RISE OF EMPIRE: THE ANCIENT DESIGN: I

We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night; the precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say: "You now are entering Imperium."

Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: "Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible." And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: "No U-turns."

If you say there were no frightening omens, that is true. The political foundations did not quake, the graves of the fathers did not fly open, the Constitution did not tear itself up. If you say people did not will it, that also is true. But if you say therefore it has not happened, then you have been so long bemused by words that your mind does not believe what the eye can see, even as in the jungle the terrified primitive, on meeting the lion, importunes magic by saying to himself, "He is not there."

That a republic may vanish is an elementary school book fact.

The Roman Republic passed into the Roman Empire, and yet never could a Roman citizen have said, "That was yesterday." Nor is the historian, with all the advantages of perspective, able to place that momentous event at an exact point on the dial of time. The Republic had a long, unhappy twilight. It is agreed that the Empire began with Augustus Caesar. Several before him had played emperor and were destroyed. The first emperor in fact was Julius Caesar, who pretended not to want the crown, and once publicly declined it. Whether he feared more the displeasure of the Roman populace or the daggers of the republicans is unknown. In his dreams he may have seen a bloodstained toga. His murder soon afterward was a desperate act of the dying republican tradition.

His heir was Octavian, and it was a very bloody business, yet neither did Octavian call himself emperor. On the contrary, he was most careful to observe the old legal forms. He restored the Senate. Later he made believe to restore the Republic, and caused coins to be struck in commemoration of that event. Having acquired by universal consent, as he afterward wrote, "complete dominion over everything, both by land and sea' he made a long and artful speech to the Senate, and ended it by saying: "And now I give back the Republic into your keeping. The laws, the troops, the treasury, the provinces, are all restored to you. May you guard them worthily." The response of the Senate was to crown him with oak leaves, plant laurel trees at his gate and name him Augustus. After that he reigned for more than forty years and when he died the bones of the Republic were buried with him. "The personality of a monarch," says Stobart, "had been thrust almost surreptitiously into the frame of a republican constitution. . . . The establishment of the Empire was such a delicate and equivocal act that it has been open to various interpretations ever since. Probably in the clever mind of Augustus it was intended to be equivocal from the first."

What Augustus Caesar did was to demonstrate a proposition found in Aristotle's Politics, one that he must have known by heart, namely this: "People do not easily change, but love their own ancient customs; and it is by small degrees only that one thing takes the place of another; so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about a revolution in the state."

Revolution within the form.

Garet Garrett - GaretGarrett.org
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