I’m guessing, not many of my readers learned Latin in school. Here is a translation on Wikipedia, and some more thoughts on it. The sentiment behind this proverb is quite cynical: Humans will only work together in harmony, if harmony is the only alternative to dying violently.
It touches on the sentiment behind another Latin proverb, originally from a comedy (antique comedy was not funny!): Homo Homini Lupus. Now, you’ll say: Wolves are pack animals, they have a natural social order. True, true. The Alpha wolf is the leader, he gets to eat first and mates with every female, because he is the strongest, smartest, most vicious.
Humans are like that, to a degree. Patriarchalism, to my mind, is a direct evolutionary consequence of that instinct, reminiscent of wolves and other pack animals. Dynasticism goes even further: It establishes an alpha lineage, like noble families, or castes. Actually, I digress. I wanted to talk about how humans seem to be needed to be forced to work together. Could I have written that any more complicatedly? I guess, I could have, after all, I am German ;).
Let’s go back to the Romans. The Roman Empire has persisted through multiple centuries: from the Punic Wars until the Vandal Invasions – in the West – or the Fall of Byzantium, later Constantinople, in the 15th Century. Really, the Pax Romana failed in the 6th Century A.D., when Roman influence failed to protect Rome from the Germanic Barbarians. But it lasted for 7 centuries, and there’s something to be said about that.
How did it work?
Superior Military Power.
But that was also the Empire’s Downfall: The military became unwieldy, and the ruling class incompetent.
After the Roman Empire fell, Europe was a bloody mess, until 1989. But Europe is no Military Hegemony anymore. Europe is dependent on the Pax Americana.
What happens when Pax Americana fails?