Ambitus maior est dignitas hominis
“A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions:” a simple phrase that, in typical Roman fashion, played to the idea that men are worth something more than the simple flesh and blood they are born into.
In our times of excess and apathy, one would be wise to turn to the wisdom of the ancients for advice.
Modern America has in many ways become so detached from human reality, and so absorbed with the pursuit of wealth, that we have given up on the virtues that make the Republic strong.
We are not the only society to do this, nor will we be the last, however if we want to be remembered throughout history as a people that slipped into degeneracy and chaos, then we are certainly on the right course.
This does not have to be, however.
In the year 264 BC, two societies sat facing each other across the Mediterranean. To the north, the Senate and People of Rome controlled the Italian peninsula. To the south, the Carthaginian Empire stretched across North Africa and onto the Iberian Peninsula.
Both were governed by a senatorial body, however beyond that, these two societies could not have been more different.
The Romans, while having in place a hierarchal system of nobility that included material wealth, valued human virtue over riches. The Roman citizen soldiers were in many ways more highly respected and valued in society than were the nobles.
The middle class soldier-farmer who, at the call of his country, could take up arms to defend the Republic with order and discipline, was considered the highest level of virtuoso. Even the nobles, who attained their position through birth, were expected to be as well educated as possible, and were only then truly considered a part of the upper classes.
Carthage, on the other hand, was a society that placed human value solely on the attainment of wealth. For a Carthaginian, you could rise and fall through the social classes as quickly as you could gain or lose personal riches.
Carthaginian society was an oligarchy, run by a senatorial body made up of the wealthiest individuals who contracted armies of mercenaries to fight their wars, rather than rely on the citizenry of the empire.
Without delving into too much detail, anyone who has had a K-12 education knows that it was the Romans who were the victorious progenitors of Western society, not the Carthaginians.
While our founding fathers intended us to be a republic with roots in the values of Rome, which does modern America more resemble now? A republic built on virtuoso or a society which values the material, extrinsic wealth over everything else?
This is not to say that we have given up on our Greco-Roman roots completely, however it is safe to say that we have strayed far, far away from them.
Every aspect of our society, from the overwhelming and unnecessary attention we put on reality television stars to the gross levels of corporate power over our political process, has become saturated with the notion that your riches define you.
Wealth should not define the worth of a person.
This is not to say that wealth is meaningless, because in many cases wealth is itself a sign of the hard-work and perseverance of a person. But that is exactly how it should be valued, as a side effect of the greater virtuous nature displayed by said person.
When wealth becomes the only thing that matters, things like honor, patriotism, loyalty to one’s family and friends, all become irrelevant, and society as a whole ceases to function, or as in the case of Carthage, is defeated by a stronger, more principled one.
We have the ability to change course now, before it is too late.
The annals of history will write about the great society that was the United States. It is up to us to decide whether we go down as a model to emulate, or one to avoid.
Erick Werner is a college student and West Ranch alumni.