How Modern America Resembles The Roman Republic During Its Twilight Years (Guest Blog)

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“Are all of us related by blood at this point?”

The following is a guest blog courtesy of fellow author and playwright David MacDowell Blue. It’s an article he posted on Facebook circa November 28, 2012 under the title “Roman/American Republics,” but hardly out of date in its relevance. It’s edited only for grammar, not content. You can see more of David’s work at his blog http://zahirblue.blogspot.com/.

Let us begin following the triple asterisks.

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During the Bush Administration, many complained of the US sliding towards fascism.  We engaged in an aggressive war on a flimsy, later totally dis-proven premise.  We suspended civil liberties.  The White House authorized the use of torture.  Today, with a different President, another group makes the same accusation because of health care reform and increased regulation, coupled with extreme paranoia about what they evidently see as a “cult of personality” surrounding Barack Obama.

This is a gigantic set of issues, and I don’t intend to explore them in full.  But I would posit that references to fascism seem off-target.  Actual fascist states of the past–Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, Cambodia, Revolutionary France, etc.–arise with little or no tradition of democracy or civil liberties.  This does not describe the United States of America, not even a little bit.  The USA reveres its Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and the whole idea of “rights” in a way akin to religious faith.

Which makes us far more similar to another historical precedent.  One we therefore should study a bit more.  I refer to the Roman Republic.

Rome adored the fact that it had cast out its kings.  Even to hint at taking a royal crown was to touch on a deep reservoir of genuine rage–as Julius Caesar discovered at the business end of a few dozen daggers.  His successor proved more canny, preserving all the mechanisms of representative government and providing lip service to its ideals while retaining all actual authority in his own hands.  Many blame Caesar and Augustus both for ending the Republic.  In fact, they were merely the culmination of a long process that took several centuries.  And here we get into an important parallel.

Having a legislature is no guarantee of political freedom.  Nor is having a Bill of Rights.  The Weimar Republic of Germany had both.  The military pledging absolute loyalty to one unelected official who serves for life is likewise not an indication of tyranny; every single member of the armed forces of the UK do precisely that.  Not that structure and institutions don’t matter!  They do!  Very very much!  But without the attitudes, the sense of what remains “beyond the pale,” the emotional commitment by large enough segments of most parts of society–it all comes to nought.  We don’t simply “have” legal rights and civil liberties.  They don’t exist outside of a social context.  In actual practice, we grant those things to each other and our emotional commitment to what maintains them keeps them real.  In the old Roman Republic, one of the key problems that led to their end was a class.  More precisely, the ideas inherent in such a class.  I’m speaking of the Patricians.

As a group, Patricians regarded themselves as aristocrats, the best of the best and inherently superior to others–be they foreigners or merely those from “younger” or poorer families.  They looked upon privilege and special treatment as part of the moral order, at least as long as they themselves received the same.  Looking upon non-Patricians, they saw inferiors: lazy, dirty, foolish, unimportant.  Barely people at all, but just tools to support the Patricians.  Workers to build and maintain Patrician homes, soldiers to fight and die in order to increase Patrician wealth and power, and voters to be manipulated into keeping Patricians in office.  And this seemed in no way hypocritical.  After all, the Constitution was a contract and it (quite rightly) could be manipulated to give Patrician individuals and families more and more and more.  That sometimes others used it to make their own lives better was a distortion of the proper order, to be repaired as soon as was feasible.

Keep in mind, plenty of individual Patricians disagreed with this world view, e.g., the Gracci brothers, when they took up the cause of the lower classes, demanding equal rights and reform. First one, and then the other, were assassinated.  An eerie coincidence, yes?

 

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“Who the pluto just just dumped off a bull killed in the arena and a pleb run over by one of our chariots in the middle of the street here? Garbage pickup isn’t until next Juno’s Day! They’re going to attract all kinds of flies in the meantime! We need to write a bill prohibiting the dumping of garbage more than two days before pickup day.”

“Aye, fellow Senator, you’re right as Jove about that! Say, is that a real gold bracelet around that pleb’s ankle?”

 

At heart, Patricians saw themselves as the state, the nation, and the natural leaders of same.  Laws existed to be manipulated for personal gain.  Ideals of equality and protection of other classes were not to be taken seriously.  So they gradually whittled away at constitutional protections.  They turned Rome’s military increasingly into mercenary armies dedicated to Patrician leaders rather than the nation as a whole.  Laws became subject to exceptions, not just now and then but routinely.  Politics increasingly became about whipping up the mob and aiming them at opponents, usually amid scandalous charges that often had nothing whatsoever to do with truth.  Anyone who might regard this as somehow wrong became viewed as being guilty of rank naivete.

 

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‘Cause everyone loves hockey and hierarchies…

I think that is the real threat we face.  The rise of just such a class.  Surely one of the most obvious symptoms of this would be the recording published by MOTHER JONES magazine of Mitt Romney’s comments about the “47 percent” (and believe me, he said a lot more along the same lines).  It also shows in the frankly absurd idea that somehow cutting taxes on the wealthy (whose taxes are already at an all-time low) will somehow fix a large deficit.  C’mon.  Who can buy nonsense like that?  Another symptom is the use of private contractors (i.e., mercenaries) for American military operations in Iraq.

 

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“All right, everyone hired by the Black Wreath Co. can take a lunch break now as per company policy… but as for the regular enlisted centurions, keep fighting! For Rome and all its glory, waah-hooo!! Oh, and praise be to Mars!”

But lest any think I’m just picking on the Republicans or Conservatives, let us not forget the equally troubling but more subtle growth of political dynasties.  Look at how many people want Hilary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, or Jeb Bush to run for president in 2016!  There’s a seat in the Senate literally known as the “Kennedy Senate Seat.”

This may sound like a lot of doom and gloom, but it isn’t meant as such.  Rather I offer this comment in the hope that we shall avoid Rome’s fate.  But right now, the growth of a Patrician class–not in terms of wealth but in attitude–seems to represent the single biggest threat to our nation’s character and future.

 

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 This one speaks for itself 🙂

 

 

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My Support for All Innocent Victims of Terrorism – No Matter Where They Live

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I noticed many people are transposing a symbol of the French flag over their Facebook pics to show support for France in the wake of the horrible terrorist attack in Paris on 11/13/15 (yesterday, as I type these words). I share the sorrow for every innocent life lost; people like the rest of us 99 percenters elsewhere in the globe who are overwhelmingly decent (if flawed) people who simply want to live their lives and enjoy the short time we all have on this world in the company of the friends and family we cherish. Innocent people who generally have no interest in war of any sort, and are most certainly not the beneficiaries of it (even though they are the ones who are always expected to take up arms on behalf of the handful who start the wars, but that is a whole other topic for many other blogs).
You will notice, however, that instead of putting up a flag specifically in support of France at the top of this blog, or on my Facebook display, I instead put up a general symbol for peace. Why? Because the innocent victims in the French firestorm the other day were the latest innocent victims in a “war on terror” begun by Western imperialist policies, and these victims are by no means limited to citizens of Western nations.

Countless innocent people just like the French victims have died in Middle Eastern nations when Western-controlled drone planes dropped cluster bombs in their vicinity, or were caught in the crossfire by Western soldiers ordered to shoot and kill national insurgents opposing what they consider an unwarranted foreign occupation who were unjustly lumped in with real terrorists by the Western governments and their corporate-controlled media. Or killed in the crossfire of weapons by true Middle Eastern terrorists–fanatics who target innocents–who are often using weapons purchased by American and other Western munitions companies which are profiting from this perpetual war, no matter which “side” is winning; these companies are more than happy to supply all  sides of a conflict if it makes a buck for their stockholders and executives.

That’s nothing personal against anyone, of course. It’s just business as usual in a global capitalist system that puts profit above any ideology (or where making the most profit at almost any conceivable cost is  the main ideology, and the only point of just about any type of endeavor).

Now before I go on a tangent about this (and damn am I tempted, as usual!) I’m going to stop there and get back to this main point: I do not  consider Western victims of terrorist attacks as the only  victims worth mourning over. I mourn the loss of their priceless lives, and share the sorrow of their families and friends. But I likewise show sorrow and mourning for the innocent people of every nation in the world who are suffering from this never-ending “war on terror.” Further, I oppose the policies of any  government on the planet which results in the creation of terrorist organizations or authorized military (or mercenary) task forces that routinely target or kill any innocent people; and this regardless of what territory they live under, what flags they see floating above their heads, what religion they practice, what color their skin or their ethnic background happens to be, etc.

And this is whether they are deliberately targeted for death just to make a political “message,” or dismissed as “collateral damage” who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or either Western soldiers ordered to occupy another nation or nationalists opposing the foreign occupation of their nation. All of these victims, no matter their country of origin, are equally worthy of mourning, and equally deserving of a peaceful environment of security in which to live and enjoy the short but wondrously rich lives that nature allows us.

I don’t want to see another innocent person in France, or the United States, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Syria, or Israel–or anywhere else in the world–have to suffer needlessly due to the greedy and short-sighted few, whether that handful is comprised of executives in a board room looking out for the “bottom line,” or politicians in a war room planning the acquisition of new territory, or extremely brutal and misguided armed gangs looking for revenge… with none who comprise these three groups caring who may get caught in the crossfire.

Let’s also take the time to remember that a desire for revenge is at the heart of any sort of terrorism, as is the de-valuation of any general group of people. Let’s not call for revenge but for justice, and call for the wisdom to know the difference between the two. If we don’t, more innocents will invariably pay the price for our hubris.

Hence, the symbol I chose for this blog and my Facebook display, to show my unity, sympathy, and support for all innocent people who suffer from terrorist attacks, and to avoid giving the implication that I reserve that support for Western victims only.