Becoming Dangerous People With Dangerous Children

By Jim Tonkowich Published on October 17, 2017

“Let me have men about me that are fat;” Julius Caesar tells his friend Marc Antony early in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, “Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights: / Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

Marc Antony assures Caesar, “he’s not dangerous; / He is a noble Roman and well given.” But Caesar is not convinced.

“He reads much; / He is a great observer and he looks / Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays, / As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music; / Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort / As if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit / That could be moved to smile at any thing.”

Dangerous people, according to Caesar, are intellectually and emotionally fit and agile, asking questions and pondering. They read a great deal and carefully observe people and ideas in order to discern the truth. Dangerous people are not captive to the popular culture. They often have trouble sleeping because their minds are active even at night.

Our colleges and universities churn out people who think little (and poorly), read seldom, see only through the eyes of video editors.

Dangerous People

Caesar, like most politicians, wished followers who are not dangerous. He was looking for an intellectually flabby, easily amused, and vacuous populace. He wanted the kind of people University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen describes in an article entitled Res Idiodica.”

“My students are know-nothings,” observes Deneen:

They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten it origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself.

This is not, he insists, the failure of American education, but rather it “is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.”

Just as Caesar wanted a pliable populace, the global economy demands “cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purpose or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes ‘flexibility’ (geographical, interpersonal, ethical).”

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And our colleges and universities churn them out by the thousands. They think little (and poorly), read seldom, see only through the eyes of video editors, and marinate in the popular culture. They wish only to be prosperous, amused, and insulated from events and ideas they find discomforting.

A People in Want of Amusement

It wasn’t like that in the good old days was it? Back in the nifty fifties, for example. Perhaps we should bring those days back. Some readers may think so and they could not be more wrong.

Cassius, Brutus, and the others who murdered Caesar wanted to bring back the good old days. When Caesar was dead, one conspirator cheered, “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! / Run hence, proclaim, cry it about the streets.” They assumed people would be thrilled. With Caesar dead, the Roman Republic could be restored! Whoopee!

The culture was no longer a republic culture. They wanted a Caesar, a great personality who would keep them fed, comfortable and amused.

Alas, no. The old Republic was deader than Caesar. Instead Augustus became the Caesar and killed most of the remaining Senators in the process.

And the people were pleased. They were no longer a republic people. The culture was no longer a republic culture. They wanted a Caesar, a great personality who would keep them fed, comfortable and amused. They wanted bread and circuses, not virtue and self-government.

Looking Forward, Not Backward

We are — to say the least — delusional if we believe our neighbors are very different. The sexual revolution, non-stop amusement, good jobs in the global economy, free time on Sunday mornings, loose attachments, few disturbing thoughts, government give-aways, and the illusion that it will be like this forever are a dream come true for most.

We need to look forward, not backward. That begins by becoming dangerous people and rearing dangerous children. Think deeply. Read much.

So let’s not waste time pining for the past — something the author of Ecclesiastes put in the category of “not wise” (7:10). Instead we need to receive this moment in history — the moment in history God has providentially entrusted to us — and seek new ways to incarnate and communicate the timeless truths of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That is, we need to look forward, not backward.

That begins by becoming dangerous people and rearing dangerous children. Think deeply. Read much. Observe and learn to see “quite through the deeds of men.” Avoid the traps of popular culture. And fear God above all things.

 

N.B.: I am indebted to Salve Regina University professor Khalil Habib for his insights into Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. My interview with Dr. Habib on Wyoming Catholic College’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar,” can be found here.

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