War on Terror

A Lesson For President Obama From Julius Caesar, via Glenn Greenwald

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Respect the office

With the multi-generational project of the American Imperial Presidency seemingly at its zenith with President Obama, it might be surprising to find lessons from the Romans that aren't simply cautionary tales, but Salon's Glenn Greenwald has. The set-up:

In 63 B.C., Julius Caesar delivered a speech to the Roman Senate in which he conveyed a crucial point, one highly relevant to many of our current controversies. A conspiracy of prominent Roman citizens, led by the patrician Catiline, had been caught attempting to foment a massive civil war in order to overthrow the Roman government. Their crimes were widely reviled — it was pure treason — and, due to multiple confessions, their guilt beyond dispute.

"Easy call" these days, right? Send in the drones! But Julius Caesar, he who wrought the fall of the Roman Republic, said, not so fast:

Whatever befalls these prisoners will be well deserved; but you, Fathers of the Senate, are called upon to consider how your action will affect other criminals. All bad precedents have originated in cases which were good; but when the control of the government falls into the hands of men who are incompetent or bad, your new precedent is transferred from those who well deserve and merit such punishment to the undeserving and blameless.

In other words, Julius Caesar said "we don't execute [our own]," kind of like candidate Obama said we don't torture.

always a caesar, never an emperor

Caesar, of course, was pro-torture of the traitors, but that's beside the point. Ancient Rome's 9/11, a sinister conspiracy to overthrow the entire system of government by well-rooted elites, didn't "change everything" because 2000 years ago the Romans knew if their values and principles were to mean anything, they had to be applied consistently.

Read the rest of Greenwald's piece here

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  1. …when the control of the government falls into the hands of men who are incompetent or bad, your new precedent is transferred from those who well deserve and merit such punishment to the undeserving and blameless.

    Wasn’t there an Iron Law about this?

    1. Yes, it’s that Caesar was talking about himself.

    2. Wasn’t there an Iron Law about this?

      More than a few, actually. Conceivably, all of them could.

    3. Shorter Glenn Greenwald

      Any power used for you today will be used against you tomorrow.

      1. That was upgraded to:

        Me today, you tomorrow.

    4. My version during the Bush years, especially for the PATRIOT act, was “Do you want President Hillary to have this power?”.

  2. Too bad that, a few years later, Caesar led his own conspiracy to successfully take over Rome, accomplishing what Catiline only attempted. Caesar was linked by some to Catiline’s conspiracy. In any event, Caesar didn’t get along well with Cicero, who exposed the conspiracy and as consul assumed the powers of a dicatator without any legal authorization, defending himself in the maybe still famous Catilinian orations.

    Glenn Greenwald is much more reliable than Caesar, Catiline, and Cicero put together. Instead of quoting Caesar, he should quote himself.

    1. I’m surprised you haven’t claimed to have authored Julius Caesar, much less “reviewed” it, Anal.

    2. Besides which, Sulla had gone full totalitarian dictator 20 years earlier, including murdering rival Senators and stealing their estates.

    3. Too bad that, a few years later, Caesar led his own conspiracy to successfully take over Rome, accomplishing what Catiline only attempted.

      So he was the Obama of Rome.

  3. Small point, despite Ceasar’s warning, the Roman Senate did go ahead and decree the execution of the Cataline conspirators withou a trial.

    Second small point: When Ceasar got the whip hand himself a few years later, he violated just about every principle of Roman Law. So much for fine words.

    1. Something something exectutive power something other guys.

  4. “Barack Obama: More Tyrannical Than Julius Caesar”

  5. Cicero was a jackass for calling for Cataline to be executed.

    They didn’t execute Roman citizens, and the interesting thing is that Cicreo’s head ended up on a pike.

    1. Only after Ceasar’s assassination and the formation of the Octavian-Antony-Lepidus triuvirate.

      1. And had his head and hands cut off and nailed to the Rostra.

        1. That’s always a nice touch.

        2. That shit’s just for flavor.

        3. That’s Antony’s doing, because he wanted to punish Cicero for his Philippics. Written with those hands, spoken with the mouth on that head.

          1. I was thinking about that when that Libyan commander who was always on TV shaking his fingers as the camera, making threats to the rebels…

            After he was captured, and international observers were allowed to see him, they noted that he was missing the fingers he’d been shaking at the camera when he was making those threats.

            I don’t condone that sort of mistreatment of prisoners, but it’s interesting that the logic for that sort of thing goes way, way back.

            Interesting to note that rather than shaming Cicero’s memory by humiliating him after death–with those hands!–2,000 years later, people are still learning first year Latin by of Cicero’s writing style, specifically, and people mostly only know about Anthony for getting his ass kicked by Octavius.

            1. He’s also known for that speech that Shakespeare wrote for him.

    2. They didn’t execute Roman citizens…

      Try explaining that to Sulla, Cinna & Marius.

      1. Tell it to Tiberius Gracchus, who was murdered by senators with their own hands.

        1. I hope you’re not feeling pity for a Gracchi brother.

          1. Well, the Senate murdering people as a political strategy helped usher in years of political violence, leading to the Empire. So in that sense, yes.

  6. Was it unconstitutional when the Dictator Sulla proscribed people?

    1. Actually, no. Because under Roman Law, a Dictator had absolute power and could not be held accountable. Of course, his coup-d’etat against the Marius-Cotta alliance was completely illegal, as were the wholesale slaughters carried out by the Marians after Marius’ last election as Consul.

      1. Can those with some knowledge of this period of Roman history recommend a book or two?

        1. Gibbon? There’s a 2.99 Kindle edition.

          1. The kindle edition only seems to include volumes 1-3. Amazon apparently only has 4-6 in the dead tree version.

            B&N has all six volumes on NOOK for $2.99. Think I’ll give it a go after I’ve finished reading Dracula.

          2. Gibbon started his history after the reign of Marcus Aurelius, so he does not (directly) cover this period of history. I would recommend Appian, Cassius Dio, Suetonius, and Plutarch. The Loebs would be a good edition, as they have both the original Greek/Latin with an English translation.

          3. $2.99 for out of copyright books? I don’t think so. Gutenberg has it for free.

            http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/25717

            1. By the time I’ve converted the epub file to NOOK format and loaded it on my Nook reader I’ll have spent a lot more than $2.99 worth of my time and aggravation.

            2. By the time I’ve converted the epub file to NOOK format and loaded it on my Nook reader I’ll have spent a lot more than $2.99 worth of my time and aggravation.

        2. A couple of basic books for a somewhat simplified but good overview.

          Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland

          Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician by Anthony Everitt

          1. I like Everitt’s books–read the ones on Cicero, Augustus, and Hadrian. All accessible and interesting, and he definitely shows their flaws as well as their virtues.

        3. If you don’t mind something lengthy, I like H. H. Scullard’s books. I’ve read A History of the Roman World from 753 to 146 B.C. and From the Gracchi to Nero: a history of Rome from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68. Both are excellent.

        4. Lucan’s Civil War is also super fun for a more contemporary, somewhat fictionalized account. He gets very heated in his Caesar-hate. And for classical poetry it’s a very fast read.

          1. Lucan’s Pharsalia was a poem, not a history. Interesting in itself, but it should not be considered an accurate historical account.

        5. Or, if you want to enjoy yourself with some fairly accurate fiction, try Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series.

          1. Mary Stewart’s “Masters of Rome” series is also very good in this regard. She did extensive research for years to get it as right as can be. She covers the entire period from the rise of Marius to the rise of Octavian.

            1. The author is Colleen
              McCullough and I agree it is basically a fictionalized version of historical information. When you can include original letters from the time into your story and not have it sound wrong you’ve done something right.

              1. Damn, I can’t believe I put Mary Stewart as the author. It’s been awhile since I read the books…

  7. Greenwald’s analogy only works if Obama is conducting drone strikes on Americans inside the US. The Romans thought nothing of summarily executing and enslaving defeated enemies in battle. And would, had they had access to the technology, thought nothing of drone striking their enemies in ways that even Obama could only dream about.

    This article is full grade stupid. Greenwald is one the most boring and tiresome writers there is. I don’t get the love for him at Reason.

    1. Greenwald’s analogy only works if Obama is conducting drone strikes on Americans inside the US.

      Wait ’til after the election.

    2. Actually, John, if your argument hinges on the distinction between citizens and non-citizens, then Greenwald’s analogy holds.

      Obama has already blowed American citizens abroad up real good with his flying killer robots.

      1. Obama is more Caracalla than Caesar.

        1. Obama is Billy Sol Hurok.

    3. [H]ad they had access to the technology, thought nothing of drone striking their enemies in ways that even Obama could only dream about.

      I am convinced he can do more than dream, John. Or Flopney for that matter. If nothing else, His Pestilency has proven to be creatively stupid.

    4. I’m not sure the Romans would want to drone all those potential slaves. In an odd way their need for slave labor made them more humanitarian in some ways, compared to us moderns who view foreigners as worthless meatbags to be obliterated on a whim.

      1. In an odd way their need for slave labor made them more humanitarian in some ways

        Very odd sorts of ways.

      2. In an odd way their need for slave labor made them more humanitarian in some ways, compared to us moderns who view foreigners as worthless meatbags to be obliterated on a whim.

        That’s not true. I think there’s a very strong drive to turn our conquered nations into thriving democracies with green jobs and high speed rail.

        1. Thriving democracies don’t give us (relatively) cheap oil.

          1. Except for Canada.

            1. Must remember to refresh before commenting.

            2. Obama doesn’t want their oil.

          2. Canada says you’re wrong.

            1. Uh. “Thriving” may be a little optimistic.

              I just saw an article seriously proposing Justin Trudeau (son of Pierre Trudeau) as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and, potentially therefore, Prime Minister of Canada.

    5. I don’t get the love for him at Reason.

      He’s honest. As are many of his commenters. That’s the rarest of birds amongst professional liberals. If you’re so blinded with hatred of all things left-ish that you even want these guys gone, then I’m afraid you’re too far into the darkside.

      1. He is not honest at all. This is the guy who was caught sock pupeting a few years ago. He is nasty and dishonest. There are honest liberals. Greenwald is not one of them. I would also point you to his absolute dishonesty regarding anything involving Israel.

    6. Greenwald is one the most boring and tiresome writers there is. I don’t get the love for him at Reason.

      They’re bitterly clinging to the straws of liberaltarian fusionism.

      Greenwald is the last living (under 80 anyways) left wing progressive civil libertarian.

      1. You don’t need to be a liberaltarian to appreciate that someone is sticking to their beliefs while surrounded by (and under attack from) the hacks on their own “team”.

    7. The point of the conspirators’ execution was not their geographical location by itself, it was their class as Roman citizens (“civis Romanus sum”). A Roman citizen could not be punished without a trial, and he could only be executed after being convicted of treason. Further, all trials for treason had to be in Rome. Cicero wanted the executions to be immediate, and without trial. It was to this that Caesar objected. I believe the analogy holds for Mr. Awlaki.

  8. Uh, Rome didn’t execute? That’s news to me.

    1. And news to the Romans. But it is Greenwald and he is just so cool man. Ignore the stupid behind the curtain.

      1. It must have still been a touchy subject, or Caesar wouldn’t have given the damn speech.

  9. Timidi mater non flet

  10. Executing people by drone without due process is awful.

    They should get full due process and then face wild animals/gladiators in the arena!

    1. If everybody’s doing it, it’s not unusual. And cruelty is relative. Arguably, locking somebody in a cage with the rest of the scum of the earth for 40 years is more cruel than a quick death by lion.

  11. because 2000 years ago the Romans knew if their values and principles were to mean anything, they had to be applied consistently.

    And where’s the Roman empire now? Exactly. Suck it national security doves…

    1. But they lost their values and principles and embraced Christianity (as distorted by Paul) and a generation later Visigoths were howling in the Forum.

      1. One of the greatest contributions of the Visigoths to family law was their protection of the property rights of married women,

        Damned libertarians at it again.

  12. Mr. President, lend me your ears!

  13. Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and given him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the “new wonderful good society” which shall now be Rome’s, interpreted to mean “more money, more ease, more security, and more living fatly at the expense of the industrious”.”
    – Marcus Tullius Cicero

    1. I’m gonna post that to my facebook page and see what happens.

    2. Appears to be fake.

      http://www.unrv.com/forum/topi…..t-or-fake/

      1. Are you questioning the veracity of a quote that I copied from a random site on the internet? Let’s just pretend for one secong that the internet is not always 100% accurate and that someone made up or embellished that quote. How do you know didn’t actually say that anyways? Were you alive before Jesus was even born? Didn’t think so Dr. Frankenstein if that is indeed your real name.

      2. I agree. I call bullshit on this one unless someone can produce the Latin itself.

        1. Ignosco Caesare populoque Romano culpa qui tantum studio celebretur et adoravit eum et gaudere sua clade atque saltarent libero triumphanti sibi in via. Reprehendat, qui salutaturi loquens in foro “novi mira societas” quae nunc Romana, interpretatur “plus, facilius, securius, et vivam fatly sumptibus industria” . “

          1. This wasn’t written by Cicero, or by anyone with a passing knowledge of Latin. This ungrammatical gibberish seems to be the product of cutting and pasting into some (poor) Latin-English translation program.

            1. It’s called Google. And Google tools like Internet quotes and the NY Times are always reliable.

          2. Well I’m convinced now.

  14. Et tu, Biden?

  15. Julius Caesar said “we don’t execute [our own].”

    Ironic, no?

  16. Caesar undoubtedly went to his grave believing he had “saved the Republic.”

    Beyond Greenwald’s point, the larger story of the fall of the Republic was of a state that became too grandiose and militarized to be governed in a republican fashion.

    Prior to Marius, Roman armies existed situationally and were composed exclusively of property-owning citizens. Unending wars of conquest and the expansion of the empire forced Marius to create standing armies composed of propertyless individuals who became beholden solely to their commanding generals. It was this change to “personal armies” that set the stage for the rise of Caesar several decades later.

    The perpetual War on Terror is gradually having a somewhat similar effect on the USA. You could say that the security state desperately needed 9/11, since the end of the Cold War had robbed it of its reason for being.

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