Highet on the power of the mind

From Man’s Unconquerable Mind by Gilbert Highet:

It was the western part of the empire, the Roman part, that collapsed first; the eastern sector, the Greek-speaking area, maintained itself under almost incessant attacks for another thousand years. And if one were asked to venture a single explanation of that odd disparity, one would do well to say that it came because the men of the West liked wealth and enjoyment, while the men of the East liked thinking. Power and pleasure finally softened the hard Romans and the people of their satellite provinces. The supple Greeks went on talking and arguing and fighting and inventing. If the mind is kept in use, its powers are inexhaustible.

If we are in a cultural crisis, perhaps the best thing we can do is start an argument! Anything to activate the mind – our own as well as others.


5 Responses

  1. Isn’t it better to cite Greece rather than Rome?

  2. Did the Romans become too lazily tolerant to engage ideas or values? Or too addicted to pastimes and entertainment? This would pass judgement on not merely how we spend our free-time, but what we consider it’s use to be.

    • Debra,

      I like the distinction. While I don’t want to be too quick to compare America to the Roman Empire (we seem more like Carthage to me), they’ll always be a standard for Decline and Fall. And leisure, being the foundation of civilization and, as Pieper called it, “the basis of culture,” when it is corrupted and abused, I don’t know how a civilized order can sustain itself, since it isn’t ordering the souls of its members. Tolerance was certainly a Roman “virtue,” but it overcame the cardinal virtue of prudence or discretion.

      Merry Christmas!

  3. Dear pochp,

    Nicely put. Although, I think a real argument is always smart because you are learning how to think. As long as you don’t drift into pretense.

    What makes an issue dumb?


  4. Starting an argument is wise if the issue is not dumb.

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