March 15, 2017


The Ides of March (R.A.G. Carson,  March 1957, History Today)

The assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15th, 44 BC forms a dramatic and unexpected climax in the series of events that brought the Roman Republic to an end. It provided the spark for the Civil Wars which lasted for thirteen years, until the defeat of Mark Antony by Augustus, who was to establish the Empire which endured for some five centuries.

The Roman system of government, in effect by the small senatorial class, had been adequate while the state was simply a city, and even during the years of expansion from Rome over Italy and the more adjacent lands. But it proved incapable of dealing with a number of problems that became acute in the course of the last century BC. At home the movements associated with the name of the Gracchi aimed at diminishing the political and economic privileges of the senatorial class, while overseas the command of great armies conferred a dangerous power upon individual generals. No longer was the annual office of consul sought for its own sake, since the wielding of power in Rome was now of little importance. The consulate was sought because of the offices to which it could lead - the great proconsular commands in the provinces; for it was in the provinces, where active campaigns were being waged, that reputations could be won and authority acquired which could make itself felt in the capital.

Tom Holland's great book, Rubicon, makes it clear just how personal the politics of Rome was and how nearly devoid of any interest in ideas, to its ruin.

Happily, our Founders went to school on their example:

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy--not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits--despotic in his ordinary demeanour--known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty--when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity--to join in the cry of danger to liberty--to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion--to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day--It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may "ride the storm and direct the whirlwind."'

Posted by at March 15, 2017 9:44 AM