In this episode of Talks at GS, Thomas Ricks, author of First Principles, discusses how classical antiquity informed America’s founding principles, and ways those principles have been challenged throughout our nation’s history.
On how classical antiquity informed America’s Founders: “There are two things that brought down the Roman Republic: corruption and factionalism. And so these are the things [the Founders] are taught you must avoid in public life… And that's one reason why John Adams was so terrified by the rise of political parties in the 1790s. To him, that meant treason and factionalism. That was an attack on the very Republic… Even George Washington, an uneducated man, is very influenced by Cato. His favorite play is about Cato, the ancient Roman statesman. And in fact, since writing the book, I've come to think that how we can see with the American presidency is very much shaped by Cato. Cato is frugal, reserve, prudent, wise and above politics. He holds himself up as a man of virtue. That's what we expect from our presidents. And that's really what Washington, though uneducated, brings to the presidency.”
On national security challenges of our time: “My biggest worry is the combination of domestic political terrorism combined with people willing to take advantage of it. North Korea is very good at taking advantage of momentary vulnerabilities, and Putin is very good at playing a weak end. He's holding two twos and he still manages to beat the Americans. There are things we still don't know about what has been going on. I think you'll see Putin testing this new administration, doing things like pushing the country of Georgia around. You'll see him also stepping on toes in Europe and seeing how the Americans react to that. We're going to need a strong signal to NATO that we are with you.”