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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 4 of 4: the Empire as hegemonic “Banana Republic” ruled by caudillos

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 4 of 4: the Empire as hegemonic “Banana Republic” ruled by caudillos

As we have seen, the Roman Republic was brought down by an escalating series of acts of political violence, from murders to organized political mobs, to private legions, to four military marches over a period of 40 years on a Rome which had no permanent  defense force whose loyalty was to the Republic. The violence and military takeovers occurred in part because senior magistrates were also expected to be generals in command of legions.

The underlying causes were the festering inequality between Romans and their Italian allies, and between the landed oligarchs and the urban and rural plebeians. Over the long term, rather than compromise their power, the oligarchs in the Senate in particular were willing to play “constitutional hardball” and do away with the limitations on power set by the Republic. In this way the downfall of the Roman Republic is very similar to the process described in Levitsky and Ziblatt’s “How Democracies Die.”

This brings us to Barry Strauss’s “Ten Caesars.” It is not so much a history of the Roman Empire, but rather brief biographies of ten Emperors from Augustus to Constantine, with Augustus, as the founder, being the longest. What I ultimately learned was that the Empire was an ancient, hegemonic version of what we would call today a “banana republic,” where there is rule by caudillo. Forms of succession varied: sometimes a dynastic succession worked, sometimes there was a succession chosen by the Senate, sometimes the most powerful general of the legions simply took over, and sometimes there was a palace coup by the Praetorian Guard acquiesced to by the armies and ratified by the Senate.

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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 3 of 4: the final hammer-blows

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 3 of 4: the final hammer-blows

“The Republic is nothing, a mere name without body or form.” – Julius Caesar

This is part 3 of my four part look at why the Roman Republic, which was successful and stable for nearly 4 centuries, ultimately fell into tyranny. In part 1 I described the structure of the Republic and the underlying reasons for its fall. In part 2 I described the first 4 episodes of civil war that left the Republic dead on its feet in 78 BC. This part describes the final hammerblows.

5. Pompey and Caesar

The final blows were administered by the “first triumvirate” of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar, after one last “Indian summer” for the Republic between the death of Sulla in 78 BC and 50 BC. Among other things, much of the power of the Tribunes and the plebeians was restored by 62 BC. But successful generals with privately raised armies whose loyalty was to them personally, together with the lack of a permanent defensive force near the city of Rome loyal to the Republic finally did it in.

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The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 2 of 4: the first hammer-blows

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: part 2 of 4: the first hammer-blows

This is part 2 of my four part look at the Roman Republic and subsequent Empire. In part 1, I described the structure of the Republic, and its several centuries of stability and success, as well as the underlying causes of its ultimate downfall.

The hammer-blows that rained down on the Republic from the existential dispute between Senatorial oligarchs on the one hand, and Roman plebeians and Italian allies on the other, came in five episodes:

1. The Gracchus brothers – in the 130s and 120s
2. Saturninus – approximately 100 BC
3. Marius and the Italian civil wars 90 BC
4. Marius, Cinna, and Sulla 90-80 BC
5. Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar 50-40 BCIn this part I make a *brief* summary sketch of the first four of the above five episodes. The fifth will be described in the next part.

As each of the above five episodes occurred, there were further and further deviations from the “mas maiorem,” or customs, that underlay the Republic, and increasing problems with legions or private “brownshits” giving their allegiance to their military leader rather than to the Republic itself.

1. The Gracchus Brothers

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From Intellectual to influencer

Interesting stuff from the One Handed Economist

From Intellectual to influencer: “In the case of the public intellectual, the institution was the academy and the role was thinking. In the case of the public influencer, the institution is the corporation and the role is marketing. The shift makes sense. Marketing, after all, has displaced thinking as our primary culture-shaping activity, the source of what we perceive ourselves to be.”

How true does this seem?

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“Trump’s Call With the Ukrainian President”

The White House released this document on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. It details a July call between President Trump and President Zelensky of the Ukraine. About midway through it, there is a warning of the contents not being a “verbatim transcript.” I have taken some time to include the notes (red) which are found at the end of the post and have notated the particular passages to which the notes are detailing. If you need direction other than the notation at the end of the sentences, I can do so. I did not want to alter this more than what I did in adding the word “note.”

It is a surprising transcript showing Trump’s boldness.

The President: Congratulations on a great victory. We all watched from the United States and you did a terrific job. The way you came from behind, somebody who wasn’t given much of a chance, and you ended up winning easily. It’s a fantastic achievement. Congratulations.

President Zelenskyy: You are absolutely right Mr. President. We did win big and we worked hard for this. We worked a lot but I would like to confess to you that I had an opportunity to learn from you. We used quite a few of your skills and knowledge and were able to use it as an example for our elections and yes it is true that these were unique elections. We were in a unique situation that we were able to achieve a unique success. I’m able to tell you the following; the first time, you called me to congratulate me when I won my presidential election, and the second time you are now calling me when my party won the parliamentary election. I think I should run more often so you can call me more often and we can talk over the phone more often.

The President: [laughter] That’s a very good idea. I think your country is very happy about that.

President Zelenskyy: Well yes, to tell you the truth, we are trying to work hard because we wanted to drain the swamp here in our country. We brought in many many new people. Not the old politicians, not the typical politicians, because we want to have a new format and a new type of government. You are a great teacher for us and in that.

More of the transcript after the leap plus the notes concerning intent and meaning.

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Three Mile Island to Close

Eighty year old retired salesman John Garver the morning of March 28, 1979 remembers the acrid odor permeating Harrisburg as he walked out of a restaurant in Pennsylvania’s capital city.

“We had this smell in the air, wondering what it was. Well it didn’t take us long to find out … that the accident started.”

Fourteen miles away, the “accident” was unfolding in Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, triggering panic, confusion, and within days an evacuation order.

The partial meltdown sparked national protests, prompted increased safety standards for the nuclear power industry, and largely stymied the industry’s momentum for decades until recent alarm over climate change has made some begin to embrace expanding carbon-free nuclear power.

Today, the remaining reactor (Unit 1) will generate its last kilowatt of energy and close. Three Mile Island was not a victim of the anti-nuclear movement; but rather, it lost out to simple economics. Even though the plant is licensed to operate until 2034, Exelon Generation is ceasing operations after the state of Pennsylvania earlier this year refused to throw the company a financial lifeline to keep it open.

The plant’s four cooling towers will remain a part of the landscape for now as foreboding concrete tombstones seemingly out of place in the bucolic Susquehanna Valley of central Pennsylvania and a reminder of what happened March 28, 1979.

Taking a Second Look

Senator Cory Booker; “Right now, nuclear is more than 50% of our non-carbon causing energy. People who think we can get there without nuclear being part of the blend just aren’t looking at the facts.”

Economic factors such as cheap natural gas and increasingly affordable renewable sources are slowly driving nuclear power out of business. Additionally, diminished demand has also hurt profitability in addition to rising operational costs. The closure of the Three Mile Island facility will leave 97 commercial reactors at 59 plants, scattered across 30 states, remaining in operation.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee was the last nuclear power plant to come on line in 2010. Two more reactors are under construction in Georgia (Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC]). No more are planned as of yet.

Pro-industry group, World Nuclear Association: “Public confidence in nuclear energy in the US declined following the Three Mile Island accident. It was a major cause of the decline in nuclear construction through the 1980s and 1990s.”

Harrisburg resident and Chair of the Three Mile Island Alert organization Eric Epstein: “If there is a good thing that happened because of TMI, it had ignited a fierce debate on the viability of nuclear power being safe, reliable, economical, etc.”

It still remains to be seen if more reactors will be built to supplement US energy needs.

Three Mile Island closes: meltdown changed nuclear energy in America,” USA Today, Ledyard King, September 20, 2019

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F**king Old Enough to Vote

It’s That Day again. I mostly stayed off Facebook (except for birthday greetings) and Twitter, but even LinkedIn has posts of now-yellowed newspaper articles of survivors–and probably some of those who didn’t.

In another ten years, it will be as far from 11 Sep 2001 as that date was from 11 Sep 1973.

At least now, most people know what a sh*t Rudy Giuliani was, both in setting up the firefighters for disaster and moving the NYC Office of Emergency Management Command Center from the safest location in the city–the basement of 1 Police Plaza–to the 23rd floor of a building in a complex that had already been bombed once before he did it. While he and Bernard Kerik got to Be Adulterers on taxpayer money, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the 343 firefighters they murdered outright certainly could have been saved. Though that would have been more people who, but for the grace (and anger) of Jon Stewart, would still be trying to get health care. Rudy’s tombstone should read: ““This group’s finding is that the security of the proposed O.E.M. Command Center cannot be reasonably guaranteed” — July 1998″

Yes, I’m still bitter. No, I’m not going to post anything nearly as subtle as this, which is probably my ultimate contribution to the genre of In The Shadow of The Towers. I’m going to talk about Milton Friedman. Because it’s the 18th anniversary, so it’s now old enough to vote–or, especially in the pre-26th Amendment world–be drafted.

Let’s be clear: Milton Friedman had one good idea in his life, and that was that his alma mater should not sponsor a football team. Even a broken clock, and the program whose highlights are Ray Rice and Greg Schiano (whose skills included guiding the team to a money-losing Bowl appearance) isn’t exactly something that could justify Superstar Economics Theory.

Milton Friedman, like Gary Becker, was wrong about almost every social policy recommendation he made. While it might be difficult to identify what he was most wrong about, a leading contender is The Elimination of the Draft, which he championed for years and finally shepherded through the Nixon Administration.

After all, people should be Free to Starve Choose, and conscription is certainly not a “choice.” Choice can discriminate; conscription means mandatory attendance or a demonstrable reason to be excused. Friedman’s ghost, twirling at Mach 3 in the Eighth Circle, probably rues that males still must register for Selective Service.

So we have a story published just over two years ago on America’s only remaining news source becoming evermore real. While before people who didn’t want to be subject to two years of training and possibly warfare had to at least come up with a somewhat reasonable excuse (*cough* bone spurs *cough*) or face jail time, the scions of the elite have no “skin in the game.” So the Longest War in U.S. History continues: planned as well as it was executed, executed as well as its objectives were planned. While the planners well know that their sons (and daughters) will not even have to come up with the lies they did to avoid any chance of being killed.

Because Milton Friedman said that would not be Freedom. And people believed him, because “freedom” means you don’t have to “have skin in the game” (literally, in this case) if you don’t want to, even if your actions caused the problem.

I suspect Rudy Giuliani approves.

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