Caesarism in the USA
There are ample reasons to question what can be learned from the past. All history is oversimplification -- some is guesswork, some is prejudice, and all of it is a riddle. Also, as Will and Ariel Durant have noted, "our conclusions from the past to the future are made more hazardous than ever by the acceleration of change." Yet parallels can be noted and they can be helpful for those who want to influence future events.
At this critical time, the citizens of the United States of America would benefit from revisiting two books that are now forgotten. The Coming Caesars by Amaury de Riencourt was published in 1957 and The Riddle of History by Bruce Mazlish in 1966. Both suggest that Americans should be concerned about Caesarism.
According to Reincourt: "Caesarism is not dictatorship, not the result of one man's overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution. It is not based on a specific doctrine or philosophy. It is essentially pragmatic and untheoretical. It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in a voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master."
In the United States, Caesarism was born when Justice John Marshall undercut the Founders' vision of limited government, few bureaucrats, decentralization of power, and American citizens as sovereign. Our Founders knew that centralization of power was the cause of the decline and decay of both Greece and Rome. Caesarism gained acceptability with Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Seventeenth Amendment. Under Woodrow Wilson, government gained the ability to manipulate the wealth and productivity of the whole country through taxation, changing the value of the currency, and debt manipulation. And finally, Caesarism was openly installed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Congress has never been able to regain the power the Founders expected it to have. Instead, Congress has been content to "go along to get along" with the commander in chief and to compromise just as long as congressmen and senators were left free to reward their political supporters. Congress never took advantage of what the Founders had given it, nor challenged the claim of the Supreme Court that it alone determined what was constitutional. Congress dodged the hard work of governance. Ronald Reagan made a halfhearted attempt to reverse the drift toward centralization, while at the same time acting much like a Caesar himself.
According to Riencourt: "The prime element in this situation is neither political nor strategic -- it is essentially psychological. It is the growing "father complex" that is increasingly evident in America, the willingness to follow in any emergency, economic or military, the leadership of one man. It is the growing distrust of parliaments, congresses, and all other representative assemblies, the growing impatience of Western public opinion at their irresponsibility, lack of foresight, sluggishness, and indecisiveness. Further, it is the impulsive emotionalism of American public opinion. Such was Rome's public opinion in the first century B.C.".
The rise of Caesars is the outcome of political and legal evolution. Each generation "having unconsciously added its stones to the towering pedestal on which they are going to stand." Thus today the United States has a large, centralized government that has rules, regulations, and laws to control everything -- and Americans are only sovereign in theory.
Our future is not going to be determined by global warming or a new source of energy. It is going to be determined by the minds and inner compasses of Americans. Humans live in cycles. The questions are (1) how are we going to find out what these cycles are, and (2) where do we stand today in our cycle? Recognizing how Caesarism has grown in the United States is a critical step in achieving a better future.
It is time for an American Manifesto restating the principles and ideals of the Founders and challenging Caesarism. Since human beings do not like to change their institutions, or rethink their philosophies, will an American Manifesto be of any practical use? It can be, but not alone. In order to reap any practical benefits more is required. The American Manifesto can only state an ideal and a path.
The next step must be debate on and modification of any manifesto. Then most Americans must develop a common identity based on the principles and ideals contained in this manifesto -- rather than seeing themselves as members of factions.
Finally, there must be political action -- by a political movement that advocates limited government, fewer bureaucrats, decentralization of power, and American citizens actually being the sovereign.
The Romans failed at this task, a failure followed by centuries of decay and anarchy throughout the West. Is it possible for the United States to succeed?