On the Roman calendar, March 15th was known as the Ides of March—once most notable as the year’s deadline for settling debts. That changed in 44 BC when Julius Caesar walked into the Theatre of Pompey for a routine meeting with the Roman Senate. Caesar was then at his apotheosis. He had made himself Dictator Perpetuo. He was about to embark on a three year expedition, which, if successful, would, as Plutarch wrote, “complete this circuit of his empire, which would then be bounded on all sides by the ocean.”
All of Rome hung on what would happen next. Would he name himself king? Would he destroy his remaining enemies? Would Rome destroy itself? Would it be content to be yoked under a tyrant?
We don’t know, because it was yesterday 2,064 years ago that Brutus, Cato’s son-in-law, and his wife, Porcia, took matters into their own hands. Soon, Caesar was dead. What remained was a bloody Civil War in which the Roman Republic was nearly restored. It didn’t quite go the way that Brutus hoped. Cato himself was not quite successful in his attempt to rally the Roman people to stand up to their traditions. But the example remains in history as a partly inspiring, partly cautionary tale: Can an individual change the course of history? Can things blow up in our faces?
Yes. The answer is yes to both.
That’s basically the complicated arc of Conspiracy, which tells the story of Peter Thiel’s quixotic, bold, desperate, deranged, inspiring (your pick) plot to take down Gawker Media, the gossip blog that had outed him, that he felt had become too powerful.
The knock against the Stoics—one repeated by Thiel himself once or twice—is that they are too resigned, that they accept the status quo. This would have been surprising to Rome’s emperors, from Julius Caesar to Nero to Galba and Domitian, who were all convinced that the Stoics were plotting against them. It is almost ironic that Marcus Aurelius became the Stoic philosopher king, because nearly every single one of his predecessors believed that the Stoics were seeking to destroy the monarchy entirely. No one thought that Cato or Thrasea or Musonius Rufus were passive. They feared them. They believed they were radicals who sought to change things.
With yesterday being the anniversary of the Ides of March, we challenge you to think about where that spirit has gone. We could use more boldness, and less passivity. We could use more vision, courage, creativity, a sense of justice, a willingness to try and fail, to risk and hope. We could use more people courageous enough to reject the status quo and fight for change they believe in.
We could use more people trying.
P.S. This was originally sent on March 16, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.