Friday 25 March 2016

Republics Of This World: A Meditation on Rome, The USA And Easter.

Not Of Rome's World: While the similarities between the Roman and American republics are striking - especially in terms of the deliberate corruption of their politics by wealthy elites - the notion of belonging to a moral polity, as enunciated by Christ, could hardly be more different. The Kingdom of Heaven will always stand in sharp contrast to the brutally contested rewards of worldly governments.
I’VE JUST FINISHED READING Robert Harris’s historical novel, Dictator. Set in the final tumultuous years of the Roman Republic, the book has sharpened my appreciation of the current campaign for the American Presidency. Though separated in time by more than two thousand years, the political similarities between the world’s two most influential republics are more than a little unnerving.
In both instances we are confronted with extremely ambitious and fabulously wealthy men joining forces to subvert the institutions of the republic. The weapon of choice against the Roman and American constitutions are the all-too-easily aroused passions of the long-suffering plebs. Having whipped up the fury of the common people against the depredations of the elites, the enemies of the republic then set the plebs to dismantling the constitutional checks and balances which are all that stand between them and the exercise of unbridled power.
All that is lacking from the political stage of contemporary America is a Julius Caesar. There is, as yet, no United States equivalent of Rome’s all-conquering general. No one in command of an army of fanatically loyal soldiers ready to march on Washington itself – if that is their imperator’s command.
Some would cast Donald Trump in the role of America’s Caesar. Having read Harris’s novel, however, I would rather cast Trump as America’s Publius Clodius Pulcher.
Clodius was a populist Roman politician who relinquished his aristocratic privileges so that he could be elected to the office of Tribune – the representative and protector of ordinary citizens. Like Clodius, Trump is vilified by “decent” citizens for adopting the vulgar accents of the mob, and is accused of inciting them to intimidate and attack his opponents.
In Trump’s recent prediction/threat that there will be “riots in the streets” if the elites attempt to deny him the Republican Party’s nomination, one detects ominous echoes of Clodius’s actual use of his fiercely loyal plebeian followers to overawe the aristocratic Roman Senate and secure the passage of his populist legislation.
The fall of the Roman Republic was, paradoxically, the result of its extraordinary success. As Rome’s conquests multiplied, its wealth grew to the point where the civic virtue so essential to the operation of its complex constitution was utterly overwhelmed by avarice and corruption.
There was simply too much money to be made out of Rome’s expanding empire: more than enough to buy up the key public offices of the republic. Gold could also create legions, the military power upon which the city state and its empire ultimately rested. Inevitably one ambitious politician would lay his hands on sufficient wealth, and swords, to dispense with the consent of the Senate and People of Rome altogether.
This fascination with Rome, stronger today than it has been for many decades, may strike you as odd until you are reminded, every Easter, of the events which bind the world of two thousand years ago with the world of today. Whatever else it may purport to be, the story of Jesus of Nazareth; his birth, ministry and ultimate execution; is a story which takes place in the context of Rome’s imperium.
Jesus and his followers could no more avoid the political and moral questions posed by Roman rule than we can escape the challenges of American hegemony. In his time, as in ours, there were many who sought to free themselves from imperial rule by violence. Only a handful of those struck by Rome were willing to turn the other cheek.
The Judea of 33AD was as plagued by terrorism, and the grim reprisals it provokes, as the Israel of 2016AD. It’s people awaited the coming of a mighty leader: someone to make the land of God’s chosen people great again. For a moment, they thought they’d found one. But, when asked by the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, whether he was this long awaited King of the Jews, Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
What did Pilate make of that enigmatic answer? Did he shake his head – incredulous at his doomed prisoner’s naivety? How could Jesus not know that imperium and reality are inseparable? That nobody is more of this world than a king.
The idea of a moral imperium was as foreign to Pontius Pilate, then, as it is, now, to Donald Trump.
A version of this essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times of Thursday, 24 March 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well, there was the 'business plot' - so-called. And I think that people might have been just a tad worried when MacArthur was stripped of his command.
Trump's not necessarily lying when he says there will be riots in the streets though. If he loses the nomination, his supporters aren't just going to go away. People that have coalesced around this charismatic figure have already shown themselves to be violent. Notably the 78-year-old who king hit a protester at one of his rallies and later said they 'might have to kill him' if he came back. Actually, somebody coined a phrase which I rather like, calling him "this wizened raisin of hate."
Anyway, I would certainly expect a few protests if not riots. The Orange One has got them pretty stirred up.

Anonymous said...

That is your opinion and will probably be shared by millions of people but more millions may not share it.
I say know one really knows for sure about Trump until and if he gets the reins.
Trump could still lose the GOP nomination but if he gets the nod then Hillary Clinton will be toast.
Americans have had enough of careerist politicians who claim to know what is right for 'America and Americans'.
Americans want somebody who has created in their lives and has a message 'what is right for 'Americans and America'.
Since he has been Prime Minister John Keys message has been 'New Zealanders and New Zealand'
John Key has also had to work in a proper job before politics and he was successful, unlike any of his political opponents.

SHG said...

The most significant difference between Gaius Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth is that we're pretty sure Caesar existed.

Unknown said...

"this wizened raisin of hate."
The left don't get Trump because they are the problem. Their empire extends throughout the media.

jh said...

Mai Chen speaks (Utube) while her subjects drink from balloon glasses, all paid for by banks and Mike Pero. They are the "protected classes"

Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected

pat said...

The collapse of the Roman Empire and the so called "dark ages" are a recurring theme of late...

It must be fate

Anonymous said...

Its people ...

greywarbler said...

Thank goodness they developed writing on permanent materials in the ancient days. Otherwise we would be without guidance for reflection now. We may yet have books burned, the CDs are coded data to the naked eye, and the wisdom of centuries to 1980 seems to have been by-passed in one or two generations. It is likely that much will be lost in fire or at the bottom of the sea along with all the waste technology that fascinated our fingers but didn't energise the organic batteries of our entire brain in both hemispheres.

However there is a nobility in fighting for a good cause, and I hope that the last thinkers don't end up on gibbets or crucifixes. Perhaps we have been swimming in a vast goldfish bowl, and everything goes in cycles but being such a big bowl, we hadn't noticed. Slogan for the future, suitable for our Brave New World 'Everything that goes round, comes round'.

The King James Version puts this as Jesus' words in John 13:34
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another;
as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”
So in simpler words:
Jesus said 'Love each other as I have loved you.'
That followed, would enable us to start limiting our problems and bring them down to more manageable portions. (Always being wary of the slyness and deceitfulness of humans when making any large, important commitment.)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Americans want somebody who has created in their lives."

And what has Trump created with the money he was given by his father to start a business? A number of businesses which have gone bankrupt – not because they were necessarily out of cash, but because he uses bankruptcy as a business tactic to get other people stuck with the debt while he makes the profit. Ethical that.

"John Key has also had to work in a proper job before politics and he was successful"
You and I obviously have different interpretation of the words "proper job". Key was a currency trader, which is one of the most useless professions on God's earth.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"this wizened raisin of hate."

Maybe I wasn't clear, but I suspect faulty interpretation on your part. The 'wizened raisin of hate' applied to the 78-year-old who king hit the protester as he was being escorted out by the police. No one would call that plump arse Trump wizened quite yet.

And if the media is part of some left-wing conspiracy, how come Trump gets more hours on TV than just about all the other candidates both Democrat and Republican put together. Don't be stupid. If Trump is good at anything it is controlling the media, and dominating the news cycle.

Anonymous said...

GS, 27 Mar 15.21,
You should apply for a job with the "Grant Robertson All-Stars Financial Team" you would fit in well.
Amongst other jobs John Key was a successful currency trader as he is a successful Prime Minister.

Unknown said...

Since he has been Prime Minister John Keys message has been 'New Zealanders and New Zealand'
John Key has also had to work in a proper job before politics and he was successful, unlike any of his political opponents.
Read The Highwaymen by Bill Bonner

also Key states:
So we played a bit about whether people coming here was a good or bad thing whether people should invest here was a good or bad thing, or whether we have a trade agreement with parts of Asia was a good or bad thing, but actually in my mind, the reason that I want to say yes to those things is because they are the opportunities that reflect our opportunities to both get wealthier (which is all about what you can do with that money) and then ultimately the oppurtunities for Kiwis. I’d like New Zealanders to feel (after my time as Prime Minister) they have become more confident outward looking nation more multicultural.


The distinctive feature of the New Zealand economy is that land is an important input into
the productive process. This is obvious with the agricultural, fishing and forestry sectors but
it also applies to international tourism. In a simple model of the New Zealand economy
where the supply of land is fixed, and New Zealand’s isolation means it is not a ‘natural’
location for the production of a broad range of internationally traded goods and services,
then an increase in the labour supply through large scale immigration will reduce the
marginal product of labour. As a result:
 Real wages will fall
 Owners of land will benefit
 There will be an outflow of ‘native’ labour in search of higher wages in Australia
 The economy will be bigger, but average incomes will fall
 Resources will flow into low value service production.
check, check, check,check and check!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't care how successful he was as a currency trader. Someone whose job it is to make money on the hourly/daily/weekly/ differences between currencies is essentially a parasite. Mind you, probably good preparation for being a politician. He spent a couple of years doing other things? So what? So did I before I got a degree. What amazes and amuses me, is that "you people" think somehow that a "real job" is a pre-requisite for running the country. You don't seem to realise that there is a huge difference between being in business and running a country. Still, not much I can do about that. True believers abound, and all the evidence in the world doesn't change their views.

Nick J said...

Roman Empire
History of the Roman Empire
Home Page Late Republic
Late Republic Chapter
Chapter Late Republic
Late Republic Gallery
Portrait Gallery Roman Empire
Childrens Section
Children's Section

Marcus Licinius Crassus
(d. 53 BC)
Chris, you are so right about the similarities between the end of the Roman Republic and todays USA. I read Colleen McCulloughs historic novels years back and had the same reaction. That lead me to the original sources such as Cicero, then Gibbons, followed by the US Marxist historian Michael Parenti. The same trends come through loud and clear, i am unsure where in the US experience the Marian - Sullan conflict occurs , or is yet to occur?

My take on Trump is that he is more likely Crassus......
Crassus career to fame and phenomenal wealth began as he started purchasing the houses of Sulla's victims. Sulla confiscated all their belongings he sold them off cheap. And Crassus bought and made sensational profits when selling them on.
Using his wealth he also kept a troop of 500 slaves, all skilled builders, on stand-by. He would then simply wait for one of Rome's frequent fires to break out and would then offer to buy the burning properties, as well as the endangered neighbouring buildings. Using his team of builders he would then rebuild the area and keep it to draw income from rent, or sell it on with a large profit.
Property speculation, dubious tactics. Sound familiar?

Of course Crassus got involved in conflict with the Parthians in Syria. Finito, head on stake. The Syrian confict continues to this day with minor intermissions.

Nick J said...

Jeez GS, you are so bloody blind to what Key and his supporters are. Every time you damn him by use of terms such as "parasite" ,"businessman", etc and deny he has had a "real job" you play straight into Keys supporters hands.

Why? Because Key has had a real job where real investors have entrusted their money to Key to play the currency market and make them wealthier. Whether Keys job meets mine or your definition of a "real job" is immaterial, it is what these people think and their vote that is important. Lots of average Kiwis who the record tells us voted for Key did so because this method of becoming wealthy fits within their framework, their aspirations and their expectations. Damning Key by labeling him (even if most of us on the Left align with your assertions) places Keys voters in that position where they say "Hey GS, what the hell have you ever done? John is making us richer so stuff you".

I resent what Key has done to this country, I don't like what he represents. I want rid of him. Point though as long as the Left attacks the values of the people who elected Key with name calling and labeling, and without giving deeper reasons than what Key supporters perceive as "jealousy and resentment", then those people will keep voting Key. This does the Left no favours.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what Nick, I don't give a shit what his supporters think. I resent the implication that people give when they say Key has had a real job, that other people haven't. As far as I'm concerned is no such thing as a non-real job. Even if it makes you a parasite it's still real. People who give John Key money to invest aren't going to vote Labour anyway. It's not as if we talking about mum and dad investors here. When they stop talking about 'real' jobs, I might consider stopping talking about parasites. (Not to mention I doubt many investment bankers read this blog, and I doubt if reading my comments would change anyone's mind anyway.)

Anonymous said...

So whilst you GS don't give a proverbial about what Keys supporters think they keep voting Key. No attempt to persuade that few percent otherwise. Well done, let's all lose again because of our stupid egos.

Victor said...

May I recommend Tom Holland's "Rubicon" to anyone who wants to trace the similarities twixt the Roman and American republics during their respective hurtles towards authoritarianism.

Either Crassus or Clodius Pulcher does well as a Trump equivalent. But, this time around, there's a shortage of successful generals to play either Caesar or Pompey with any plausibility (surely not Petraeus?). Even more disappointingly, there's no Cleopatra.

Alternatively, you can take the view of Nigel Hamilton in his over-written but still enjoyable volume "American Caesars", which effectively maintains that the American Republic in its classic form came to an end in 1933, with the accession to power of the first and greatest of its emperors.

Nick J said...

GS, you may not give a shit, that's all good so long as you don't mind the Left being perpetual losers. At some point in a democracy you have to persuade people to vote your way. In commercial life I have to get customers to agree, insulting their aspirations is a guaranteed way to miss out on the business. Getting them to understand that there may be a better way for them may often be a thankless task but it works far better.

Charles E said...

GS economists will tell you, with evidence, that money traders provide the vital service of constantly establishing the real or true value of every currency that floats and even those that don't at times.
So far from a parasitic occupation, Key's was an essential service sector job.
Same goes for car sales people and real estate agents. We may dislike them at times but they provide vital services in an economy. There are many other examples.
A parasitic job from my point of view, would be a career politician who never achieves anything much except for his or her party. Labour has always been stacked with them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"GS economists will tell you, with evidence, that money traders provide the vital service of constantly establishing the real or true value of every currency that floats and even those that don't at times.
So far from a parasitic occupation, Key's was an essential service sector job."

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. LOL just doesn't cut it at times like this. Of COURSE they do, because that's what it says in the economics textbooks. Unfortunately, some will tell you – with evidence – that somewhere between 80% and 95% of it is pure speculation. And of course is pretty much unregulated which you might see is pure capitalism, but I see as an opportunity for peculation, manipulation and corruption. Do you not remember George Soros?
Anyway, aren't service sector jobs supposed to be low paid? :):):)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"So whilst you GS don't give a proverbial about what Keys supporters think they keep voting Key. No attempt to persuade that few percent otherwise. Well done, let's all lose again because of our stupid egos."

So tell me anonymous – what mechanism exists for my opinion to persuade any of the few percent? Particularly when maybe about .00000000001 percent of THEM actually read this blog?
Again Nick, you and the Labour Party can do what you like. I couldn't stop you even if I wanted to. But I fail to see any evidence that any huge number of people believe that currency trading/John Key are anything special. I do believe his popularity comes more from his pretense at being a common man than from his expertise at currency trading or business. But still, you provide me with some evidence of this and I will change my mind. You're not noted for that mind.
Having said that, how many people in this country aspire to be currency traders? You are mistaking their aspirations, which might be to get ahead, for an appreciation of currency trading. About which I guarantee most people know absolutely nothing.
I might add that one of the ways of getting people to understand there might be a better way, is to point out the weaknesses of the old way.
But this is all beside the point, because New Zealand elections tend to be cyclical. Either 2, 3 or in exceptional cases 4 terms and then there are out. Not much persuading needed really. People just get tired of them. All this has been discussed before in these columns and I think most people tend to agree with that again, if you have any evidence to the contrary then let's know. I'm still waiting for substantive evidence of "no-go zones" though.
Charles, just read your last sentence. Again LOL doesn't really cover this. You obviously haven't investigated the National party very deeply. Duncan Garner, who seems to have Kiwi blogs seal of approval as a list of the most useless MPs in his opinion. It goes like this:
1. Aaron Gilmore (N)
2. Raymond Huo (L)
3. Dr Jian Yang (N)
4. Kanwaljit Bakshi (N)
5. Claudette Hauiti (N)
6. Asenati Lole-Taylor (NZF)
7. Melissa Lee (N)
8. Steffan Browning (G)
9. Rajen Prasad (L)
10. Richard Prosser (NZF)

Nick J said...

GS in reply But I fail to see any evidence that any huge number of people believe that currency trading/John Key are anything special. Yes, well three elections seem to confirm his popularity (as do you see below)
I do believe his popularity comes more from his pretense at being a common man than from his expertise at currency trading or business. The common man has aspirations of becoming wealthy, just like their hero John. If he was a house speculator they would probably like him more.
But still, you provide me with some evidence of this and I will change my mind. Thank you for your assistance.
You're not noted for that mind. says who other than yourself?

Nick J said...

Thanks Victor,

Rubicon is a fine book, my copy is out there in "circulation" land. On the shortage of US generals to play Caesar or similar roles I thought of Stormin Norman (deceased 2012), Colin Powell (78 years old) and then a blank. Nobody seems to be claiming a "triumph" for Iraq or Afghanistan for obvious reasons. One Republican party name who could reappear is Condoleezza Rice, a real hawks hawk.

One thing that struck me about the American election and the people involved is that there is a gerontocracy, they are all so aged. Democrats Sanders 75, Clinton 68, Republicans Trump 69, Romney a possible at 69, funders the Koch brothers 75+. Only Republicans Rubio 44 and Cruz 45 look youthful. Kennedy was of course 41 when he was elected, Roosevelt 51. In a big population like the USA where is any youthful charisma and talent, a Kennedy perhaps? I should be careful saying that however, I am not so young myself.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"You're not noted for that mind. says who other than yourself?"

Maybe no one. Maybe no one else is interested. But I'm still waiting for some examples of no-go areas and unsanctioned sharia law in Christian countries. Otherwise perhaps you could just do me the favour of admitting you were making shit up? At least about those two particular things, which I'm pretty sure I've shown to be false.

Victor said...

Nick J

I assume that Wesley Clark has given up on his presidential ambitions. I certainly hope so, given how he nearly started World War Three over Pristina Airport.

But, I agree, the swerve to gerontocracy is surprising

Guerilla Surgeon said...

China, one of the most economically successful countries in the last 30 or 40 years, has been a gerontocracy almost forever. Show me a government of yoof who have overseen such economic growth in the latter half of the last century and the first 15 years of this. :) Likewise, if you look at the leaders of Japan and West Germany, arguably the two most economically successful democratic states in the latter half of the 20th century, they were also led by old people. So give me old people anytime.

Victor said...


I don't disagree. I'm pleasantly surprised.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

We often agree Victor. Probably as much as we disagree :).