The Thousand Years’ Twilight
Victor Davis Hanson has added intriguing and refreshing historical references to the pages of NR for a number of years. As Michael Knox Beran implies at the conclusion of “Wisdom in Command” (June 3), his review of Mr. Hanson’s latest book, The Savior Generals, there is not much new under the sun, and we would do well to study history in order to better understand our current challenges.
I look forward to reading The Savior Generals, but I have a small bone to pick with the review. Mr. Beran paints a picture of the Eastern Roman Empire as a decaying, near-failed state, with General Belisarius fighting nobly to salvage Rome’s past glory as twilight descends upon its ragged and cash-strapped remains. Although there is much to criticize and dislike about Roman imperial culture (both eastern and western), the end was not even close for the eastern regime in the middle of the sixth century. In fact, Belisarius and his fellow generals aggressively reasserted control, in the name of Justinian I, over Rome itself, Italy, and much of the Mediterranean rim across North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula. This does not seem like a technocratic repairing of the breaches in Byzantium’s defenses, as Mr. Beran portrays it.
The fortunes of the Roman Empire, under its eastern rulers, waxed and waned several times in the ensuing centuries, until the empire met its final end in Constantinople in the middle of the 15th century, 900 years after Belisarius and Justinian and a few short years before Columbus arrived on our shores. Quite a lengthy twilight!
Jerry K. Seelen
Rich Lowry’s “Defending Lincoln” (June 17) was both thorough and powerful. Here are two more examples of note that underscore the hypocrisy of both Confederate defenders and Lincoln critics.
First, the Confederacy passed the first of its three conscription acts a year before the Union did the same, leading Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown to state, as noted in Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville, that no “act of the Government of the United States prior to the secession of Georgia struck a blow at constitutional liberty so fell as has been struck by the conscription act.”
Second, as Foote wrote, “five days after the inaugural in which he excoriated Lincoln for doing the same thing,” Confederate president Jefferson Davis suspended habeas corpus in Norfolk, Va., then did the same two days later in Richmond. Davis also suspended it in East Tennessee. The provision to suspend habeas corpus in the Confederate constitution (Section 9.3) exactly matches the phrasing in our constitution (Article 1, Section 9). So to charge one president as a dictator is to charge the other.