There are at least three senses in which any possible relationship to philosophy—philosophy as a history—is “archaic”. (1) As in the non-technical use of this term, philosophy is always “catching up” to us (what has Kant say about terrorism? what has Aristotle to say about evolution?) while, at the same time, we are never adequate to it (this is more than a hermeneutical problem). There is, in other words, a disjoint between us (we philosophers) and philosophy; but it is precisely this separation that makes it possible for philosophy to be historical (while, NB, constituting histories) and for philosophy to “go on”. As someone (whom I cannot remember) once said, the history of philosophy is the history of the misreading of philosophy—e.g., Aristotle misreads Plato and Derrida misreads everybody—but virtuously so. But, then, there are times when this separation of the philosopher from philosophy is one of trauma and the problem becomes one of the recuperation of philosophy, while ultimately means a recuperation of an origin (that has been lost).
(2) This is what is at stake in Romanitas. One hesitates to call Romanitas a concept, for it is rather the field of production from which philosophical concepts emerged. It is, even more than this, the name for a cultural trauma from which, arguably, we have yet fully to recover. This trauma was a crisis (a “turning”) of identity or, one might say, of originality. This “originality” is not, however, the romantic notion of something “new” or “novel” that is “my own”—it is not the idea of finding a “unique” Roman identity in the world. The problem is not the allegedly derivative status of Roman philosophy as a poor imitation or amateurish extension of a greater and more elegant Greek philosophy. The problem of Roman originality is constructing the very name of Rome.
Arendt claims that authority did not exist in the world until the Romans took the Greeks as authoritative. But one wonders if it is really as simple as that. Virgil demonstrates just how traumatic and violent such an act of original authority can be. Although Aeneas is charged with the task of carrying the Trojan Penates to Italy, one wonders whether there is a paradoxical an-archy at the heart of the continuity of the established history. As the author of the poem, Virgil’s task is the thinking of this origin (of Rome), yet that thinking is shot through with the threat of an-archy within the very tradition commemorated by the act of the text. It is this threat that drives Aeneas into rage—he is unable peacefully, simply, to translate the Trojan gods to Italy. His act must be original.
(3) If the presocratics inititated Greek philosophy, then there is a straightforward sense in which philosophy has always been “archaic” through to the Hellenistics. Yet this is not a separate problem from that of the historical origin, for the Roman question has always been: how is it possible that we (here, now) are here at all? What is the world to which we have given birth and in which we are birthed? Augustine’s own understanding of his origin is in this way essentially Roman: I am not my own origin, yet I cannot, in thought, return to this origin in any straightforward way. This return to origin is the essential task of thinking, which simultaneously takes the form of metaphysics and history (or one might say politics)—hence Lucretius’ poetry presents the image of the primordial rain, Virgil’s poem establishes (in act) the origin that it simultaneously commemorates (a sort of “past that has never been present”), and Augustine (and Plotinus) finds the origin of Being beyond Being. But, if these are the paradoxes into which a thinking of the origin is thrown, then it would seem philosophy must always be inadequate to the task. Yet this is why philosophy constitutes a history, just as Augustine through his Confessions constitutes a life (in Deleuze’s sense) and why, in at least one aspect of our history, we have never escaped the Roman problem of originality (or what Arendt calls the crisis of authority). We have not “returned” to Rome in a new “Hellenistic Age”—of crises of cosmopolitanism, of the collapse of global empire, of neo-Stoicism, of law, etc—for we have never left it. Arendt is right in at least one respect: the problem of origin was never a problem for the Greeks, despite their cosmological speculations; the question of origin is, rather, quintessentially Roman (which is why, à la Nietzsche, the Romans, unlike the Greeks, cannot be tragic).