Monday, May 20, 2013

The Senatorial Party

I must have read this before, it's my underlining.  But it comes as a revelation:
The most significant thing about Herodotus is that he is the literary expression of a whole people, as cunning in their ability to deal with facts as their prototype, Odysseus, was cunning to deal with monsters.  Herodotus traveled widely and judged rationally of all he saw, but in the vast scope of his story he perforce relied mostly on hundreds of other Greeks who had gone to all the limits of the world with which he dealt, or who had lived before him and handed down to him information on the past, and who were as questioning and as sane as he. 

The epic subject of Herodotus will haunt the philosophy of history from his day to ours. The conflict of molar, obliterative mass civilization emanating from a single power center versus the dynamism of the manifold-centered city-state--eighteenth century America versus 1968 U.S.A.--Herodotus' History is the first large-scale anti-imperialist indictment.  But what is wrong with imperialism?  Did not Persian ecumenical egalitarianism, so like the empire of the Incas, ensure a greater good to a greater number than did the anarchic communalism of Greece?  Eventually the city-state failed so completely that there was no other solution than the takeover of the Persian Empire itself by Alexander.

This would certainly be the utilitarian judgement; but the "Senatorial party"--Herodotus, Tacitus, Cicero, de Tocqueville, Lord Acton--have always disagreed. ...
--So Kenneth Rexroth, Classics Revisited  42-45, at 44-45 (1968).  I really don't remember the phrase "senatorial party," though I underlined it (I believe in the 80s).  It's a beguiling notion until you reflect that it is the party of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.  I assume Rexroth was looking for something more austere and patrician but public-spirited.  The last one I can think of who might meet that model is Lloyd Bentsen.  Am I forgetting anybody important?

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