Dialogues of the Dead
by Lord Lyttelton
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Phocion.—I saw no wisdom in accelerating the downfall of my country by a rash activity in provoking the resentment of an enemy, whose arms, I foretold, would in the issue prove superior, not only to ours, but to those of any confederacy we were able to form. My maxim was, that a state which cannot make itself stronger than any of its neighbours, should live in friendship with that power which is the strongest. But the more apparent it was that our strength was inferior to that of Macedon, the more you laboured to induce us, by all the vehemence of your oratory, to take such measures as tended to render Philip our enemy, and exasperate him more against us than any other nation. This I thought a rash conduct. It was not by orations that the dangerous war you had kindled could finally be determined; nor did your triumphs over me in an assembly of the people intimidate any Macedonian in the field of Chaeronea, or stop you yourself from flying out of that field.

Demosthenes.—My flight from thence, I must own, was ignominious to me; but it affects not the question we are agitating now, whether the counsels I gave to the people of Athens, as a statesman and a public minister, were right or wrong. When first I excited them to make war against Philip, the victories gained by Chabrias, in which you, Phocion, had a share (particularly that of Naxos, which completely restored to us the empire of the sea), had enabled us to maintain, not only our own liberty, but that of all Greece, in the defence of which we had formerly acquired so much glory, and which our ancestors thought so important to the safety and independence of Athens. Philip's power was but beginning, and supported itself more by craft than force. I saw, and I warned my countrymen in due time, how impolitic it would be to suffer his machinations to be carried on with success, and his strength to increase by continual acquisitions, without resistance. I exposed the weakness of that narrow, that short-sighted policy, which looked no farther than to our own immediate borders, and imagined that whatsoever lay out of those bounds was foreign to our interests, and unworthy of our care. The force of my remonstrances roused the Athenians to a more vigilant conduct. Then it was that the orators whom Philip had corrupted loudly inveighed against me, as alarming the people with imaginary dangers, and drawing them into quarrels in which they had really no concern. This language, and the fair professions of Philip, who was perfectly skilled in the royal art of dissembling, were often so prevalent, that many favourable opportunities of defeating his designs were unhappily lost. Yet sometimes, by the spirit with which I animated the Athenians and other neighbouring states, I stopped the progress of his arms, and opposed to him such obstacles as cost him much time and much labour to remove. You yourself, Phocion, at the head of fleets and armies sent against him by decrees which I had proposed, vanquished his troops in Eubaea, and saved from him Byzantium, with other cities of our allies on the coasts of the Hellespont, from which you drove him with shame.

Phocion.—The proper use of those advantages was to secure a peace to Athens, which they inclined him to keep. His ambition was checked, but his forces were not so much diminished as to render it safe to provoke him to further hostilities.

Demosthenes.—His courage and policy were indeed so superior to ours that, notwithstanding his defeats, he was soon in a condition to pursue the great plan of conquest and dominion which he had formed long before, and from which he never desisted. Thus, through indolence on our side and activity on his, things were brought to such a crisis that I saw no hope of delivering all Greece from his yoke, but by confederating against him the Athenians and the Thebans, which league I effected. Was it not better to fight for the independence of our country in conjunction with Thebes than alone? Would a battle lost in Boeotia be so fatal to Athens as one lost in our own territory and under our own walls?

Phocion.—You may remember that when you were eagerly urging this argument I desired you to consider, not where we should fight, but how we should be conquerors; for, if we were vanquished, all sorts of evils and dangers would be instantly at our gates.

Aristides.—Did not you tell me, Demosthenes, when you began to speak upon this subject, that you brought into the field of Chaeronea an army equal to Philip's?

Demosthenes.—I did, and believe that Phocion will not contradict me.

Aristides.—But, though equal in number, it was, perhaps, much inferior to the Macedonians in valour and military discipline.

Demosthenes.—The courage shown by our army excited the admiration of Philip himself, and their discipline was inferior to none in Greece.

Aristides.—What then occasioned their defeat?

Demosthenes.—The bad conduct of their generals.

Aristides.—Why was the command not given to Phocion, whose abilities had been proved on so many other occasions? Was it offered to him, and did he refuse to accept it? You are silent, Demosthenes. I understand your silence. You are unwilling to tell me that, having the power, by your influence over the people, to confer the command on what Athenian you pleased, you were induced, by the spirit of party, to lay aside a great general who had been always successful, who had the chief confidence of your troops and of your allies, in order to give it to men zealous indeed for your measures and full of military ardour, but of little capacity or experience in the conduct of a war. You cannot plead that, if Phocion had led your troops against Philip, there was any danger of his basely betraying his trust. Phocion could not be a traitor. You had seen him serve the Republic and conquer for it in wars, the undertaking of which he had strenuously opposed, in wars with Philip. How could you then be so negligent of the safety of your country as not to employ him in this, the most dangerous of all she ever had waged? If Chares and Lysicles, the two generals you chose to conduct it, had commanded the Grecian forces at Marathon and Plataea we should have lost those battles. All the men whom you sent to fight the Macedonians under such leaders were victims to the animosity between you and Phocion, which made you deprive them of the necessary benefit of his wise direction. This I think the worst blemish of your administration. In other parts of your conduct I not only acquit but greatly applaud and admire you. With the sagacity of a most consummate statesman you penetrated the deepest designs of Philip, you saw all the dangers which threatened Greece from that quarter while they were yet at a distance, you exhorted your countrymen to make a timely provision for their future security, you spread the alarm through all the neighbouring states, you combined the most powerful in a confederacy with Athens, you carried the war out of Attica, which (let Phocion say what he will) was safer than meeting it there, you brought it, after all that had been done by the enemy to strengthen himself and weaken us, after the loss of Amphipolis, Olynthus, and Potidaea, the outguards of Athens, you brought it, I say, to the decision of a battle with equal forces. When this could be effected there was evidently nothing so desperate in our circumstances as to justify an inaction which might probably make them worse, but could not make them better. Phocion thinks that a state which cannot itself be the strongest should live in friendship with that power which is the strongest. But in my opinion such friendship is no better than servitude. It is more advisable to endeavour to supply what is wanting in our own strength by a conjunction with others who are equally in danger. This method of preventing the ruin of our country was tried by Demosthenes. Nor yet did he neglect, by all practicable means, to augment at the same time our internal resources. I have heard that when he found the Public Treasure exhausted he replenished it, with very great peril to himself, by bringing into it money appropriated before to the entertainment of the people, against the express prohibition of a popular law, which made it death to propose the application thereof to any other use. This was virtue, this was true and genuine patriotism. He owed all his importance and power in the State to the favour of the people; yet, in order to serve the State, he did not fear, at the evident hazard of his life, to offend their darling passion and appeal against it to their reason.

Phocion.—For this action I praise him. It was, indeed, far more dangerous for a minister at Athens to violate that absurd and extravagant law than any of those of Solon. But though he restored our finances, he could not restore our lost virtue; he could not give that firm health, that vigour to the State, which is the result of pure morals, of strict order and civil discipline, of integrity in the old, and obedience in the young. I therefore dreaded a conflict with the solid strength of Macedon, where corruption had yet made but a very small progress, and was happy that Demosthenes did not oblige me, against my own inclination, to be the general of such a people in such war.

Aristides.—I fear that your just contempt of the greater number of those who composed the democracy so disgusted you with this mode and form of government, that you were as averse to serve under it as others with less ability and virtue than you were desirous of obtruding themselves into its service. But though such a reluctance proceeds from a very noble cause, and seems agreeable to the dignity of a great mind in bad times, yet it is a fault against the highest of moral obligations—the love of our country. For, how unworthy soever individuals may be, the public is always respectable, always dear to the virtuous.

Phocion.—True; but no obligation can lie upon a citizen to seek a public charge when he foresees that his obtaining of it will be useless to his country. Would you have had me solicit the command of an army which I believed would be beaten?

Aristides.—It is not permitted to a State to despair of its safety till its utmost efforts have been made without success. If you had commanded the army at Chaeronea you might possibly have changed the event of the day; but, if you had not, you would have died more honourably there than in a prison at Athens, betrayed by a vain confidence in the insecure friendship of a perfidious Macedonian.



Servius Tullius.—Yes, Marcus, though I own you to have been the first of mankind in virtue and goodness—though, while you governed, Philosophy sat on the throne and diffused the benign influences of her administration over the whole Roman Empire—yet as a king I might, perhaps, pretend to a merit even superior to yours.

Marcus Aurelius.—That philosophy you ascribe to me has taught me to feel my own defects, and to venerate the virtues of other men. Tell me, therefore, in what consisted the superiority of your merit as a king.

Servius Tullius.—It consisted in this—that I gave my people freedom. I diminished, I limited the kingly power, when it was placed in my hands. I need not tell you that the plan of government instituted by me was adopted by the Romans when they had driven out Tarquin, the destroyer of their liberty; and gave its form to that republic, composed of a due mixture of the regal, aristocratical, and democratical powers, the strength and wisdom of which subdued the world. Thus all the glory of that great people, who for many ages excelled the rest of mankind in the arts of war and of policy, belongs originally to me.

Marcus Aurelius.—There is much truth in what you say. But would not the Romans have done better if, after the expulsion of Tarquin, they had vested the regal power in a limited monarch, instead of placing it in two annual elective magistrates with the title of consuls? This was a great deviation from your plan of government, and, I think, an unwise one. For a divided royalty is a solecism—an absurdity in politics. Nor was the regal power committed to the administration of consuls continued in their hands long enough to enable them to finish any difficult war or other act of great moment. From hence arose a necessity of prolonging their commands beyond the legal term; of shortening the interval prescribed by the laws between the elections to those offices; and of granting extraordinary commissions and powers, by all which the Republic was in the end destroyed.

Servius Tullius.—The revolution which ensued upon the death of Lucretia was made with so much anger that it is no wonder the Romans abolished in their fury the name of king, and desired to weaken a power the exercise of which had been so grievous, though the doing this was attended with all the inconveniences you have justly observed. But, if anger acted too violently in reforming abuses, philosophy might have wisely corrected that error. Marcus Aurelius might have new-modelled the constitution of Rome. He might have made it a limited monarchy, leaving to the emperors all the power that was necessary to govern a wide-extended empire, and to the Senate and people all the liberty that could be consistent with order and obedience to government—a liberty purged of faction and guarded against anarchy.

Marcus Aurelius.—I should have been happy indeed if it had been in my power to do such good to my country. But the gods themselves cannot force their blessings on men who by their vices are become incapable to receive them. Liberty, like power, is only good for those who possess it when it is under the constant direction of virtue. No laws can have force enough to hinder it from degenerating into faction and anarchy, where the morals of a nation are depraved; and continued habits of vice will eradicate the very love of it out of the hearts of a people. A Marcus Brutus in my time could not have drawn to his standard a single legion of Romans. But, further, it is certain that the spirit of liberty is absolutely incompatible with the spirit of conquest. To keep great conquered nations in subjection and obedience, great standing armies are necessary. The generals of those armies will not long remain subjects; and whoever acquires dominion by the sword must rule by the sword. If he does not destroy liberty, liberty will destroy him.

Servius Tullius.—Do you then justify Augustus for the change he made in the Roman government?

Marcus Aurelius.—I do not, for Augustus had no lawful authority to make that change. His power was usurpation and breach of trust. But the government which he seized with a violent hand came to me by a lawful and established rule of succession.

Servius Tullius.—Can any length of establishment make despotism lawful? Is not liberty an inherent, inalienable right of mankind?

Marcus Aurelius.—They have an inherent right to be governed by laws, not by arbitrary will. But forms of government may, and must, be occasionally changed, with the consent of the people. When I reigned over them the Romans were governed by laws.

Servius Tullius.—Yes, because your moderation and the precepts of that philosophy in which your youth had been tutored inclined you to make the laws the rules of your government and the bounds of your power. But if you had desired to govern otherwise, had they power to restrain you?

Marcus Aurelius.—They had not. The imperial authority in my time had no limitations.

Servius Tullius.—Rome therefore was in reality as much enslaved under you as under your son; and you left him the power of tyrannising over it by hereditary right?

Marcus Aurelius.—I did; and the conclusion of that tyranny was his murder.

Servius Tullius.—Unhappy father! unhappy king! what a detestable thing is absolute monarchy when even the virtues of Marcus Aurelius could not hinder it from being destructive to his family and pernicious to his country any longer than the period of his own life. But how happy is that kingdom in which a limited monarch presides over a state so justly poised that it guards itself from such evils, and has no need to take refuge in arbitrary power against the dangers of anarchy, which is almost as bad a resource as it would be for a ship to run itself on a rock in order to escape from the agitation of a tempest.


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