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Gary Hart

Gary Hart

Posted: August 24, 2006 04:55 PM

Twenty-first Century Rome


For those of us who believe history holds valuable lessons, there is instruction to be had from the experience of other great powers. In the particular case of the American Republic it is important to consider the history of other republics. Not the least of these examples is the demise of the ancient Roman Republic and its transition to the Roman Empire.

That history is well known. The civil wars of the mid-first century BC led to the acquisition of dictatorial power by Julius Caesar lasting from about 49 BC until his assassination on the Ides of March 44 BC. Further unrest if not chaos ensued until, in 27 BC, Caesar's adopted son Octavianus became the first Roman emperor as the first Augustus.

So much for the dates and names. The question is how Augustus became emperor. How did he go about finally ending a republic founded in 510 BC?

First, "he took steps to neutralize the army as a political force." Of course, in a republic that would be a good thing, because in republican Rome the armies as political forces had helped bring about the demise of the Republic. But in Augustus's case he achieved his objective by making the army his instrument. Control of the army was control of state power.

Second, he took control of the system of laws and justice. Little could happen with the magistrates and judges that did not meet his approval and conform to his policies. To control the legal system was to control the entire nation.

And, third, like his adoptive father Caesar, Augustus was "imaginative and innovative in his exploitation of religious sentiments." Augustus understood that the integration of the state with religion was the key to control of the nation's culture.

The army, the courts, and religion. The keys to the creation of the Roman Empire.

In 21st century America the current government (the presidency and Congress of one party) has taken control not only of defense and military policy, but also military operations. No other administration, including that of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War or Franklin Roosevelt in World War II, has ever done that. The unprecedented imposition of neoconservative ideology on military operations has led directly and inevitably to the debacle in Iraq.

In the last five years we have seen an effort by the current government to control the American judicial system by the appointment of ideologically selected judges. The unprecedented attempt to make the administration of justice the instrument of ideology is incompatible with the Constitution of the Republic whose flag we salute.

And, of course, the Republican party has been imaginative and innovative in its exploitation of religious sentiments. The unprecedented submission of social policy, and foreign policy in the Middle East, to religious fundamentalists violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and has weakened America in the world.

The army, the courts, and religion. The keys to the creation of the American Empire.