trip somewhere reading and griping about how poorly our nation is being run across-the-board. 

Maybe we need a call to public service such as when President Kennedy started the Peace Corps. Every talented and successful person should be asked or challenged to run for public office at any level of government at least once during their lifetime. 

Call it “The Roman Way To Save America.”