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THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 25, April 1, 1997

A Musing Which Isn't Really Amusing

By Rick Tompkins
spooner@netwrx.net

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         The ides of March are upon us, and it occurs to me to reflect on what may be the origins of our current "welfare state" and its concomitants. Certainly it seems as if our politicians have the same motivations and methods as those of old, and the same malleable clay (we, the people) with which to play.
         Four years after his defeat of Pompey for control of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of conspirators including Brutus and Cassius at the foot of a statue of Pompey in the Roman Senate. Shortly thereafter, power was seized by the brutal Mark Antony, and Octavian (who became the Emperor Augustus after the final conversion of the Republic to an Empire).
         As an example of Mark Antony's brutality, when Cicero provoked his ire by criticizing his and Octavian's illegal encroachments on ancient Roman freedoms, Antony had Cicero murdered; then he cut the hands off the corpse and nailed them to the senate rostrum as a warning to others who might wish to write the truth.
         The Roman system of government is thought by some historians to have worked "well enough," though fundamentally tyrannical -- everywhere except in the City of Rome itself.
         Why was that, you ask?
         Because Roman citizens in the central city (as many as half a million during the third century) did not have to work to live, as did everyone else. The State supported them with a dole, including free daily rations of grain. These welfare legions had little to do except to amuse themselves. (Various "amusements" were made available, usually free, such as the circuses and the torture and murder of Christians in the Coliseum. etc.).
         Bread and circuses for the masses.
         But, of course, these idle and largely ignorant folk could also be influenced, controlled and used by politicians to cause trouble -- which was why the politicians retained the custom of free rations.
         A political orator could sway the mob, and get it to do what he wanted. This mob, once galvanized by the perorations of an effective orator/charlatan/con-man could become a fearsome political force. It could guarantee the election of one person rather than another, pass or defeat laws, even destroy political parties by killing or frightening away their leaders and supporters. And then there was the military, who could also control the mob on occasion, though only by force.
         As a result, government became a very dangerous game, played for the highest stakes. The mob could raise a man to the throne -- or kill him. Rome in the latter days of the empire was much like Beirut in our time.
         Thus, this ancient empire was mortally crippled by a political disease which no one then knew how to cure (except the barbarians who by this time surrounded Rome -- and their solution was to destroy the empire in blood and fire).
         Surely I am not the only one who sees the parallels here, the repetition of ancient history in the behavior of what we call "modern" politicians and government, and the behavior of the "mobs" of today.
         Are humans forever doomed to continue these endless cycles? Are we trapped in the demonstrable insanity of thinking that by mindlessly proceeding on the same old paths, only adjusting the speed now and then, or varying the size and cost of the bells and whistles on the donkey we're riding, we'll somehow arrive at different destinations?
         Let it not be so.


Rick Tompkins is a national spokesman for the Fully Informed Jury Association and former presidential candidate of the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party.


Imagine a government bent on sharing its sensitive, caring, environmentally friendly ways with an entire universe. Then imagine the army it needs. CLD - Collective Landing Detachment. Dark military SF. By Victor Milan. From AvoNova.



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