The "Elements of Style" of the Original Roman Spirit

(from "Men Among the Ruins")




[…] we should be able to extract from the Roman spirit a living content that has nothing to do with rhetorical assumptions or with museums and scholarly dissertations, such that even a simple man could understand it without the need of erudition and historical notions. To this effect, I have spoken about "elements of style." These elements have to be drawn from what we know about the Roman tradition and customs; in this case too, we need to discriminate among various types of Roman spirit. Alongside the Roman spirit of the origins, which reproduced in a special and original form a type of culture and custom common to the main, higher Indo-European civilizations, there were a Hellenized (in the negative sense of the term), a "Punicized," a "Ciceronian," an "Asiaticized," and a Catholic Roman spirit. The reference points should not be sought in these cases. Everything that is valid in them can be reduced to the first Roman spirit.


This original Roman spirit was based on a human type characterized by a group of typical dispositions. Among them we should include self-control, an enlightened boldness, a concise speech and determined and coherent conduct, and a cold dominating attitude, exempt from personalism and vanity. To the Roman style belong virtus, in the sense not of moralism, but of virile spirit and courage; fortitudo and constantia, namely spiritual strength; sapientia, in the sense of thoughtfulness and awareness; disciplina, understood as love for a self-given law and form; fides, in the specifically Roman sense of loyalty and faithfulness; and dignitas, which in the ancient patrician aristocracy became gravitas and solemnitas, a studied and moderate seriousness. The same style is characterized by deliberate actions, without grand gestures; a realism that is not materialism, but rather love for the essential; the ideal of clarity, which eventually turned into rationalism in only some Latin peoples; an inner equilibrium and a healthy suspicion for every confused form of mysticism; a love for boundaries; the readiness to unite, as free human beings and without losing one's identity, in view of a higher goal or for an idea. We may also add religio and pietas, which do not mean "religiosity" in the Christian sense of the word, but instead signify for a Roman an attitude of respectful and dignified veneration for the gods and, at the same time, of trust and re-connection with the supernatural, which was experienced as omnipresent and effective in terms of individual, collective, and historical forces. Obviously, I am far from suggesting that every Roman man and woman embodied these traits; however, they represented the "dominant factor" and were embodied in the ideal that everybody perceived to be specifically Roman.


Likewise, these elements of style are self-evident. They are not connected to past times; they may act in every period as character-forming influences and effective values as soon as a corresponding calling is awakened. They have a normative value. In the worst case, they might have only the value of a measure. Moreover, we should not think they must be adopted by every individual; this would be absurd and even unnecessary. It would suffice if only a certain social stratum, called to inspire the others, could embody them.




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