So, if we are all victims, at some point, who pays the guilt tax? Do we all pay each other?
“As we all know, talk of reparations for injustice is everywhere. But here’s a headline, appearing in the British Spectator magazine, that hit home to Virgil, old Roman that he is: “Italy owes Wales reparations for the wrongs of the Roman Empire.” The author, one Lloyd Evans—an impeccable Welsh name, that—declared: Let me add my voice to the clamour on behalf of this island’s indigenous Celtic people. My family are from Llanelli in Carmarthenshire and I believe that my compatriots have an excellent case to make against the Roman Empire. Yes, Evans said he wants reparations for the Roman invasion of Great Britain, launched by Julius Caesar in 55 BC; it was a bloody business, leading to the subjugation of the island’s Celtic inhabitants, including those in Wales. Indeed, Evans went further in his demand for compensation; he recalled that later on, in the 5th and 6th centuries, AD, the Welsh were once again conquered, victims of “Anglo-Saxon aggression.” That is, the Angles and the Saxons, two tribes coming across the sea from Germany, drove out the Romans but still kept the Celts in bondage. So Evans’ logic would suggest that the Celts today have a claim against not only Italy and Germany, but also, of course, against descendants of past invaders still living with them—quite likely, after all these centuries, in their own families—in what’s now the United Kingdom. Yet then, to Virgil’s great relief, it turns out that Evans was kidding in his demand for reparations. As he put it, “The idea of ‘you owe me money because your ancestors wronged my ancestors’ doesn’t sound like justice to me. It has the air of a ghost-story.” Yes, human history is full of ghosts—and all of them have suffered a wound and thus hold a grievance against other ghosts. We might recall the cry of the ancient British king Calgacus, who said of the Romans, “To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a wasteland and call it peace.” Indeed, at its largest extent, the Roman Empire extended to all or part of what today are 46 countries; so as we can see, many different peoples were victims. Thus, everyone from the Scots, at the northern edge of the old empire, to the Saudi Arabians, at the southern edge, could have a claim against the successors to the Romans, the people of Italy. Yet if claims against the ancient Romans are being advanced playfully, other claims are being pressed seriously. For instance, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), has long been pushing a bill calling for a “study” on the need for reparations for American slavery. (It’s not hard to guess what the results of the study might be.) Jackson Lee hasn’t had much support for her legislation in the past, although in recent weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal, Democratic support has been increasing—it now has the support of Joe Biden. Indeed, in a June speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Biden said, “If, in fact, there are ways to get direct payments for reparations, I want to see it,” adding, “Why are we waiting around for the study? We can deal with this stuff.”