When Brutus and the rest of the conspirators went outside wearing a hood on a spear, a symbol of freedom restored with the murder of Julius Caesar, they found no cheers but a mixture of chaos and fear . Perhaps Brutus then understood that the freedom he craved cannot exist without the security guaranteed by a figure like the dictator César.
The unsuspecting leaders who oppose freedom and security often stamp their people against a paradox. As there is nothing as liberticidal as fear , citizens often entrust an oppressive government to free them from the oppression of insecurity. That certainty was what allowed the wise consul Octavian to rise to the category of divinity and is one of the most valuable teachings that Rome has bequeathed to the rulers of the future.
The historian Edward J. Watts, professor at the University of California, analyzes in the mortal Republic. How Rome fell into tyranny (Guttenberg Galaxy) the reasons why a regime of counterweights and balances that were believed ideal ended up wrecking in violence, sectarianism and paralysis .
The decline of the Republic in Rome (509 BC-27 BC) that gave rise to the Empire of Augustus should be a kind of perpetual reminder to the rulers of the present and with that spirit seems to have studied Watts this exciting period. History is not an oracle, nor is it ever repeated, but current democracies have a warning in each of the historical events that led to the collapse of one of its most inspiring precedents.
"Rome demonstrates that the loss of faith in justice and the responsiveness of a republic is extremely dangerous," Watts warns THE WORLD. "It is disconcerting to see that sectarianism and partisanship prevent countries as diverse as Spain, Israel and the United States from creating effective governments that can generate consensus around policies that solve urgent political and social problems."
The legislative blockade in a regime like the Roman, which venerated -because I needed- the consensus, was a dramatic issue that eventually paved the way for the agitators, the salvapatrias and the demagogues . The author of the mortal Republic only shows the facts of the past, it is the reader who draws the inevitable parallels with the present.
Watts exemplifies in Cayo Fabricio Luscino the original virtue of the Republic. Fabricio was in charge of negotiating peace with Pirro de Épiro, who gave us the expression "Pyrrhic victory" that 10 out of 10 sports journalists misuse. Plutarch describes the stupefaction of the enemy of Rome when he discovers that there is no money that can bribe Fabrizio.
The Republic had put into circulation a currency that traded well above the denarii. Pirro was fascinated by the value that the Romans granted to the honors that the good public servant received and understood that, although he could defeat Rome on the battlefield, the strength of his Republic was that it was supported by a virtuous community . Some time later, during the First Punic War, the patriotic commitment of the Roman elites, willing to bear eternal wars, showed Carthage that, as happened to Pirro, victories over Rome would have such unassuming costs that sometimes made preferable defeat.
As the reader turns the pages of the mortal Republic, he perceives the degradation of these lelites, and with it the decline of virtue, a progressive corruption of customs that dramatically accelerates after the Second Punic War. As Watts explains: "In the middle of the second century BC, the consequences of military conquests and the growing financial complexity began to produce a class of super-Romans (...) Scipio the African, for example, was surely not only the Roman anymore rich of its time but the richest in history at the time of the victory over Antiochus III, in 188 BC. " And next to Crassus a century later, Scipio was almost a ragged. That protodemocratic system was designed to avoid revolutions, not to manage them and could not assimilate such a sudden change: "a conservative regime that works on the basis of consensus is not designed to respond with dramatic agility to dramatic and rapid social and economic changes ".
The currency that made Fabrizio's good unbearable suffered a drastic devaluation, political campaigns tended to splurge, the steps of the social ladder that allowed patricians to retain privileges in exchange for commoners could dream of improving their condition and the increase in public spending on infrastructure, much to the greater glory of the leader in charge, triggered corruption. The contemporary reader understands well that all those ingredients, mixed and stirred with an atrocious inequality, make up the perfect recipe for the populist moment to be cooked. The cooking was delayed for a generation and the result changed Rome forever: "Tiberio and Cayo Graco set the course that populist politicians follow in our day," says Watts. They are polarization professionals, politicians who generate such a tragic and interesting political tension: their disregard for procedures accelerates reforms and that allows them to achieve some improvements in the living conditions of their fellow citizens, but at a cost - institutional degradation - that in the medium term reveals lethal. Tiberio Graco was circumventing political boundaries through abuse of the plebiscite and the threat of violence. These are revolutionaries imbued with a hyper-legitimacy of which they end up being victims, in an escalation of unstoppable violence that, in the case of the Roman Republic, reached its climax when Sila marched with her army towards the heart of the capital.
So many centuries after the Graco, Europe has not yet managed to understand that the plebiscite is the realization of a binary democracy that divides societies in two. From Brexit to Catalonia, the conflict is transferred to citizenship in a cartoon of democracy. The plebiscite is a doping of the person who summons it, which sometimes destroys its impeller and almost always ends up poisoning living together.
At a time when the years passed slowly, after a century of decline, the young Octavian understood that the Romans were willing to surrender their Republic to those who freed them from that freedom that did not deserve such a name, because there was no security that allows enjoy it Watt concludes that "when citizens take the health and durability of their republic for granted, it is in danger." And this teaching was as effective on January 16, 27 BC, when the Senate turns Octavian into Emperor Augustus, as in 2019.
The truth is that Augustus was not so bad autocrat. His life, both human and divine, is a lesson about the nature of hegemony and the exercise of authority. At least he had understood that his power was only absolute in appearance, because it depended on the promise of stability that had raised him. Augustus was wise enough to know that he was not a god. And keep the secret.
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