Friday, December 02, 2011

Lessons from the Roman Conquest of the Britons
November 30, 2011
Nothing forthcoming should be alleged to be in advocacy of theocratic government, a fusion of political and social power repressive to those minds not disposed to believe in the invisible or the not easily demonstrable, and an arrangement of civil government laid to waste during The Enlightenment. But it should be noted the role religion plays in reinforcing the bases of moral authority in the state.

The following is a passage from the Scottish philosopher David Hume’s A History of England. A relatively early section on The Britons, strewn with citations from eminent first hand sources like Julius Caesar and historians of the caliber of Tacitus and the Venerable Bede, makes explicit the necessity of crushing the religion of a conquered people in order to make them obedient and useful servants of the state.

Firstly, let us consider the role of the Druids among the Britons in preserving the social and political order. In this caste resided considerable power, and its functions were varied and vital to the tribe.
The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government; and the Druids, who were their priests, possessed great authority among them. Besides ministering at the altar, and directing all religious duties, they presided over the education of youth; they enjoyed an immunity from wars and taxes; they possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction; they decided all controversies among states as well as among private persons, and whoever refused to submit to their decree was exposed to the most severe penalties. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him: he was forbidden access to the sacrifices or public worship: he was debarred all intercourse with his fellow-citizens, even in the common affairs of life: his company was universally shunned, as profane and dangerous. He was refused the protection of law [f]; and death itself became an acceptable relief from the misery and infamy to which he was exposed. Thus, the bands of government, which were naturally loose among that rude and turbulent people, were happily corroborated by the terrors of their superstition. [FN [f] Caesar, lib. 6. Strabo, lib. 4.]

No species of superstition was ever more terrible than that of the Druids. Besides the severe penalties, which it was in the power of the ecclesiastics to inflict in this world, they inculcated the eternal transmigration of souls; and thereby extended their authority as far as the fears of their timorous votaries. They practised their rites in dark groves or other secret recesses [g]; and in order to throw a greater mystery over their religion, they communicated their doctrines only to the initiated, and strictly forbad the committing of them to writing, lest they should at any time be exposed to the examination of the profane vulgar. Human sacrifices were practised among them: the spoils of war were often devoted to their divinities; and they punished with the severest tortures whoever dared to secrete any part of the consecrated offering; these treasures they kept in woods and forests, secured by no other guard than the terrors of their religion [h]; and this steady conquest over human avidity may be regarded as more signal than their prompting men to the most extraordinary and most violent efforts. No idolatrous worship ever attained such an ascendant over mankind as that of the ancient Gauls and Britons; and the Romans, after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile those nations to the law and institutions of their masters, while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes; a violence which had never, in any other instance, been practised by those tolerating conquerors [i] [FN [g] Plin. lib. 12. cap. 1. [h] Caesar, lib. 6. [i] Sueton. in vita Claudii.]
It is indisputable that no present clergy of modern polities of the Western world wields such unopposed and terrible influence over their people as the Druids over the Britons; though it should be noted that the umma of the Muslim crescent presently fulfill a like role of acting as religious interpreters for the people, and indirectly, of exacting a vicious breed of justice over both social violators and apostates. The parallel is more than enough to justify continued historical analogy, whose fuller implications regarding the West’s enemies will not be fleshed out here (though it may be noted that in a recent argument with an editor of a major website, this author implied that triumphing over the inextricably political doctrine of Islam entailed a breaking of its religious authority).

Thus follows in Hume’s account the actual Roman conquest of the Britons:
The other Britons, under the command of Caractacus, still maintained an obstinate resistance, and the Romans made little progress against them, till Ostorius Scapula was sent over to command their armies. This general advanced the Roman conquests over the Britons; [MN A.D. 50.] pierced into the country of the Silures, a warlike nation who inhabited the banks of the Severn; defeated Caractacus in a great battle; took him prisoner, and sent him to Rome, where his magnanimous behaviour procured him better treatment than those conquerors usually bestowed on captive princes [l]. [FN [k] Tacit. Agr. [l] Tacit. Ann. lib. 12.]
Notwithstanding these misfortunes, the Britons were not subdued; and this island was regarded by the ambitious Romans as a field in which military honour might still be acquired. [MN A.D. 59.] Under the reign of Nero, Suetonius Paulinus was invested with the command, and prepared to signalize his name by victories over those barbarians. Finding that the island of Mona, now Anglesey, was the chief seat of the Druids, he resolved to attack it, and to subject a place which was the centre of their superstition, and which afforded protection to all their baffled forces. The Britons endeavoured to obstruct his landing on this sacred island, both by the force of their arms and the terrors of their religion. The women and priests were intermingled with the soldiers upon the shore; and running about with flaming torches in their hands, and tossing their dishevelled hair, they struck greater terror into the astonished Romans by their howlings, cries, and execrations, than the real danger from the armed forces was able to inspire. But Suetonius, exhorting his troops to despise the menaces of a superstition which they despised, impelled them to the attack, drove the Britons off the field, burned the Druids in the same fires which those priests had prepared for their captive enemies, destroyed all the consecrated groves and altars; and, having thus triumphed over the religion of the Britons [Ed., note], he thought his future progress would be easy in reducing the people to subjection. But he was disappointed in his expectations. The Britons, taking advantage of his absence, were all in arms; and headed by Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, who had been treated in the most ignominious manner by the Roman tribunes, had already attacked with success several settlements of their insulting conquerors. Suetonius hastened to the protection of London, which was already a flourishing Roman colony; but he found, on his arrival, that it would be requisite for the general safety to abandon that place to the merciless fury of the enemy. London was reduced to ashes; such of the inhabitants as remained in it were cruelly massacred; the Romans and all strangers, to the number of 70,000, were every where put to the sword without distinction; and the Britons, by rendering the war thus bloody, seemed determined to cut off all hopes of peace or com- position with the enemy. But this cruelty was revenged by Suetonius in a great and decisive battle, where 80,000 of the Britons are said to have perished; and Boadicea herself; rather than fall into the hands of the enraged victor, put an end to her own life by poison [m]…[FN [m] Tacit. Ann. lib. 14]
As Hume points out, the religious ardor of the Britons was not yet crushed. The Roman Empire’s victory over the unruly tribe was a purely military one. What was required was a process of cultural assimilation, and that meant the suppression of the Britons’ superstition, and intensive education into the Roman way. Thus was the object of Nero’s governor Agricola, as will be shown in the cited passage below:
This great commander formed a regular plan for subduing Britain, and rendering the acquisition useful to the conquerors. He carried his victorious arms northwards, defeated the Britons in every encounter, pierced into the inaccessible forests and mountains of Caledonia, reduced every state to subjection in the southern part of the island, and chased before him all the men of fiercer and more intractable spirits, who deemed war and death itself less intolerable than servitude under the victors. He even defeated them in a decisive action, which they fought under Galgacus, their leader; and having fixed a chain of garrisons between the firths of Clyde and Forth, he thereby cut off the ruder and more barren parts of the island, and secured the Roman province from the incursions of the barbarous inhabitants [n]. [FN [n] Tacit Agr.]
During these military enterprises, he neglected not the arts of peace. He introduced laws and civility among the Britons, taught them to desire and raise all the conveniences of life, reconciled them to the Roman language and manners, instructed them in letters and science, and employed every expedient to render those chains which he had forged both easy and agreeable to them [o]. The inhabitants, having experienced how unequal their own force was to resist that of the Romans, acquiesced in the dominion of their masters, and were gradually incorporated as a part of that mighty empire. [FN [o] Ibid.]
What regret we might have for the fierce and spirited people of the Britons must be contextualized one step further, if we are to grasp the full import of the Romans’ unending campaigns of military and cultural conquest.
This was the last durable conquest made by the Romans; and Britain, once subdued, gave no farther inquietude to the victor.[…]
But the period was now come when that enormous fabric of the Roman empire, which had diffused slavery and oppression, together with peace and civility, over so considerable a part of the globe, was approaching towards it final dissolution. Italy and the centre of the empire, removed, during so many ages, from all concern in the wars, had entirely lost the military spirit, and were peopled by an enervated race, equally disposed to submit to a foreign yoke, or to the tyranny of their own rulers.
Thus we grasp that such a cynical abuse of the instrumentalities of power, used not to preserve one’s cultural and social institutions, but to engage in rapacious conquests over various peoples, leads the absorbing regime to cultural corrosion and dissipation of its moral authority. The result is a collapse of the regime due to rampant and shameless corruption, and a resulting lack of political legitimacy. When the time comes for the depraved rulers to call upon the people to save them from a foreign power or from a mass civil uprising, they find their exhortations fall upon deaf ears. Such was the case with the barbarian invasions, when the Romans, distrustful of arming the populace lest they employ them to revolt, were completely and irrevocably overrun.

Let us extrapolate a few potentially useful lessons that may be applied to the situation today. While one is loathe to blame the political left for the dissolution of religious ardor in the American republic, as we are in a scientific era that makes it difficult to believe in the unseen or to throw up one’s hands at the unknown, it is certain that the left’s socially engineered phenomenon of political correctness has made it a supposed affront to the sensibilities of the unbelievers and the nonbelievers to display the Christian faith. The current regime, like the Romans as they presided over the rebellious Britons, seeks to break the imminently conquered of their spirit by removing their moral and religious fonts of resistance, and to socially cow them into obeisance, and eventually, servitude.

But it is not just with the administrative and legal whip that the statists seek to remold the American populace into more pliable servants of the political class. It is with inducements to luxuriate in the now at the expense of the necessarily harsher future, to distract oneself with idle pleasures as the state persistently and incrementally encroaches upon civil freedoms, and to gradually and all but imperceptibly shift the public sentiment in favor of the state’s domination of society and economy.

This is accomplished foremost by slowly removing the revered and the honored from public display – whether the Bible, the cross, the creche, or the flag. Over the course of a generation, the reinforcement of these patriotic and religious images will have become rarer, their effect on the sentiment of the forthcoming youth weaker, and the resultant void in the individual’s emotional attachment to society the stimulus for implementing the state’s ready-made collectivist ideology. Ever louder, ever more radical, the cries of atheistic state worship that is socialism encapsulated will pour forth, until there can be no moral basis for the state except what the historically ignorant and ideologically indoctrinated have been conditioned to accept. The Pyrrhic victory of the triumphant state will be complete, and the moral, social, and economic decay of the polity accelerated in earnest.