Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Roman Virtues: Auctoritas

I'm going to run a series of posts on the traditional virtues. I'll start with the Roman virtues, move on to the Germanic virtues, before finishing with the Christian ones.

I don't claim to be an expert in this field, nor will I assume that all of the traditional virtues are equally worthy.

Auctoritas is possibly not the best virtue to begin with. It's not one that is easily grasped. It seems to have meant a power to influence through prestige or standing rather than through a more direct mechanism of power.

Wikipedia defines auctoritas as follows:

In ancient Rome, Auctoritas referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society, and, as a consequence, his clout, influence, and ability to rally support around his will.

That doesn't make it sound like much of a virtue. But elsewhere it is defined as a spiritual authority and more specifically as,

The sense of one's social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria.

Industria means hard work, pietas means something like a respectful and dutiful attitude toward the natural order in its social, political and religious aspects, including a sense of patriotism.

If this is so, it would mean that a man with auctoritas would earn respect and social standing through his industry, his experience and his sense of duty towards his parents, his family, his country and his religion.

13 comments:

  1. Auctoritas referred to a Roman's political influence. In a highly competitive political atmosphere influence mattered as much as direct power and was highly sought after. Part of your influence came from your ability to reflect the best aspects of Romanness.

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  2. ""In ancient Rome, Auctoritas referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society, and, as a consequence, his clout, influence, and ability to rally support around his will.


    That doesn't make it sound like much of a virtue""


    Only if you don't consider it a useful thing for a society to have men with the ability to rally support through sheer will.

    All societies have such people, and they can be a great force for good or ill.

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  3. In ancient Rome, Auctoritas referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society, and, as a consequence, his clout, influence, and ability to rally support around his will.

    Liberalism is, among other things, a struggle for prestige. In our liberal-dominated societies, the more liberal you are, the more prestige you have, and the more clout, influence, and ability to rally people you have. And of course, the more conservative your ideas, the less prestige and influence you have, and the fewer people rally to you -- too bad, so sad!

    Obama's Auctoritas is huge. What has eroded it since his election is not the obvious catastrophic failure of his policies, but that he has been not liberal enough -- e.g., he failed to close Gitmo and end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan promptly, as he promised to do during the campaign.

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  4. Interesting advice to women from a relationship site.

    http://ismymaninlove.com/how-to-make-a-man-love-you.html

    Under "How to get a man to love you":

    ""The real key is to understand that not all men are going to be interested in you. You can’t expect that any man you select to make yours will reciprocate feelings of attraction. Once you understand this you can begin to spend your time on men who actually have the potential to fall in love with you.""

    Most sensible advice to women I have ever heard. The amount of girls I know who went for an alpha way out of their league, got the predictable result and then moon after him or a similar value man who is never going to return her feelings is slightly scary.

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  5. Interesting idea Anonymous,

    I don't follow the US scene closely but not being left wing enough may make the lefties mad, but it might improve his standing with the general public. I think his biggest problem was the ham fisted health implementation and the recession/large debt. Losing the congress the way he did was a big blow that can't be sugar coated. All the left wing fairy floss was really in addition to the idea that he would be positive for the average people. However it seems that lefties are incapable of providing constructive improvements to people's lives.

    He is still the "international" President, in the way that he was able to rally a coalition and secuirity council vote for Libya

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  6. "He is still the "international" President, in the way that he was able to rally a coalition and secuirity council vote for Libya"

    Liberals love him for this. The way that the UN and other international bodies have more power over him than his loyalty to the USA (Barack Obama doesn't believe in borders plus he is of mixed-heritage). Liberals also naively because the unrest and protests in the Middle East is towards Western liberal democratic freedom when in reality those populations want sharia. Another error they did was their alarm over the nuclear problems in Japan when in reality it isn't that bad.

    On the other hand liberals hate Barack Obama because he isn't left-wing enough on economics and maybe some sections on foreign issues. In fact the DNC shut down because it wasn't left-wing enough for liberals (it was centre-left) --- amnation.com/vfr/archives/018611.html

    I say let liberals take control of everything and let conservatives exit the Republican party. This way it will be more clear that we have left-liberals, right-liberals and traditionalist conservatives.

    "I don't follow the US scene closely but not being left wing enough may make the lefties mad, but it might improve his standing with the general public."

    Yes and no. The general public is spoon-fed and surrounded by liberal messages and indoctrination. The USA educational system is rife with liberal concepts.

    "However it seems that lefties are incapable of providing constructive improvements to people's lives."

    Good point.

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  7. The ability to rally support through appeal to a people's ethos is good, if you assume that that people and their ethos is good, and you are not referring to any other.

    We don't have an equivalent concept, because we don't have a sense of ourselves as a distinct people with a distinct ethos that's inherently good. That's a fault in us, not the Romans.

    'Do what?' said Pippin.

    'Raise the Shire!' said Merry. 'Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don't at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable so long they don't know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they'll go up in fire. The Chief's Men must know that. They'll try to stamp on us and put us out quick. We've only got a very short time.

    'Sam, you can make a dash for Cotton's farm, if you like. He's the chief person round here, and the sturdiest. Come on! I am going to blow the horn of Rohan, and give them all some music they have never heard before.'


    If you think there's great good in the shire, the ability to summon that good is also good. Unless someone has the ability to manifest that virtuous essence and call people to action, what's the good of the underlying potential strength? The community will come to ruin.

    If society's elite only ever calls on "auctoritas" against each other, its virtuousness may be masked, but it still inherently is a virtue.

    A people with no such specific sense of itself, its ethos and the good of being able to rally that ethos is handicapped in cultural competition with others that do.

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  8. Daybreaker said,

    "A people with no such specific sense of itself, its ethos and the good of being able to rally that ethos is handicapped in cultural competition with others that do."

    Yes.

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  9. How is this different from "Leadership," the virtue that functional militaries try to cultivate in their officers and NCOs?

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  10. Bill,

    Its not that different and indeed Roman senators were expected to serve in war and acquit themselves respectfully there. The idea was that it was more tied into the political realm, so your auctorias would include how many people would vote for you and how easily you could influence the political process.

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  11. In addition men had a lot of authority in Roman times. They had near total authority over their family and virtually unlimited authority over slaves. The political realm was competitive so their authority there was more limited. Auctoritas could be interpreted to mean authority in the political realm but it was a little more than that, and also included aspects such as social standing, popular respect and pre eminence.

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  12. Thanks for the blog post Mark! I can't wait to learn more.

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  13. "They had near total authority over their family"

    Legally in the republic a man could kill his children if they had dishonoured him.

    The head of the household was the patriach, especially in the republic.

    Interestingly I have read from some commentators that christianity which had a high rate of female particpation in the early days was seen as a rebellion against the male focused pagan culture.

    I don't buy that 100%, but im sure it could have been an aspect.

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