Of idle lingering

I am not the world’s quickest take-charge, get-things-done sort of guy — that’s why they named me after Fabius Cunctator. The agnomen of this Roman general and Censor (280–203 BC) was not “idler” but rather “lingerer” in its nearest English equivalent. But this is a variation on idling. He was famous for winning by putting decisions off, and hanging around instead of doing something. He was also known among the troops as “Wart Face,” incidentally.

This is a gift shared among few generals, or Censors for that matter. (Not warts, but the do-nothing skill.) The Censorship was a marvellous Roman office, the holder of which was wise to do as little as possible. He was a man with extraordinary power to say, “No.” True, he oversaw the public census, a wickedly activist enterprise. But at its most innocent its point was merely to find out what is going on. For the rest, our hero, when in the office of Censor, could stop things from happening, including stupid and vicious government programmes. How I wish our modern government had a Censor, and how I should like to have that job. (Cato the Censor is another of my heroes.)

Now, the person who seems to do nothing isn’t necessarily doing nothing. He might instead be doing something invisible. As a general during the Second Punic War, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (this last refers to his lemon scabs), my celebrated Cunctator, did quite a few invisible things. Badly outnumbered on any conceivable battlefield, he focused on whittling the Carthaginians down, with frequent, often quite devastating, commando attacks on their supply lines, and similar aggravations. Make the enemy punch the air, as it were. Deny him the big battle he so earnestly wants.

This is the strategy of that ancient Chinaman, Sun Tzu, praised recently in another context. The ideal is to patiently allow the enemy to defeat himself, while one appears only to be watching, or even not watching, from a distance.

As this is not a Roman History anti-blogue, I will not go into such details as I recall from school days; but Mrs Hansen, my Viking (Danish) sometime Latin teacher, was especially entertaining on Fabius. For you see, he was turning tables on opponents who were themselves adept in unconventional warfare, as Hannibal taking his elephants through the Alps to surprise the Romans during the same Mediterranean conflict. (I often have heroes on both sides of a good war.)

My purpose this morning, back in the High Doganate after a week of jet-setting, or more exactly omnibus-setting in the Upper Canadian hinterland, is to recall gentle reader to the virtue of inaction. Or more precisely, apparent inaction.

I notice there has been yet another terror hit in my absence, by bad Muslims in the United Kingdom. I am of course appalled, though as Theresa May was pointlessly projecting, we’re getting sick of this kind of thing. I’m now sick of our characteristic response, which is to make fresh protestations of how brave and tolerant we are, while loudly bombing people elsewhere.

Whereas, I’m for quietly settling scores. Our enemy du jour benefits from our democratic lust for a puerile and showy activism. They are flies, and we are swatting flies like crazy. The bigger the fly-swatting operation they can inspire, the better for them. Indeed, for this enemy we are dumber than Carthaginians, who did not need to signal their virtue by encouraging Roman emigration to their native North Africa.

Our liberalism has deranged our minds, and it is a little-appreciated truth that the deranged are easier to sucker than the sane.

We should pay no more attention to the latest terror hit than to a grisly traffic accident. We should leave the minimum of flowers at the scene. The outpourings of grief should be kept decently private. We should never ever publicly announce what we are going to do in reply. Let our high-strung enemy discover what we have done, after the fact.