A Suicidal Man Of Principle

Feb 1 2013 @ 9:51am

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Barry Strauss reviews Rome’s Last Citizen, a study of Cato, the ancient statesman who resisted the political designs of Julius Caesar – and thus centuries later became a hero to the American founders, especially George Washington:

[Cato] drove Caesar into
civil war by refusing any compromise. Caesar prevailed, and Cato took
his own life rather than admit defeat. His death capped a career of
standing up for the republic as he saw it. If there was something blind
and wrongheaded about him, there was also something magnificent … Soldiers can take courage from Cato’s example. Politicians should ponder
it with care. His life offers a lesson in particular for conservatives
about the need for tactical compromise to save what’s best of an old
order. For how long should one stand on principle when tectonic shifts
rumble below? If only Cato could have read Tomasi di Lampedusa’s 1958
novel, The Leopard, with its cynical but effective lesson: “If we want things to stay as they are, everything has to change.”

(Image: “Suicide of Cato the Younger” by Charles Le Brun, 1646 from Wikimedia Commons)