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(Roman) Republican values
By Jack J. Woehr
If this sounds weird, it's because I'm writing this on the evening before our May 6 End the Drug War demonstration here in Colorado. Demonstrations always weird me out. I start to get double vision.
It's because I've read enough about the Roman Republic that I feel like I live there in the here and now. Maybe I should go join the other New Age frauds and channel Marc Antony, so as to aid the necessary weeding of the species by bilking the credulous who believe that spirituality can be purchased with credit cards and earn you frequent flyer miles while saving the environment.
Double vision. Deja vu. We're really not that different from the Romans. Standing up to speak at a demonstration I freak when I think, "Oh, yeah, this is pretty much like the Antonine age in Rome. The granaries are always full. The circus, all five hundred channels, is on 24 hours." Sometimes I wonder how those those kids in the audience hold it, how they resist the urge to just spell it out for me:
We are the naive and protected grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who made the American century. We have lived all our lives under the tutelage of a rather mild authoritarianism. Please remember that we're the graduates of Zero Tolerance in the schools. We can't be expected to behave to be free citizens. We were raised to submit blindly to the senile authority of those who in their youth ran wild in the streets in generational rebellion against authority.
Weirded out. It's almost like you can see where it's all headed if you could just once catch a clear glimpse of where it's been.
One striking proof of the political foresight of the Romanophile founders of the American experiment is provided by the manner in which Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were able to achieve for America that which Julius and Augustus Caesar achieved for the Roman Republic, yet without the messy necessity of overthrowing the Republic as the Caeasars did. Wilson and Roosevelt solved, over decades, the twin problems that the neither the Congress nor the Roman Senate could: the problem of administering Empire and simultaneously assuring a fair distribution of the wealth that results from Empire.
The first two Caesars solved the first problem, administration, the same way Wilson and Roosevelt did, that is, by establishing a huge bureaucracy.
The second problem the Caesars solved by a sort of palace socialism which grew more extreme under each of their successors. By the Antonine age, about two hundred years after Julius Caesar, society had reached the theory that everyone and all their goods were the personal property of the divine emperor. By Byzantine times, only historians and legal specialists remembered it had ever been any other way. This progression which took two centuries in Rome probably won't take 200 years here. Everything, including imperial decline, happens faster nowadays, especially in America.
President Dwight Eisenhower made the world safe for American Caesarism after the brief, dare I call it in this context, "republican" resurgence of the Truman era. But even Ike, who had grown up in less worried times on a farm in Kansas, warned on leaving office of the growth of the military-industrial complex which threatened to engulf our democracy. Ever wondered what happened to the dreaded MIC after Ike's speech? Surprise. It engulfed our democracy.
So I attend demonstrations and feel stupid. It's not like I don't already know that the television news is fixed, that the Bill of Rights exerts merely a quaint, historical influence on American jurisprudence, that Congress is as tame as the Senate under Tiberius Caesar, and that national security state proceeds without hindrance towards overseeing every minute aspect of our personal lives down to what we may or may not wear, eat, drink, or smoke, own, or post on the Internet.
Modern electoral politics pedals its tricycle around and around the tiny arena fenced off for the purpose of diverting the wrath and the whims of the citizenry away from courses detrimental to the persistence of the protectorate. So against what or to whom am I protesting? I suspect ruefully that the answer is, I'm protesting against high mortality among my youthful ideals.
It's been almost 60 years now since the burden of nuclear hegemony tipped the scales forever. That free, republican America of yore upon which one can become accustomed to looking back nostalgically ... I'm now convinced it was already gone some years before I was born.
Jack Woehr has already bored all his friends in Colorado with his take on politics and is forced to expand outwards on the Internet.
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