Friday, May 13, 2011

Would you support a "temporary" dictatorship?

This is a thought experiment and a gut check. Hypothetical, okay? Okay.

Historians will argue forever about whether Julius Caesar was a hero or a villain, probably because he was both. There isn't much doubt in my mind that the Roman republic was dysfunctional before Caesar's forces killed Pompey in the civil war and he became dictator. The republic was bitterly divided among the hereditary aristocracy of the Senate, an out-of-touch oligarchy; an often corrupt business class, the equites (literally, those who were rich enough to afford to ride on horses); and a lower class, the populares, frequently incited by reformers and demagogues.

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Julius Caesar, as painted by Rubens

Rome's class warfare and political paralysis drove Caesar, a man of action (but also intellect) to doing what he felt he had to do to break the deadlock. He was not the first military leader to become a dictator; Sulla had done so some 40 years before and, probably to everyone's surprise, resigned his dictatorship, dismissed his legions, and left Rome to get on with its republican ways.

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We will never know if Caesar would have done the same after satisfying himself that he had rearranged Roman affairs for the better. Ruthless he could be, but he was not the kind of fanatic we associate with the idea of a dictator today. Even Cicero, defender of the Constitution and Pompey supporter, could be charmed by Caesar, and Caesar didn't hold a grudge. In December 45 BC, four months before the Ides of March, Caesar (and 2,000 of his soldiers) dropped in on Cicero at his villa at Puteoli, where they talked about literature and philosophy. I feel sure Caesar would never have had Cicero murdered, as Caesar's slimy successor Mark Antony connived in.

If I haven't lost you already, you may be wondering if this is of purely antiquarian interest. What's wrong with antiquarian interest? We could use more of it. Anyway, no, I think it is relevant to our present purposes.

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Today's United States is in desperate straits, not unlike the chaos of the last days of the Roman republic. We have problems, political, financial, and cultural, that it often seems no conceivable partisan maneuvering can solve. The political landscape consists of meaningless skirmishes along the front lines between the Evil Party and the Stupid Party, both concerned exclusively with keeping their own offices. They cater to lobbyists, ideologues, and ethnic grievance groups to win their support.

Meanwhile, we squander lives and billions of dollars in wars half a world away and cannot, will not, even defend our own borders against mass colonization by foreigners. If any political figure or group threatens the status quo, equal parts international corporations and political correctness, the bought and sold mass media instantly wheel into action to brand them as racists and extremists.

Let's say a modern Julius Caesar, disgusted to his back teeth, somehow engineers a coup d’├ętat. He is in charge and you'd better believe it.

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Here is his first speech to the nation:

"Ladies and gentlemen, many of you are upset. I don't blame you. This is not how our country is supposed to work. If there were some alternative, I wouldn't be in this position. But I am determined to restore the greatness of the United States while there is still a country to restore.

"I will rule for four years, the equivalent of a single presidential term. After that I plan to get in some gardening and catch up on my reading. Meanwhile, here is what you can expect.

"To begin, the immigration window is closed. We have more than 300 million people and don't need any more. We are as diverse as any country on earth and don't need any more diversity. As of this moment, the borders are borders. I am sending five divisions of the U.S. Army and Marines to replace the border patrol with orders to capture or kill anyone trying to enter the country illicitly. I feel confident that it will not be necessary to kill many border jumpers.

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"We will have affirmative action for white people, to make up for the discrimination they have faced in the labor market for the past four decades.

"Our so-called school teachers, with rare exceptions, are going to be fired. They will be replaced by subject matter experts, not experts in educational theory. Our children are going to learn how to read and write and think before they 'express themselves.'

"According to my advisers' best estimates, at least 10 percent of those now working in the federal bureaucracy will retain their positions. If you have spent your career writing memos and drawing flow charts and are not sure you will be among that 10 percent, you might want to review your options.

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"A word about foreign policy. First, we're going to mind our own goddamn business and stop trying to export democracy at gunpoint to the rest of the world. We're going to take care of our own people first and last. If Lower Bimbambong has a civil war or a famine or gum disease, Lower Bimbambong can deal with it. Probably a lot better than we can.

"There has been some unpleasantness with Muslim states and organizations. I am hitting the reset button. We start from scratch. Don't give us trouble, we won't give you any.

"I realize that there are departments within Islam that believe we are suckers, losers, pushovers. Based on the previous efforts to accommodate the world's bad boys, they have every reason to. However, those days are over. If there is any reaching out, Muslims will be reaching out to win our trust.

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"Of course there will probably be some who want to carry on with the old games. Right. The first terrorist act on U.S. soil or causing casualties to U.S. citizens anywhere will draw a response. It may not be swift, but it will be sure. That first time, we will be sensitive to the feelings of the Arab Street. Perhaps 50 Tomahawk missiles addressed to the right targets.

"The next time, should there be a next time, it will be a little different. I will not reveal our reaction to a second terrorist attack. As they said when I was a youngster, 'That's for me to know and you to find out.' However, believe me: you do not want to find out.

"It's late. Why don't we all get some sleep? Good night."

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Now, here's our little experiment.

Never mind whether you agree with our modern Caesar above. Rewrite the script to suit yourself. Make it your wish list.

Would you be on Caesar's side? If not, whose side would you be on?

What is your first, gut, reaction? Not what you think you ought to feel, but what you actually feel at the prospect of a supposedly temporary dictatorship dedicated to putting into action your own beliefs?

Over to you.

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10 comments:

Europa said...

Not only would I support this man, I want to bear his children.

Anonymous said...

I would form a neighborhood watch to seek out dissenters against him. And I'm a long time malcontent and agitator!

Rick Darby said...

Europa and Anonymous,

You are both witty. Thanks.

Come on, let's have more responses. I will give my own thoughts after I hear from more readers.

-Jas said...

To the extent that this part is true, "I will rule for four years, the equivalent of a single presidential term. After that I plan to get in some gardening and catch up on my reading," I'm all for it.

Van Wijk said...

Never mind whether you agree with our modern Caesar above. Rewrite the script to suit yourself. Make it your wish list.

Not to quibble, but how far can one go on a personal wish list before the scenario is fundamentally changed? I ask because as far as I'm concerned the only viable solution to our problems is for the United States to be discarded and a new, independent state carved from its carcass. If Caesar wishes to bring this about and understands that a) remaining in office a day beyond four years will result in his hanging and b) his temporary dictatorship is only legitimate for the purposes of the initial secession and declaration of independence and that all future dictators will be hanged, then I think I would grudgingly support him. The new state would need a leader before the first elections could be held anyway.

What is your first, gut, reaction?

That Caesar is merely being a bit more forceful in kicking the can down the road than his predecessors. Apart from the mass deportation of alien and citizen alike and the forced indoctrination of however many millions of fanatically hostile liberals that remain (which is both unacceptable and fanciful), the U.S. that Caesar inherits is still doomed.

Rick Darby said...

In December 45 BC, four months before the Ides of March, Caesar (and 2,000 of his soldiers) dropped in on Cicero at his villa at Puteoli, where they talked about literature and philosophy.

The facts about the visit are correct, as described in H.J. Haskell's brilliant biography, This Was Cicero. However, December 45 would have been three months, not four, before the Ides of March. My mistake. I have some English, but I cannot count.

Sheila said...

I've long fantasized about what I'd do if I were "absolute" dictator. That's my only real quibble with your hypothetical scenario - I require the "absolute" part. If this dictator did what I would, and had no need to deal with Congress, the judiciary, the press, or even public opinion, I'd support him wholeheartedly. Final quibble: He'd need far more than four years. I'd give it 15-20 - time enough to properly educate the next generation, deport all of the anchor babies and pseudo-citizens, and rebuild our industrial base. I'd happily take a benevolent despot over this multicultural degradation any time.

zazie said...

suppose you find your Caesar ; could you kindly clone him/her (ah, ah!) and send the gift over to us in France ? I ask, because ever since Boney, we have lost the recipe for a truly home-made Caesar ; did I write "home-made"? I was wrong, if you consider that buying Corsica from Genoa was really a mistake.
Seriiously, many of us, on this side of the pond, seem to be yearning for "a strong hand" ; unfortunately, when speaking their dream aloud, they name it Adolph rather than Julius...

And, in fact, I have always disliked Napoleon....

Takuan Seiyo said...

The point is, do we have a single man in the United States now (in any Western country for that matter) great and wise enough, right-thinking enough, and patriotic enough to merit such a position? Patton would have made a good dictator-savior, and in the UK, Churchill. But that was a long time ago....

Maria said...

I can't make up my mind. But one thing I DO know: if a new state is created from the ruins of the U.S., it must be written into the new Constitution that importing a new voter base, whether legally or illegally, is forbidden and would be considered high treason, a capital offense, for any member of the government.

That is one of the fatal bugs of democracy the Founders just didn't think of. But why would they in a world in which internatioal travel was difficult, slow, and dangerous, and the world's population was less than a billion?