John Wesley Worthy to M. Tullius Cicero
Having followed with great interest your life-long struggle to preserve the Roman republic, I am naturally grateful for your admiration of America's beginnings. Seldom have so many gifted and energetic statesmen been assembled as in your Roman Senate. Yet men of that calibre are not always above self-interest. Too frequently they interpret public office as public license for acquiring wealth or other advantage. Your own honorable record as governor in Sicily and then again in Asia, although you tried at the time to hold it up as a model for others to follow, turns out to be a great exception. For all their brilliance and talent your ruling classes fail to preserve the constitution of the Roman Republic. In your lifetime the dictators arise.
America in the late 18th century is also granted a sparkling galaxy of statesmen. They are unselfish, publicly oriented men with exceptional gifts. Perhaps most attractive of all, their education steeps them in your work and in your republican ideals. Precisely because they are avid students of Roman history, they accept self-interest as the dominant motive among mankind, and are careful to hedge against it. More than that, they actually devise a way of putting it to work for the common weal. Ironically, they are themselves motivated not by worldly gain, but by a transcendent ideal.
You attribute America's exceptional good fortune to just that, fortune--to your goddess Tyche. Hence you declare that we Americans must be especially grateful for this unlikely confluence of talent and public spirit in our "founding fathers." When I accounted for their success in terms of background and purpose, you became somewhat vehement. But however we take the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the other writings leading at last to the Constitution itself, all that makes up, seen from my vantage out here in the Dust Bowl, only the genetic material, so to speak, of America. America, as I argued earlier, is an idea which emerges only with the arduous and lonely trek, generation by generation, across a new continent.
I look forward to describing the unique American experience. But for now, in closing, permit me to express one more rather odd agreement between the two of us: it is the peculiar mixture of awe and contempt which you bring to your greatest commitment. I find a similar conflict in my own life's work. The American idea has venerable seeds in a rich, deep European ordure. I have devoted my life to sifting through that inheritance at its core in Central Europe. But my outlook is so different from that of my Teutonic and Celtic brethren of today that my attitude toward them is not much different from what you betray when you, the great mediator for the glory of Greek learning, refer to certain people with the term graeculus. I translate it as "dirty little Greek."
In respect and friendship,
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