Europe, and European civilisation? Where lies its heart? It lies in the Rome of Caesar, the Rome of Cicero. From the fall of the Roman Empire, until the edges of living memory, the throb of the culture of Rome was the heartbeat of European civilisation. Alongside it, beat the secondary hearts of the Church and the Synagogue – but it was Rome that provided the cultural lifeblood of secular Europe.
In the twentieth century, for the first time since the fall of Rome, the blood of Latin has drained from Europe’s arteries. The language of Rome, removed from requirements for university admission in the mid twentieth century, slid rapidly towards oblivion. Our common language, and the common set of ideas that had held Europe together with a unity of purpose for over 2500 years, ideas and language that defined our civilisation, became foreign to us. The measured words of Caesar, and the epic thrill of Vergil, were words and patterns that were once as familiar to every schoolboy in Albion, as ‘Poker Face’.
The fiery prose of Cicero, defending the virtues of the republic, the sharp smut of Catullus, the measured lines of Tacitus and Livy – all are now truly as dust. In 60 years, Europe let slip the painter, and the boat of history drifted silently. Few mourned, and even fewer understood their loss.
As Rome finally fell, the Church and the Synagogue weakened, and faltered. The Biblical text, with its alternative narrative to that of ancient Rome, in the span of a generation became as foreign to most Europeans as the Bhagavadgita.
As a result, we lost the ideological core that has given our civilisation such vitality – the dramatic tension that defined the relationship between the worldview of pagan Rome of the Caesars, and the Bible – Athens and Jerusalem - a tension so extreme, that one could feel it hum – this tension is no more. We still feed off its residues, but for how much longer can a residue sustain? We are slack, irresolute, and weak. A new generation has arisen that knows not Caesar.
Those who are growing up in Europe this century are impoverished. Once, a Briton could declaim, with little irony, ‘Civis Romanus sum.’ A child of this millennium not only cannot, but cannot comprehend the proclamation. The children of our time do not know the ground upon which the idea that is Europe stands. Some feel a sense of loss, a sense of lack, but they know not of what. This generation, defined by consumerism and a shallow palimpsest popular culture, a shadow of Rome, its bread, its circuses, is almost rudderless. Will this generation be able to withstand the force of those in our midst who have not abandoned their founding myths and ideologies? With what will it oppose, if not with mindless fascism? Therein lies the danger of emptiness, and a bloodless heart.
Our anaemic civilisation has lost its narrative, and we have nothing to oppose the ideological purity of those who have not. Is it not time once again to render unto Caesar, those things that are Caesar’s? Is it not time we returned to our roots? Is it not time once again for the virile prose of Rome, and for the pumping blood of Rome to flow?