The Fall of the Roman Republic: A Narrative and Analytical Comparison with the Contemporary Conditions of the United States of America – (Part 3 of a Series)
Derek Suszko is an associate editor for The St. Croix Review.
III. Analysis of the Roman and American Republics
In the Introduction to this essay, we outlined the four primary reasons for the collapse of the Roman republic. A careful reading of the preceding historical narrative (see Part 2 in previous issue) will yield the evidence of these causes. The effect of these combined causes was the transformation of the Roman state from a representative republic to a military dictatorship. The causes were 1) the pollution of the legislative function; 2) the criminality of the aristocratic elite; 3) the oppression of a necessary faction (the Roman soldiership); and 4) the causal sequence of escalation initiated by the deployment of arbitrary power. The first of these three causes describe symptoms of the collapse; the fourth cause emerged as a natural aftermath of republican obsolescence. Each of the causes may be taken in abstract to be a general principle applicable to the crisis of any republican government, and the incidence of any signifies a state in which the maintenance of the republican principle of representative government is precarious. All four causes are applicable (to varying degrees of severity and discrepancy) to the present condition of the American republic. It is the subject of our investigation to determine how the American situation compares and contrasts with the Roman, and to forecast the political course that might result for the future history of the United States. The plan for Part III is to examine each of the four causes in sequence. We begin each section by outlining each cause in general terms as it relates to fundamental considerations of political theory. We then proceed to apply the cause as a specific factor in the Roman and American political situations, respectively, and note the similarities and differences between them. Finally, we present a forecast of the political course of the American republic should each factor persist, and the consequences for the fragile maintenance of American national unity.
Cause 1: The Pollution of the Legislative Function
The Conditions for Legislative Obsolescence
In any operable representative government there must exist a great interdependence between the citizens and the legislative capacity. The other capacities of government (executive, judicial, bureaucratic) remain by necessity more opaque from the direct remedial concerns of the citizens; but so long as the legislative mechanisms, which in all republican systems are most directly influenced by the people, remain a legitimate and effective recourse for political grievances, the representative nature of the government is intact and the republican principle of government abides. A citizen majority which seeks legitimate (an assessment of which factional claims count as legitimate will follow in Part 4) remediation for systemic grievances will only find permanent solutions in the alterations, additions or negations of laws, and the integrity of a republican system is dependent on whether the system allows for appropriate legislative action to ensue. A pollution of the legislative function is present in a putatively representative republic in which any of the following conditions is true:
- The citizens have authentically representative advocates, but these do not have the constitutional power to assert appropriate legislative action.
- The citizens do not have authentically representative advocates and have no means of replacing them electorally by proper alternatives, either because of intermediary bureaucracies which control the selection or because of corrupting intermediary interest groups.
- The citizens have authentically representative advocates who have constitutional authorities, but the existing executive functions and bureaucracies will venture arbitrary (extra-constitutional) powers to prevent the exercise of those authorities.
The first condition describes a government akin to a banana republic with a deficiently empowered legislature under a national constitution (the “People’s Congress” of North Korea is an obvious example). The second condition describes a legislative function which appears to be representative, but which by its mechanisms so dilutes and obscures the interests of the citizens that it is incapable of remedial action. The third condition describes a republic in which a constitutional framework exists but is illegally ignored by those with a de facto license to override constitutional law. It is important to note that the exercisers of the arbitrary powers of the third condition will nearly always claim a veneer of legality. This is dubious in all events, but especially so if the exercisers are not constitutionally prescribed authorities. The distinction between the first and third condition is essential: in the first condition, the legislature is essentially ceremonial and does not possess statutory authority; thus, the executive or bureaucratic powers which override the considerations of a cipher legislature are not, strictly speaking, acting in violation of law. But in the third condition, the legislature is invested with statutory authority, and therefore any circumscriptions of its prescribed powers do represent violations of law. The incidence of any of these three conditions indicates that a legislature has entered a stage of dissipation and that recourse to legislative action is no longer a feasible course for political remediation.
The history of both the Roman and American republics demonstrates a long decline in the power of the respective legislative functions; this observation indicates that a decline in legislative power is natural in the life of a long standing republic. It is no accident that in both nations, the decline in legislative power accompanied a vast expanse in the bureaucratic and administrative functions of the state. This observation furnishes a crucial insight: the gradual dissipation of the integrity of a legislative function of a long standing republic is not necessarily attributable to an abrupt or overt instance of tyrannical interference but rather to a natural erosion of legislative power brought about by the limitations of its constitutionally sanctioned authority. This point demands considerable clarification. The difference is between that of a willful, conscious repudiation of the legislative function and a passive, unconscious erosion of legislative capability. To put the question in other terms: Is a curtailment in the power of a legislature necessarily due to the willful corruption of a constitutional system or is a loss of legislative power a natural consequence of the constitutional mechanisms themselves? If the constitution is to blame, then the pollution of the legislative function emerges not from a direct imposition of tyranny but from the very nature of its composition.
To answer this, we must consider the degree of independence and specialization of the legislative capacity. It is observable throughout history that a government founded (as is the American) on the principle of a separation of the legislative, executive, judicial, and bureaucratic powers, will follow a common alteration in the share of power each constituent retains over the course of its history. In the early phases in the life of such a republic, when legislation is scant,1 the proportion of political power possessed by the legislature is at its apex because the institutions and traditions which facilitate executive and bureaucratic power have not been consecrated. But as the republic continues through time, and the body of statutes and laws increases, the power of the legislature diminishes. Thus, a republic founded on the specialization of the legislative function cannot maintain equilibrium in the measure of political power the legislature possesses, because the proportion of this power is relative to the amount already expended. This phenomenon, whereby a legislature decays in power over the life of a representative republic, is due to the observable truth that the legislative capacity of a large republic is generally incapable of revocation of previously passed legislation. We may consider this phenomenon to be a largely inadvertent course to the legislative obsolescence of a republican government.2
Thus, it may be that a long standing republic lapses not from a bald instance of tyranny but rather from a passive and gradual tyranny of accumulation. The body of statutes and the proliferation of administration accumulates to the point of corroding the constitutional processes of legislative remediation. Though a specialized legislative capacity is well able to address remedial concerns pertaining to a grievance against an independent citizen faction or a subordinate administration (such as a state government), it is wholly unable to address concerns pertaining to a grievance against policies emanating from the federal apparatus of which it is a part. The issue can be made vivid by considering the institution of a hypothetical federal bureaucracy: The bureaucracy is consecrated into law on the basis of administering a need among the citizen body. Should the bureaucracy swell beyond the initial intention and gain autonomy in its operations, it may begin exercising authority beyond its legal scope; in doing so, it may become the cause of a citizen grievance, and the appropriate legislative remediation would involve diminishing its authority. In such an instance, it is incumbent on the legislative capacity to curtail the power of the bureaucracy in the interest of remediation. If the legislature is unable (or unwilling) to do this, then the republican principle of government no longer abides.
But why should legislatures necessarily be more adept at invocation than revocation? Since republican constitutions inevitably grant the legislatures legal precedence over administrative functions and functionaries, there is theoretically no reason why legislators should not repeal laws and functions as easily as they consecrate them. But in practice, there are considerable obstacles to legislatures tasked with repealing laws and diminishing the autonomy of administrations. There is a greater threat of judicial interference because the establishment of an administration produces a cogent litigant. There are greater political costs to a legislator associated with the elimination of a statute or authority (which is, naturally, associated with the negative) than to one associated with implementation (which is associated with the positive). It is far safer for single legislators (who have minimal individual power) to demonstrate a risk-averse pattern of political advocacy, and thereby avoid discriminating attention. The legislature may retain the authority of oversight, but this power is meaningless if it cannot be bolstered by significant legislative action. There are many additional reasons for the impotence of legislators in the face of administrative accumulation that are beyond the scope of this essay. We might be content to observe an oft-encountered phenomenon in nature: That a meaningful reversal in the course of a system may come about only by a disruption of that system.3
To sum up our contentions: a legislature that is not empowered with direct administrative functions will decline in power with the enlargement of administration in a natural process of legislative obsolescence. A situation of a de facto tyranny by accumulation may emerge due to the eclipse of a legislature that has become incapable of remedial authority. If we return to the three conditions prescribed for legislative pollution above we find that each may come about from this natural course of legislative obsolescence. Since all three conditions are variously applicable to both the Roman and American republics, we must consider whether a given instance has arisen from an open breakdown of constitutional processes, or whether it is due to the natural course of legislative obsolescence. The distinction is important because it determines to a large degree the difficulty of assembling a political movement to remedy the pollution. The occurrence of a blatant tyrannical power play that openly defies the constitution will more readily generate an opposition movement than a tyranny that has seeped gradually into the governmental organism and has quietly marginalized the curative capabilities of the legislature. A republic beset by a tyranny of the second kind will have a lengthier and thornier pathway to political resolution.
Legislative Pollution in the Roman and American Republics
Though the history of the Roman republic was characterized by blatant lapses in the integrity of the Roman legislative function, these episodes were always short-lived until the republican crisis of the 2nd century BC. The initial Roman constitution of 509 BC prescribed a plebeian congress with nominal advisory authority that retained no power of enforcement and could not override the decrees of patrician magistrates. This cipher “legislature” is an obvious instance of the first condition listed above, and the founding Roman constitution should be considered more oligarchic than republican.4 It was only with the institution of the tribunate in 490 BC that the Roman plebeians attained a legislator with real statutory power. In 454 BC the Roman senate (initially with the support of the tribunes) appointed a 10-man council known as the Decemvirs to establish a law code for the state. This council was granted indefinite authority to fulfill its task and refused to step down from power even after the law code known as the Twelve Tables had been ratified. This refusal instigated a plebeian revolt that ousted the Decemvirs from power.5 The episode provides an instance of the third condition: The Decemvirs were constitutionally subordinate to the tribunes and only remained in power by the arbitrary use of force. The crisis was brief and the republic returned to constitutional government shortly thereafter. As the republic grew in territory and administration, however, the sustained integrity of the republican system began to falter. By the mid-2nd century BC the tribunate was increasingly dominated by lackeys of patricians who corrupted the elections of the concilium plebis and installed inauthentic “representatives” in the office of tribune. This practice was a clear demonstration of the second condition: the concilium plebis represented a corrupt intermediary body that prevented the plebeians from nominating authentic representatives. By the time the plebeians overcame the interferences and began to proactively elect reformist tribunes like Tiberius Gracchus, the administrative and bureaucratic armory of the state was so vast that the power of the tribunate had been fatally weakened. The desecration of the office of tribune in the late republic represented the permanent pollution of the Roman republican legislative function.
The Roman legislative procedures clearly differed from contemporary American practices, but in many crucial aspects they are alike. The government of the Roman republic did not have so clear a “separation of powers” as the American government. The “legislative capacity” of the Roman republic was invested diffusely, since each serving magistrate could propose legislation. But under the constitutional constraints of the late republic, only the tribunes could veto proposed legislation. In effect, this meant that the two Roman tribunes (provided they agreed) had total legislative autonomy since they could block the proposed legislation of the magistrates while no constitutional authority could block legislation proposed by them. Thus, in many ways the two tribunes (as single legislators) may be likened to the bicameral legislative bodies (the House of Representatives and the Senate) of the American Congress. The Congress is exclusively empowered with the legislative functions of the American government, but it is a large body of divided membership. The tribunes needed only the unity of two, but they were pure legislators because they were shut out from executive or military authority. American senators and representatives are similarly barred from administrative functions. The tribunes should not be thought of as prime ministers (since they retained no administrative functions) but rather as “absolute legislators”; deprived of direct executive control of the state, allied tribunes nonetheless had absolute statutory authority. The American system has no single legislator with the individual power of the Roman tribune, though the Speaker of the House (provided he has a cooperative caucus) comes closest. The cumulative power of Congress has, at various points in American history, proved formidable, but the instances of surplus Congressional power are almost exclusively reserved to the first half of the history of the American republic, and have only been possible during periods of presidential ineptitude.6 Despite its apparent crudity, there is no validity in claiming that the Roman legislative capacity was uniquely flawed. Indeed, it was arguably superior to the American Congress because it centered on a singular figure of influence rather than a diffusion across a large body of individually weak members, as with the American House of Representatives. Nonetheless, the specialization of legislative power in the tribunate caused the position to succumb to the gradual process of legislative obsolescence.
Given the eclipse of the legislative capacity, the failure of the Gracchan reform movement to remedy the social fissures of the Roman state was due to its confinement in legislative procedures. The whole period 133 BC to 91 BC, from the tribunate and murder of Tiberius Gracchus to the tribunate and murder of Livius Drusus, evinces the total inadequacy of the Roman legislative function for remedying the political grievances of the middle plebeians. The entrenched administration was dominated by the Roman aristocrats, and they retained de facto discretion in the matter of enforcing the undesirable populist legislation passed in turn by the Gracchi, Saturninus, and Drusus. The tribunate failed in the reform of the Roman state because it had suffered from legislative obsolescence. Though the laws passed by the tribunes were constitutionally binding, they remained at the mercy of the enforcing administrators who did not desire them. The reform legislation was met with myriad instances of the third condition, and signified the end of the tribunate as a viable conduit for remediation. The true legacy of the Gracchi was not in the legislative reforms themselves (most of which were later repealed by lackey tribunes in blatant instances of the second condition), but rather in the movement’s essential clarification of the Roman political landscape. Before the ascension of the Gracchi the politics of plebeian advocacy was muddled and confused (due, in no small part, to the deployment of senate-approved propaganda), and could make no headway amidst the contradictions of aims and factional prerogatives. But after the consolidation of the landholding faction with the landless urbanites by Tiberius, and the inducement of the equites by Gaius, the populist coalition was clear in its factional composition and definite in its aims. This consolidation was to prove most consequential for winning over the bulk of the legionnaires. Many of the soldiers suffered from a dual duty: As plebeians they certainly sympathized with the small land-holding coalition (and many were victimized by the aristocrats themselves), but they relied for wages on the oligarchs and could jeopardize their offices and lives by showing open opposition to their commanders. After the Gracchi however, the soldiers could measure their generals by the degree to which they were partial to the clarified causes of the reform movement, and men like Gaius Marius recognized the power to be had by pledging themselves to reform. Thus, it was not the legislation proper which brought about reformist administrators (and, by extension, the reform of the administration), but rather the factional clarification provoked by the movement.
We turn now to the present condition of the American republic. Is the legislative function of the American Congress polluted? Increasingly, it is so. The conditions for pollution have come about both from the natural legislative obsolescence and a willful vacating of constitutional prerogatives. It is obvious that the second condition is readily applicable to much of Congress. The “establishment” wings of both parties disdain grassroots movements that seek to promote more “authentic” representatives. Once in office, only the most incorruptible representatives avoid being lured by the monetary promises of lobbyists and special interest groups. The establishment wings of both parties represent “corrupting intermediaries” between the people and authentic representation, but even if these intermediaries were to be surmounted it is likely that the Congress would remain enfeebled. This is because of the monstrous bloating of the bureaucratic and administrative state. The bureaucracies are increasingly operating autonomously and ideologically, and many are no longer subject to compliance in a de facto sense.7 The seesaw proviso of the principle of a natural legislative obsolescence suggests that the American Congress should be at its lowest point of authority in its history, and this is difficult to dispute when looking at the distribution of federal power as a whole. The primary power of the Congress is to stall and withhold progress on a political agenda, but it appears to be incapable of revoking the institutions that at present contribute to the erosion of authentically representative government. The major power that Congress definitively retains over the administration is budgetary authority, but this too is increasingly illusory. The legislative procedure established whereby the majority of the federal budget is settled wholesale in a grotesque omnibus bill has functionally deprived Congress of the nuanced ability to isolate and reduce funding without shuttering a good portion of government operations. The procedure established for budgetary legislation has effectively immunized the administration from reform. It is apparent that the Congress no longer represents the chief avenue for remedial possibilities. It is the offices with executive authorities (governors, presidents) which are more likely to produce forceful advocates of the constituencies and stand a chance of instigating legislative (and ultimately administrative) reform.
The similarities between the current condition of the American federal legislature and the Roman tribunate should be evident. Both functions represent inadequate pathways for remedial possibilities of a reformist populism. But we ought to back up and consider the question of whether any American “populism” of the present time ought to be compared to the Gracchan movement. This question will be further explored in the detailed consideration of factions (see Part 4), but for now it will suffice to say that there is a strong parallelism in general terms between the Gracchan movement of the late Roman republic and the emergent conservative populism of the American right-wing. The crucial similarities are as follows: 1) each represents an uprising of the “middle” economic classes; 2) each is culturally traditional; and 3) the main grievances emanate from the oppression of government and the consequences of government policy. The issue of the land redistribution championed by the Gracchi and the subsequent tribunes may confuse matters, for to some modern perspectives this will seem reminiscent of contemporary leftism. But this is to fail to understand the context that pressed the Gracchi to venture on such a policy. The accumulation of land on the part of aristocrats from free citizens due to corrupt judicial machinations and predatory economic policy is a demonstration of government oppression of the rights to property, and it was entirely just for the Gracchi to insist that land be restored to middle-class landowners.8 American conservative populism of the present-day is in its infancy and has produced only one figure remotely comparable to the Gracchi in Donald Trump.
The Prospects for a Conservative Populist Movement in American Politics
Trump’s potential status as an American Gracchus is not yet settled, for no aspect of his influence is at all clear. Whether Trumpism represents a permanent insurgency of the Republican Party or an aberration will not be known for some years and this, along with many other considerations, will depend on whether he serves another presidential term. No matter his long-term legacy, some external parallels with the Gracchi are obvious. Though Trump was legitimately elected to the presidency, the arbitrary powers of the American political establishment sought (and presently seek) to illegally marginalize his eligibility for office. Similarly, the Roman senate attempted to illegally block the candidacies of the Gracchi for the tribunate. The Gracchi were politically persecuted by the Roman senate, threatened with arrest, and finally murdered outright. Trump was impeached in office on dubious grounds, fraudulently “investigated” for collusion, and subject to a myriad of lawsuits and an FBI raid in his time out of office. The American administrative state regards Trump as a grave threat to its de facto power, and hopes that a deprecation of Trump the man will lead to a deprecation of the conservative populist ideas that he sponsors. In all these respects, Trump shares similarities with the upstart Gracchi. But it should be noted that Trump, unlike the Gracchi, has thus far been unsuccessful in the passage of conservative populist policy, even with a Republican federal legislature. The major legislation that the Trump administration did pass was not populist in orientation. If Trump is to be the American Gracchus, he is behind the pace at which the Gracchi managed to reorient the politics of the Roman state. To the true conservative populist, the legislative advances of the Trump administration represented a failure relative to the evolution of the political rhetoric of his candidacy. The major legislation of the first two years of the Trump administration (that is, when overt Republican legislation was possible) was mainly to the benefit of establishment interests. It may be that the Trump movement is too premature to bring about consequential reform to the American state; but it should be poised to bring about a factional clarification of the right-wing populist movement, and it is on this basis that a comparison to the Gracchi is warranted. In the long perspective of the Roman republic, the reforms offered by the Gracchi were modest compared to the eventual legislation of Julius Caesar and Augustus. The policies offered by Trump, the first representative of a populist right-wing, will likely seem quaint to the ultimate ambitions of the coalition. But in order to initiate such a legacy, the Trump movement will have to mimic the achievement of the Gracchi and produce the necessary factional clarification of the American Right.9
The tepid progress of the first Trump administration from the standpoint of conservative populism is caveated by the necessary admission that the Republican Party (as currently factionally constructed) is politically dubious. The reason for acute Republican impotence is owing to the fact that the party has for many decades contained factional contradictions. The “elite” interests represented by the party high-donor class have long been at odds with the interests of the rank-and-file membership and voting ranks. The “conservative coalition” that had its heyday under Reagan in the 1980s and dominated the electorate in four elections between 1968 and 1992 was (and remains) an unsteady factional alliance between “cultural” conservatives and corporate financial priorities. To illustrate the conflict of interests, we might examine the spheres of the most prominent factional disjunctions on the issues of health care and immigration. There has never been a coherent Republican platform on the broad issue of health care because the interests of the Republican voting base (low coverage costs) is at odds with the interests of the donor elite (the maintenance of a federally backed insurance “industry” and a medical bureaucratic administration).10 The hideous American medical collective (composed of insurance companies, federal and state regulators, pharmaceutical firms, practitioners, and administrators public and private) is a most lucrative gobbler of federal expenditure, and deploys an army of lobbyists to prevent unwanted reform of the industry. Many prominent Republicans are beholden to this leviathan, and the divide prevents the party from presenting a clear platform of health care reform. On the issue of immigration (illegal or otherwise) the desires of the Republican voting base (strong borders and protected jobs) are directly at odds with the financial desires of the party corporate elite (cheap labor and free trade). Trump himself was elected largely on the basis of his immigration stance, but was unable in his first administration to bring forth any meaningful federal immigration legislation. A comprehensive immigration bill failed to pass the House in 2018 due partly to lockstep Democrat opposition, but more so to the hesitations of Republicans who did not share the general perspectives of their voters. The decades-long failure of federal immigration policy has led to such a severe inundation of illegal immigrants into the country that a completely satisfactory reversal may no longer be possible. An authentic conservative populism would not only strongly enforce the border but would call further for a moratorium on all immigration until the economic damage to the citizens of the rampant migration has been sufficiently remedied. On a slate of other issues, such as foreign aid and tax policy, the Republican establishment dissents from the widespread views of their voters. Since there is no national alternative, the Republican establishment has found (at least until Trump) that a strong advocacy for overt cultural issues such as gun ownership and abortion is sufficient to retain the voting loyalties of the base. But even on the culture front, the Republican Party has proven woefully inept, ceding ground over the last 40 years on every issue except for abortion.11 It is demonstrable that the current Republican Party is not a viable opposition party to establishment power. It is, however, the only edifice on which a conservative populism can be built. The promotion of a third party is a totally ineffectual and self-destructive course given the winner-take-all nature of American electoral politics. The populist movement must succeed as a kind of insurgency of the Republican Party and provoke an upheaval of its factions. The remnant “elite” that remain in the Republican Party must be driven into the Democratic Party of established power (where they really belong and most have already gone) and the Republican Party must become a true champion of the “middle Americans” who embrace traditional culture. Such a coalition would be capable of authentic reform because of the proper alignment of its factions, and would rescue conservatism from its long impotence. Trump has the chance to cement this achievement in political realignment as his permanent legacy.
The most important lesson of the Gracchi is that no reform movement can make any progress until it undergoes the necessary clarification of its motives. For this to happen, it must shed the constituent factions that undermine the coherence of its agenda. The current Republican obsession with “enlarging” the base by appealing to factions hostile to basic assumptions of a conservative platform is purposeless, for even if it helps the party win elections in the short term, it only ensures wasted time, alienated voters, and a further entrenchment of established power. American politics amply demonstrates incidences of both the second and third conditions for legislative pollution, but instances of the second condition are less endangering to established power. A tyrannical power will always prefer to exercise the second condition and deprive citizens of the appropriate representatives by underhanded means than the third condition; for an exercise of the third condition is much more difficult to sustain since it must openly violate constitutional law. The present Republican Party as a whole can really be considered a perverse instance of the second condition, for its factional misalignment determines the deprivation of authentic conservative representation. A clarification of the conservative coalition would remove the Republican ineffectiveness, and thus the routine imposition of the second condition; should such a modified party prove electorally successful, it would force the established power to exercise the third condition and deploy arbitrary powers in escalating measures and (if the course of Roman events can attest to our future) thereby work to doom itself.
This essay will be continued in the next issue.
- It should be noted that in the case of the American republic there was a considerable inheritance of British common law statutes, an expedient which likely contributed to the republic’s success. The First French Republic (1792-1804) did not persist, largely because it sought a total tabula rasa condition and was unable to legislate itself out of crucial vacancies in the law code.
- We should emphasize that this principle of a natural diminishment of the legislative power is only applicable to republican governments in which the legislative function is specialized, as was the case with the Roman government (the tribunes) and is of the American (the two Houses of Congress). One could imagine a republican government in which the legislative capacity is also empowered with express administrative authorities (as was the ill-fated French Fourth Republic). Issues of other kinds will beset such a government, but it would not suffer from an impotence of its administrative authority.
- In other words, a governmental system cannot reverse itself by the same processes that led it to its present state. The acknowledgment that all our rational powers in crafting enlightened government may fall before the dictates of nature produces a grim satisfaction.
- One might question on what basis we are determining a republican standard, since the “republican” constitution of 490 BC granted voting only to male, land-holding plebeians. The standard relates to the distinctions of citizenship. Women, slaves, and (for a time) non-landholding plebeians were not regarded as citizens and were therefore not subject to the impositions of citizenship (such as military service and taxation). The constitution of 509 BC was tyrannical because it compelled plebeians to the duties of citizenship while depriving them of representation in government. The reforms of 490 BC ensured that all Roman citizens attained governmental representation.
- The leading figure of the Decemvirs was Appius Claudius, a man with considerable administrative ability who frequently engaged in petty tyrannies. If the story of the Roman historian Livy is to be trusted, the direct impetus for the plebeian revolt arose from the sordid lust of Appius for one Verginia, the daughter of a Roman aristocrat called Verginius. In order to prevent the girl from marrying a young nobleman, Appius, in his judicial capacity, declared Verginia to be a slave and not the natural daughter of her father. In a grim demonstration of Roman honor customs, Verginius killed his daughter upon hearing the verdict, and incited a frenzied plebeian mob that forced Appius and the other Decemvirs from the city of Rome.
- The power of the individual branch of Congress is only seriously manifest in the event of an opposing presidential administration, for though every president has had his feuds with Congress, the nature of the two-party system in American politics determines that the majority party of Congress will generally subordinate itself to the agenda of a like-minded president. The apex of Congressional power probably occurred during the early part of Reconstruction in1865-1877, when Republican supermajorities in Congress were able to override the vetoes of Democrat President Andrew Johnson and pass revolutionary legislation empowering the national government. It is arguable that these supermajorities were the result of a kind of “arbitrary power” since they were only made possible by temporarily barring the former Confederate states from congressional representation.
- Nominally, the Congress still exercises oversight over the departments but in practice the oversight is insignificant. The procedures of the departments are so vast that they can be easily concealed from cc
- The political struggle of the Gracchi has been cited in Marxist historicism as an instance of the futile, pre-revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat, but this contention is erroneous. Actually, the episode of the Gracchi represents an early, primitive instance of resistance to a quasi-Marxist totalitarianism, not dissimilar to trends of our own time. If Rome had a “proletarian” class it would undoubtedly have been the slaves, who comprised nearly 20 percent of the Roman population, and who had no political rights. While to the modern sensibility the slaves had obvious and legitimate grievances, there was simply no possibility of political advocacy for them in the ancient world. During the revolt of Spartacus in 73 BC, the normal political battles were put on hold while the senate authorized generals to crush the uprising. Thousands of captured slaves were crucified along the Via Appia as a deterrent to future rebels, to unanimous approval across the Roman political spectrum.
- The possibility that Trump himself may be inadequate as the leader of a rapidly evolving populist movement must also be considered and honestly assessed. The suggestion has nothing to do with Trump’s social status as billionaire and celebrity; the Gracchi also derived from ultra-aristocratic stock. Nor does it have to do with his crassness, for such has been the nature of many great men. But it is difficult to imagine that Trump would act with the same selfless bravery as demonstrated by the Gracchi in the defense of his cause and followers. His feeble advocacy for those of his supporters unjustly imprisoned for the events of January 6, 2020, may either be a demonstration of his hesitant motives, and a willingness to abandon his coalition, or a calculated necessity based on a desire to return to power. Only a return to the presidency will reveal the truth of his principles.
- We do not have the space here to elaborate on a comprehensive health care platform for a conservative populism, but in general terms it should aim at near-universalized coverage, and minimal bureaucratic expense, and should so far as possible, to prevent practitioners from arbitrarily setting prices. But how can a competitive market be retained if coverage is guaranteed? Simply by directing federal welfare expenditures to the individual citizen (in amounts fixed by law) instead of the institution (in amounts arbitrarily billed). Such a method would retain the most minimal costs possible for a universal system because the citizens would retain their power of market determination (i.e., they would spend their welfare allotment at the institutions which offered their preferred prices).
- Some “moderates” (including many alleged “conservatives”) might argue that on issues like “equitable” representation, gay “marriage,” transgenderism, and anything falling in the dreaded assortment of diversity, equity and inclusion that the Republican platform and rhetoric must “adapt or die” to the changing times. Anyone who argues this is either so ignorant that they do not understand how social engineering and propaganda escalates and shapes the “changing times” or is willfully attempting to move the party leftward. *