Skip to comments.The Moral of Caesar [The Republic Was Dead Already]
Posted on 05/04/2015 3:59:48 PM PDT by Avoiding_Sulla
Caesar's death was more than the end of an extraordinary life; it was the end of an era.
Karl Theodor von Piloty, The Murder of Caesar (1865), oil on canvas
No country was ever saved by good men, Horace Walpole once observed, because good men will not go to the length that may be necessary.
I thought often of Walpoles remark while reading Barry Strausss thrilling account of the assassination of Julius Caesar, which is full of robust men going to incarnadine lengths.
I have always been slightly puzzled about what exactly Caesar did to rouse the murderous fury of men, many of whom, after all, had been loyal supporters and, in some cases, friends. Yes, Caesar had had himself named dictator, but Rome had had plenty of dictators. True, the emergency office was supposed to be limited to six months and Caesar had that modified to dictator in perpetuity. That raised eyebrows, as did his posthumous deification by the Senate. Yet I suspect that Adrian Goldsworthy was right when he observed that it was not so much what Caesar was doing as the way he was doing it that bred discontent amongst the aristocracy. And, remember, the conspiracy against Caesar was largely an aristocratic coup, not a popular uprising.
Caesar did understand the importance of maintaining the outward forms of republican government even as he exercised autocratic rule. But he was not nearly as adroit in maintaining that shamer, that public appearanceas Augustus would be when he assumed power. Patience was not conspicuous in Caesars character. As is so often the case in political life, it was the small things that sealed his fate. Following the historian Livy (who died in 17 AD), Barry Strauss lists three last straws.
There is a twofold moral to The Death of Caesar. One concerns the military. Like Marius and Sulla before him, Caesar was able to control Rome because he controlled the army. His legions were loyal first of all to him, not to Rome. The conspirators sought to overturn that dominance of the military in civic affairs but failedbecause they did not dominate the military. Strauss notes the irony that only the legions could save the Republic from being run by legions.
The second moral is this: revolutions are impossible to manage. The announced goals of the conspirators were moderate: to remove a dictator and restore the prerogatives of the Senate. But revolutions, as Strauss mordantly observes, are hard on moderates.
Cicero thought the Republic could be restored. He was wrong. The Roman Republic was a political mechanism that had outlived itself. Removing Caesar brought not restoration but revolution, followed by civil war and the resurgent dominance of Caesarism.
The events that Barry Strauss chronicles took place more than two thousand years ago. But their significance continues to resonate, if only we have ears to listen. Toward the end of The Death of Caesar, Strauss quotes my favorite line from Lampedusas great novel The Leopard: If we want things to stay the same, a lot of things are going to have to change. The Roman Republic had to change if it was going to endure. That insight escaped the wit of the conspirators and their allies. A look at the world today suggests that this is a paradox we neglect at our peril.
[The following is shortened by snips, but is too long to be treated as an excerpt by FR software.]
It left me wondering if the review was written by a moderate resigned to the fate he sees coming but dares not predict. If so, perhaps he's laying out the fate of moderates in the hopes that the extremists will have mercy on him because he helped becalm their adversaries, whichever side lost.
No country was ever saved by good men, Horace Walpole once observed, because good men will not go to the length that may be necessary.///
No fears. I’m not a good man and I’m on your side :)
gawd I just read your profile. Pretty prescient.
The writer is a fascist.
The assassination was, in perspective, also the last act in the Marius vs Sulla war, a war that saw the aristocracy decimated (in the precise sense of the word) and as such highly sensitive to the rise of new autocrats no matter how articulate - he was a superb orator, even by the standards of the time - and militarily brilliant. There was a great deal of backstabbing prior to his return from the Gallic Wars, and had he not brought an army with him he might simply have been killed out of hand. Political wonks like to boast that politics is a blood sport here in 21st-century America, but we’re pussycats compared to those guys.
Not a good thing. Having been prescient of what we are witnessing leaves the seer feeling like Cassandra. Having been able to see what’s coming, but having been proven powerless to avert it, is no blessing.
When a decent person faces ten years in prison for possession of an antique pistol in New Jersey, the Second Amendment is dead.
When a wedding photographer, a wedding cake baker, and other individuals are compelled by government force to engage in expressive acts that violate both their religious beliefs and their freedom of speech, the First Amendment is dead.
When individuals are compelled to pay for abortion against their will and in violation of deeply-held religious beliefs or face excessive fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Eighth Amendment is dead.
When most of the Bill of Rights receives as little respect as the above amendments, and when promising to find ways around these fundamental protections automatically gathers nearly 50% of the vote, America is facing a clear and present danger. We can hope to delay the reckoning until decent Americans are ready, but I am not convinced that the trend is in our direction. In any case, that reckoning is inevitable. We can, perhaps, influence the timing; nothing more. I am not convinced that the America emerging on the other side of that transition will be better. I am, however, certain that it will be different in unpredictable ways.
No doubt, the transition will be far worse for America's domestic enemies than it is for patriots. That is no comfort to me. I don't wish them ill. I just wish they would develop a sense of morality and self-reliance.
The author’s conclusion is quite inarguable about the Roman Republic. You apparently think it isn’t true today.
Do you seriously think we can struggle on as we are today indefinitely?
Global communist state next.
However, it is simply untrue that Caesar controlled "the army."
He controlled the legions he had led to victory in Gaul. They were superbly trained and intensely loyal to Caesar.
But there were lots and lots of other legions scattered around the empire. Haven't attempted to add them up, but it's probable legions loyal to others outnumbered Caesar's legions, at the start of the war, by 3 or 4 to 1, or more.
Caesar, being a truly great general, bashed around the empire for several years taking out these armies in detail, and adding their defeated soldiers to his own.
” and adding their defeated soldiers to his own.”
You’re right. If you read the rest of the article, Kimball makes note of it.
He uses Brutus as an example. He had fought with Pompey, was pardoned by Caesar and joined his forces. But that was also one of the things that led to Caesar’s downfall — the resentment that came with the pardons.
Kimball goes on to note that subsequent to Caesar, later dictators were far more brutal with former adversaries.
However, the other legions were, as you say, dispersed widely throughout the empire while Caesar’s legions were right there in Rome, the center of the Empire. That is a huge difference in effectiveness.
I suspect the pardons inevitably carried an implication Caesar was the better man, which of course he was. He excelled far beyond any of his contemporaries at everything he did. He even contended head to head with Cicero in eloquence.
What the aristos who killed Caesar probably resented more than anything was that he truly was the superior man, which is what aristo means. They were jealous more than anything.
I’m reading a book about the various civil wars that followed his murder. Really, really bloody. Not a lot of clemency going on.
There’s an old saying that he who strikes the King had better kill him. Caesar learned that the King had better kill those who strike him, or they’ll take another try.
But the author is right that the Republic was dead. Killed by the very aristos who were supposedly trying to save it. The last 100 years of the Republic reads like nothing so much as an empire ruled by competing mafia dons.
It is to our eternal credit that our own Revolution did NOT swing to the extremists, but settled on a manageable middle ground almost from the start.
It is only nowadays that the New Revolution must embrace the extremes, since moderation in the pursuit of liberty is no longer a virtue.
Went back and looked at the major battles of Caesar’s Civil War.
In almost every battle he fought, he was heavily outnumbered, often by 2:1 or more. Didn’t matter, he won every battle. No wonder his soldiers idolized him.
When Caesar wasn’t in personal command, his legates often got their butts kicked.
No question, he was a great gemeral.
Oh I get it. You hate the republic - long live the empire. Figured as a Lincoln Cultist you’d think like that.
Nothing against the Republic, as such, simply its degradation of the last century or so. Even in its heyday, it wasn’t really a republic in the sense we think of it. It installed Romans as the masters over the rest of the world, rather than aristos or kings as the masters over Rome. It was also intensely aristocratic at all times, with the proviso that over a generation or two New Men could become Romans and aristos.
But the Republic of the last century or so was a disaster. It was dead in any meaningful sense long before Caesar and Augustus put it out of its misery.
Here’s what that last century mostly consisted of: Roman political/military leaders used the legions of the Republic to invade neighbors, conquer and loot them, then use the money and power thus generated to fight each other over who would control the corpse of the Republic. Those with slightly lesser ambitions used their governorships (after being praetor or consul) to loot their provinces, using the most appalling methods (torture, death by starvation, selling entire populations into slavery, etc.). They had to, since they’d financed their political careers by borrowing, and their governorships were their only opportunity to pay back their debts and build a nest egg to support them the rest of their lives.
Was a (generally) benign Empire preferable? You betcha, for 99% of the populace. Most of the crimes of the “bad” emperors affected almost entirely the Roman aristos, leaving the vast majority of the people mostly alone, with the empire’s governors much less oppressive, on the whole, than those of the later republic.
Roman history is fascinating. It’s like a fun-house image of our own society. Largely because we’re descended from a hybrid of Rome and Christianity. Roman society is what we’d be without the ideals of Christianity.
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