American Caesarism

Today there is a palpable sentiment among the American people that we have reached a turning point both as a nation and as a culture.  The fact is that having elected Barack Obama and installed his transformative agenda we have already passed the point of no return.

Historical comparisons to the decline of Rome and the decline of Western civilization are numerous, with the most striking and detailed being Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West.  The parallels are straightforward.  Both Rome and the U.S. are republics that were founded upon the notion of civilian control of the legislative, executive, and judicial apparatus.  Both were designed specifically to avoid monarchy and dictatorship of one individual and to ensure a responsibility of the elected to the people.

When Caesar defied the Roman senate and crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C., the Roman Republic became mere history, although practically it had long ago lost all legitimacy in the face of money and power politics.  Caesar was the first of a succession of emperors who ruled autocratically through the manipulation of the city masses.  The noble ideal of a citizen-based democracy with a balance of powers and an adherence to the ideal of civic virtue was the first of its kind if it is understood as the fruit of the Greek polis system.  It functioned as designed, and Rome prospered for three centuries.

After Julius Caesar, the republic became an empire and thrived on expansion for another three centuries.  It was the life of the Roman republic that stands out as one of the most noble of all efforts at self-governance.  From the day that the legendary Cincinnatus put down his title as military dictator to return to the life of a farmer and allow the republic to function as designed to the day of the Rubicon crossing, there were three and a half centuries of nobility in self-government  a glittering record of human accomplishment and overcoming.

It has been roughly two and a half centuries since George Washington refused the title of king and returned to his farm, marking the beginning of the most impressive episode in human history of virtuous self-government.  During that span we have witnessed the development and the decay of our government institutions as the warnings of the founders have been ignored concerning the sanctity of the Constitution and the need for the separation of powers.  By the time Barack Obama was sworn in on a platform of fundamental transformation, the once proud institutions of government, the legislature, and the judiciary had ceased to be a check on the executive power.  The vast executive bureaucracy and its agencies had usurped the role of the once noble branches of a divided government.

The Roman people welcomed Caesar as a liberator just as our urban populations cheered the ascendance of a man who promised a chicken in every pot and a cell phone in every hand.  Soon we will go through the motions of electing a new president, but make no mistake.  This will not be an election as much as it will be a coronation of the next Caesar.