Thursday, March 10, 2022

When ‘you can think as you please and speak as you think’

I didn't get an education in the classics but I sometimes wish I had. From "What Tacitus knew about tyrants":
.... His judgment of Domitian’s reign was worthy of Orwell: ‘Rome of old [i.e. the republic, 508-27 BC] explored the limits of freedom, but we plumbed the depths of slavery, robbed by informers even of the interchange of speech. We would have lost our memories as well as our tongues had it been as easy to forget as it was to remain silent.’

His writing was of epigrammatic brilliance: ‘the reward of virtue was certain destruction’; ‘capable of ruling, had he never ruled’; ‘the accounts of an autocracy come right only if the autocrat is their sole auditor’; ‘when the state was most corrupt, laws were most abundant’; ‘all conversations with tyrants end with the words “Thank you”.’ He understood other points of view, making the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus say of Romans: ‘Looting, butchery and violation they falsely call “government”, and where they make a desert, they call it “peace”.’ He wondered whether Britons were sensible in starting to ape Roman manners: ‘They call it “civilisation”, when it is an ingredient of slavery.’

Tacitus was fortunate in this respect: as he tells us, he could write as freely as he did only because he survived to live in enlightened times under Trajan (ad 98-117), when ‘you can think as you please and speak as you think’. ....
Peter Jones, "What Tacitus knew about tyrants," The Spectator, March 12, 2022.

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