Caesar’s Limit by Anthony Esolen

Caesar’s Limit

A State Under God Cannot Be Idolized

When we begin our course in the development of Western civilization, I like to use the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, to show what a merging of religious worship and imperial authority looks like. For the epic begins and ends with an image of what the Mesopotamians considered wondrous: the city walls. They needed walls, of course, to protect the stores of grain from marauders, and that is why they needed a centralized bureaucracy too, because only power vested in one man and his servants could manage the systems of canals and drainage ditches that made irrigation in those plains possible.

The contrast with God’s revelation to the Hebrews can hardly be starker. The fratricide Cain, we are told in Genesis, is the first builder of a city. Even when the people of Israel are settled in the Promised Land, God is angry with them for wanting a king, like other nations; and we simply do not get, in the Psalms, descriptions of marble pediments, of copper roofs, or of beautiful, perfumed city folk parading about. The Psalmist does not want to live a citified life in Jerusalem. He does not glory in the Hebrew state. His great longing is mysteriously put: to dwell in the house of the Lord.

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Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalene College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire. His many books include Sex in the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a regular contributor to Chronicles, Crisis Magazine, The Claremont Review, Inside the Vatican Things, The Catholic Thing, and American Greatness. He has translated Dante's Divine Comedy. He is a Roman Catholic and lives with his wife in New Hampshire. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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