FIRST PRINCIPLES: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans And How it Shaped Our Country | Thomas Ricks, Harper, 387p.
The book provides a focused look into the education of America’s “founding” class. It traces the learning of each of the first four Presidents & several other leaders of the nation’s forming. Along the way, you learn only of 9 out of the 98 original framers had a parent who went to college. While religious texts were widely quoted, they were seldom read and set aside in favor of Roman classics.
During the winter of Valley Forge, the Army staged several showings of the drama “Cato, a Tragedy.”
The Founding Fathers thought “virtue” was indispensable to the survival of a Republic. Ricks, the book’s author, states virtue to them “meant putting the common good before one’s interests.” It is evident elsewhere Ricks is suggesting that the Founders believed in some form of communitarianism or socialism. The twists to connect those dots require an author to fail to understand the ancient concepts of virtue (ignorance) or is purposefully misdirecting (an ideological advocate, not a historian).
Take Roman virtue - for Ricks contends that Founders were enamored with Rome, not Greece - they fall into two rough spheres: civic (public) and personal (self). The public sphere includes military “virtues,” or what modern cultists would term “toxic masculinity.” Washington embodied these, amongst others. After all, virtue itself is a Latin word deriving from virility, and it undeniably meant “manliness” in ancient times. Other core virtues included:
* Fides (good faith, loyalty).
* Honestas (honesty, humanity).
* Disciplina (self-control, restraint).
* Salubritas (Dignity, truthful, purity).
* Pietas (Duty, dedication, respectful).
* Constantia (endurance, perseverance, courage).
* Innocentia (selfless, charity).
* Hospitium (hospitality).
* Iustitia (order, justice, responsibility).
Ricks lets his agenda get ahead of his intellectual rigor and, in a manner, his virtue. This aside, the book is an excellent addition to those interested in this period of our history by providing a focused look into the mindset of those who shaped our institutions. It is impeccably researched & full of nods to books long faded, worth discovering.