Skip to comments.Coriolanus Again
Posted on 02/18/2003 6:00:02 PM PST by Axion
Weekly Column - Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003
by J. R. Nyquist
On seeing the anti-war protests around the world, on hearing the socialist rhetoric of the organizers, I am reminded of Shakespeares play about the Roman hero Coriolanus. The first line of the play reads: Enter a company of mutinous citizens, with staves, clubs, and other weapons. The mutinous citizens are angry because there is a great power in the world and they resent this power. Authority is robbery, says the mobs leader. He then adds, Our sufferance is a gain to them. Let us revenge this with our pikes .
In todays Western world, as in Shakespeares Rome, the protestors do not focus on their real enemies. Saddam Hussein could prevent war by doing as he previously agreed. But he is not the enemy of the people whose caricatured face appears on so many banners. The enemy of the people, the man who is berated and mocked, is President George W. Bush. The power that is resented is American power.
Aggrieved envy wants its revenge, and its focus is not the sanguinary tyrant, the Tarquin oppressor, but the peoples defender, the most distinguished man, whose name in Shakespeares play is Caius Marcius (afterwards called Coriolanus).
What did Caius Marcius do to merit the hatred of the Roman mob?
Caius Marcius committed the same sin that George Bush has committed today. He championed his country against its enemies. In all times, in all places, the leading man of the day is also the most enviable. And envy is hatred. Let us kill him, and well have corn at our own price, say the mutinous citizens.
Consider you what services he has done for his country, say the good citizens. Think of the dangers he personally faces as a target of enemy weapons. Ah, yes, this is true, admits the mutinous citizen, but he pays himself with being proud. This is said to be arrogance, which by its own logic resents the mean ingratitude of the rabble. It is the arrogance of America against the ingratitude of France and Germany. It is the arrogance of an America or a Rome, so talented in politics and war, that it brings stability and prosperity to the very enemies it invades and conquers.
Enter Menenius Agrippa, a beloved citizen of Rome. He asks his countrymen what their intentions are. The mutinous citizens are against the countrys leading citizen. They oppose the state and its hero. Why masters, my good friends, mine honest neighbours, will you undo yourselves?
The mob leader answers Agrippa by saying, We are undone already.
Menenius responds, You slander the helms o the state, who care for you like fathers, when you curse them as enemies.
The leader of the mob rejects this as ridiculous. The patricians the rich and powerful neer cared for us yet: -- suffer us to famish their storehouses crammed with grain repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will: and theres all the love they bear us."
Menenius calls this, wondrous malicious. He opposes this misunderstanding with a parable about a time when all the bodys members rebelled against the belly; thus accused it: -- that only like a gulf it did remain in the midst of the body, idle and inactive never bearing like labour with the rest. To the discontented and rebellious members, the belly defends its privilege with the following words:
True it is, my incorporate friends that I receive the general food at first, which you do live upon; and fit it is, because I am the store-house and the shop of the whole body: but, if you do remember, I send it through the rivers of your blood, even to the heart, to the seat of the brain. Truly, says the belly, See what I do deliver out to each, yet I can make my audit up, that all from me do back receive the flour of all, and leave me but the bran.
The socialist, the enemy of the rich man, will laugh at this parable. For them, all wealth is oppression. Those less equal are the victims of injustice. This is an old notion used to stir up the lower classes against distinguished citizens. The story of Caius Marcius Coriolanus is the story of how the chief defender of Rome was defeated, humiliated and exiled by the peoples tribunes. Romes democratic party stripped Coriolanus of the executive office he had won. They reversed his election, saying it was improper.
Shakespeares play continues thus: The world is finally at peace now that the defender of the state has been removed. Here we do make his friends blush that the world goes well. But the world does not go well. Rome is threatened once again, but this time Caius Marcius Coriolanus is not on Romes side.
Imagine if Germany and France succeeded in driving America out of Europe. Imagine if the anti-American protestors in South Korea succeeded in souring Americas attitude toward the Korean people. The anti-American party might congratulate themselves that the world goes well. But the fools only undo themselves by turning against their chief defender.
Cutting ingratitude can wear out the good will of magnanimous power. Consider the Americans who fell at Normandy, who fell in the Belgian forests, in the isles of the Pacific who fell also on the cold rough ground of Korea, and in the heat of Southeast Asia. American blood stained these lands for the prosperity and freedom of all. Where American arms have triumphed there is a better life. Where American arms have failed there is dictatorship, oppression and warlike preparations against the free world.
In Shakespeares play the worst happens. The hero is alienated from those he defended. The enemy thrusts forth his horns again into the world; which were inshelled when Marcius stood for Rome, and durst not once peep out.
It is almost comical to hear the once mutinous citizens deny their malice against the hero. They did not mean to send him away. They were never ungrateful. It was a misunderstanding!
America, like Caius Marcius Coriolanus, has the gift of power, the gift of making war. Used chiefly for the good, American power has restrained Nazism, Japanese imperialism, fascism and communism. Today American power wrestles with Islamic terrorists and the rogue states that support them. Almost 18 months ago, Americas two tallest buildings were leveled by terrorist strikes. Thousands were killed. Of all the worlds leaders, Saddam Hussein publicly heralded the attack as justified. And now that Saddam Hussein is threatened with destruction in turn, Osama bin Laden raises his voice in defense of Saddam. (This happened last week.)
The most important thing in politics and war is to know the difference between enemies and friends. Once this knowledge is acquired it must be applied. We must be for ourselves and against our enemies. The protestors of the past weekend, like the mutinous Roman mob of Shakespeares play, do not know their friends from their enemies. The protest was not merely against war, but against a particular party in an international dispute. The protestors were not demonstrating against Saddams weapons of mass destruction. They were protesting against the Wests leading champion, the American president.
There is one more point to add. President Bush, like Caius Marcius Coriolanus, has faults and limitations like anyone else. But these faults and limitations do not justify the protestors. If we should be against imperfection in principle, then we should be against ourselves each and every man his own enemy. Herein lies the absurdity of the protests.