L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 25, April 1, 1997
A Musing Which Isn't Really Amusing
By Rick Tompkins
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
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"
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
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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Enterprise, Number 25, April 1, 1997.