Monday, February 3, 2020

Crumbling US senate echoes Roman collapse

     Don’t be glum, chum. It isn’t as if the United States Senate is the first legislative body to dissolve into an impotent puddle at the feet of a domineering leader. History’s full of ’em. The most glaring example, alas, is the senate in the ancient Roman Republic.
     If it’s been a while since you reached for your Edward Gibbon, save yourself the back strain. I’ve spent the weekend thumbing through “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” and, buddy, as bad as the news is today, by consulting history we are reminded that it can get worse.
     Much worse.
     Gibbon starts off his epic — some 4,000 pages — of decline with the first emperor; Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian, who renamed himself “Augustus” and, like a certain president we all know, swept aside governmental norms to gather power to himself.
     “Every barrier of the Roman constitution had been leveled by the vast ambition of the dictator,” Gibbon writes. He had help, particularly in rural areas.
     ”The provinces, long oppressed by the ministers of the republic, sighed for the government of a single person, who would be the master, not the accomplice, of those petty tyrants,” Gibbon writes. “The people of Rome, viewing with secret pleasure the humiliation of the aristocracy, demanded only bread and public shows.”
     Enjoy the Super Bowl Sunday? Good times...
     The thing is, Augustus liked the senate. He himself was a senator, and made a show of consulting his fellow senators, who were always welcome to show their fidelity to him, since “it was dangerous to trust the sincerity of Augustus; to seem to distrust it was still more dangerous.”

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  1. Whenever a religious fanatic invokes the fall of Rome (usually, as Neil says, in connection with attitudes toward gays), I like to point out that it coincided with the establishment of Christianity as the state religion. Correlation is not causation, of course, but those people don't know that.

  2. Stellar work here; very nicely captures this moment. Sadly.

    But just for safety's sake, I think I'll extend my personal Visigoth tattoos a bit, to play nice with newcomers.

  3. Great comparison. Neil. I would say educated Democrats will recognize the similarities. As far as Bitter Scribe, bitter indeed.

  4. At the heart of the matter is that maybe our founding fathers didn’t get it completely right. I guess they knew there had to vehicle for change (i.e. amendments).
    The glaring error here is the imbalance of power in the Senate. Similar to the misrepresenting Electoral College, some states have more power than others. Wyoming has two Senators that represent a small number of people compare say to New York whose Senators represents millions more.
    The Senate does not represent the will of the people. We are not really a country of the people, by the people, and for the people.

  5. This business about Trump becoming a dictator would be hilarious if it weren’t A belief that is pathetically ignorant of our constitution.


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