Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
Over four centuries ago, in 1612, Francis Bacon published his essay “Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates” as part of the enlarged second edition of his “Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed.”
Bacon, first Viscount St. Alban, Lord Chancellor of England, and father of empiricism and the scientific method, was a lawyer, statesman, philosopher, scientist, and author. According to some, including no less than Friedrich Nietzsche, he was even the true writer behind the works of William Shakespeare (although this Stratfordian begs to differ — that’ll have to wait for a later post).
In “Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estates,” Bacon made his feelings on the inclusion of outsiders and naturalization of non-citizens very plain: “all states that are liberal of naturalization towards strangers are fit for empire.”
He went on:
Never any state was in this point so open to receive strangers into their body as were the Romans. Therefore it sorted with them accordingly; for they grew to the greatest monarchy. Their manner was to grant naturalization (which they called jus civitatis [the right of citizenship]), and to grant it in the highest degree; that is, not only jus commercii [the right to commercial trade], jus connubii [the right to intermarry], jus hæreditatis [the right of inheritance]; but also jus suffragii [the right of suffrage], and jus honorum [the right of holding office]. And this not to singular persons alone, but likewise to whole families; yea to cities, and sometimes to nations. Add to this their custom of plantation of colonies; whereby the Roman plant was removed into the soil of other nations. And putting both constitutions together, you will say that it was not the Romans that spread upon the world, but it was the world that spread upon the Romans; and that was the sure way of greatness.
Setting aside the differences of context wrought by the passage of time — talks of monarchy and the outdated practice of establishing colonies — Bacon captured many of the essential aspects of how immigrants made Rome, and America, great.
As he noted, the Romans went so far as to grant citizenship to entire foreign nations. Today U.S. law requires immigrants applying through all the right legal channels to wait for decades if they happen to come from the wrong countries. Recently I heard of the case of an Indian national. USCIS told him that his estimated wait time before receiving a Green Card was 70 years. This Hindu individual then asked whether his reincarnated self in the next life would be able to keep his place in line. As for undocumented immigrants, the hackneyed and often ill-informed conversation on the elusive “path to citizenship” hinges on whether they ought to be required to “go to the back of” this decades-long line.
And when the Romans granted citizenship to non-Romans, they went all the way. Though there might have been slaves in Rome, there would be no second-class citizens. Each citizen enjoyed the full panoply of rights, including the jus honorum, the right to hold political office. Today Americans have entangled this issue with religion, with many insisting that Muslims (which in practice almost always means immigrants from Muslim countries) not be allowed to hold high office, particularly the presidency. The American Founders knew to forbid a religious test for public office. Thomas Jefferson was explicit that adherents of even religions so different from the prevailing Protestantism as Islam must be allowed to serve in office. Many today seem eager to cast the Founders aside.
Finally, consider Bacon’s lovely formulation about the source of Roman greatness: “it was not the Romans that spread upon the world, but it was the world that spread upon the Romans.” So it was that immigrant cultures from all corners of the world spread themselves upon America, and that has been the source of American strength.
Read Bacon’s full essay here. Or better yet, go to your local public library and check out a copy of the complete “Essayes.”
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."