It is a unitary and organic construction which, by being such, even permeates the political field, i.e., it also presupposes a political organization as the realizer and promoter of the fundamental values resting on the base of the organization itself. And in this special point, we see the contrast between the idea of civilization and the abstract conception of “culture”, as meant in its modern understanding, in which, culture would be a kingdom to itself, alienated from everything that is “political”, instead of being the highest animating and justifying force of the political, as always happened in all traditional civilizations and, at the forefront, let us admit it now, in the Roman civilization.
Now, De Fransicsi studies the ancient Roman world exactly in respect to “civilization” in this precise meaning. Rome was eminently “civilization” and its greatness must speak to us in the sense of this unitary and anti-intellectualist ideal. What was the specific face of such a civilization? What are the fundamental, typical, and constant elements of its “style”? De Francisci considers four above all:
First of all, clarity and simplicity, founded on a precise and certain intuition of reality, and not only of visible reality, but also—it is the merit of our author to recognize it—invisible reality.
While the Romans were realists, they never were materialists: thus few people like the Romans carried with themselves for centuries the conviction of the existence of a will and a transcendent power, to which laws must be adapted and human conduct conformed. But clarity and simplicity are the elements of grandeur
These are reflected—as the echo of something eternal and detached from the small events of individuals, from everything that is pathos and sensibility—in the monumental element of the Roman world, Furthermore, the unity that together is organicity and solidity, founded on a balance of forces and factors, on a wise bond that surpasses and encompasses all varieties, distinctions, complications: unity as formative and organizing power.
An order results from it, which, while “it was experienced as a transcendent system of principles determined by the very nature of things” (which is the ancient Aryan conception of cosmos or rta), is expressed in a rigorous, definite, and essential style: intolerance for everything that is disordered, uncertain, subjective, scattered. Precision and clarity predominate in the ethos, but not as only a human norm, but rather as the rigorous objectification of a supersensible reality.
In that regard, De Francisci rightly opposes those who prefer to portray the ancient Roman as dry, lacking sentiment and imagination. What, alone, remains alien from the Roman soul, was the sterile subjectivism that surrenders itself to the caprices of the arbitrary in which every moral energy is scattered and dissipated:
But not for this reason is his interiority less rich, which consists above all in the adhesion of the spirit to the norms of a higher Order.
This is demonstrated in the three virtues of pietas, fides and gravitas. And, as we ourselves on other occasions have emphasized, the lack of imagination in the Romans is more a sign of superiority than inferiority: it is to be taken in the sense, as De Francisci says:
The imagination of the Romans is not a gratuitous game of intellectual boldness, it is not the creation of a world of images detached from reality, but an instrument to seal this reality in well-defined forms, to frame and organize its forces.
The same thing must be pointed out regarding the accusation made against the Romans of having degraded thought in favour of action. But what thought is this about? No one denies the scarce sympathy of the Romans for theoretical constructions. But action itself, when it proves to be coherent, consistent, and efficacious—De Francisci notes—does that not itself bear witness to a thought, or rather, a higher power of thought? All the history of the Romans stands to demonstrate that they believed in such values and held firm to principles which, through their experience, were defined, made precise, affirmed, and even assumed an ever more universal importance and applicability.
⇐ Part I Part III ⇒