‘unus fiat ex pluribus’: a precept from antiquity

Tom Camfield
Posted 8/16/19
What a come down! From the genius of Pythagoras of Samos, Greece, born an estimated 570 years before Christ, to self-proclaimed “stable genius” Donald Trump, born in 1946—2,516 …

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‘unus fiat ex pluribus’: a precept from antiquity


What a come down! From the genius of Pythagoras of Samos, Greece, born an estimated 570 years before Christ, to self-proclaimed “stable genius” Donald Trump, born in 1946—2,516 years later. Pythagoras in his "De Officiis," part of his discussion of basic family and social bonds as the origin of societies, stated: "When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many (unus fiat ex pluribus).”

For a brief lesson in a bit of ancient history: Pythagoras (ca. 570- ca. 495 B.C.) was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and the eponymous founder of Pythagoreanism. His political and religious teachings, well known in Magna Graecia, influenced the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle—and, through them, Western philosophy. In antiquity, Pythagoras was credited with many mathematical and scientific discoveries, including the Pythagorean theorem, the sphericity of the Earth, etc. He migrated to Croton, Italy, about age 40.

For a very extended and scholarly, well-documented, version of the rather cloudy history of Pythagoras, see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pythagoras/

I enjoy pointing out that there was human genius thousands of years ago—just as genius will be found today among blacks, Muslims, Mexicans . . . despite the personal vainglorious white superiority attitude of Donald Trump.

However, over 2 1/2 millennia, it appears that egocentric brutes have been able to kill off and out-breed much of humankind’s progressive, creative and virtuous intelligence—and we have wound up with Donald as president of the United States.

As per Pythagoras, E pluribus unum (Latin for "Out of many, one”), is a 13-letter motto of the 13 original states united as one nation, proposed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in 1776. It appears on the Great Seal of the U.S. adopted by an Act of Congress in 1782. Never codified by law, “E pluribus unum” was considered a de facto motto of the United States until 1956 when Congress passed an act, adopting "In God We Trust" as the official motto.

My own thought here is that, as time passed, “E pluribus unum” was generally adopted by modern minds to also refer to a society blended from a myriad of cultures. Sort of embellishing the “All men are created equal” of our Declaration of Independence.

But by the 1950s, conservatives were taking a disliking to the handwriting on the wall where the social conscience was concerned. They consolidated behind the Christian religion (in violation of the First Amendment, in my opinion) and moved in 1956 (the Eisenhower administration) to put “In God we trust” on U.S. money and “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. “In God we trust” actually was signed into law as the country’s official motto.

The First Amendment of the Constitution clearly forbids Congress from promoting one religion over others. Our supposedly inclusive society in reality includes many religions, of which Christianity is merely the foremost. I’ve written here before of such as Islam, Buddhism, Atheism, etc. I also frown on political candidates blithely tossing out “God bless America” to appeal to the church-goer vote—even though their self-anointed godliness is hypocritical to their words and deeds.

There is nothing godly about the likes of Donald Trump, for instance—other than in his own mind. I also like to appreciate our nation’s flag and its history, while also considering just what it stands for today. Thus I sit in spirit with Colin Kaepernick during the National Anthem, in an attempt to re-establish and maintain our flag as a symbol of respect and justice for all.

If there truly is a God, I wonder what color She is (Let’s face it: females are the creators of life). I’d say black, as science has pretty much determined that human life originated in Africa.

A PASSING GRASS-ROOTS MOMENT—My wife was pulling out of the self-service gas facility the other day, when a younger departing male truck driver leaned out of his window and shouted: “Hillary lost; ha, ha, ha!.” Referring to her “Hillary does it better” 2016 bumper sticker. Guess he needed to get in his daily requirement of male supremacy. Some of you may know him; his truck signage identified him as a painter. Jean’s petite and 86, so I guess he felt safe not having to stand up to someone his own size.

For the record, I maintain an identical Hillary bumper sticker on a window of my car—out of both continued respect for Hillary and disgust over who actually was elected. And like Jean, I don’t “gladly suffer fools.”


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Fred Camfield
Remembering a sign in a shop when we were growing up - "In God We Trust - All Others Pay Cash."
Saturday, August 17