home » ethics, opinion, religion

they are a-changin’

29 October 2008 no comment

From CNN:

“Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely.”

I think this is one of the best descriptions of the current state of the Republican Party (and it is by a conservative commenter, in case you’re not inclined to read the article).  People who vote GOP and hail Reagan as their standard-bearer often are wildly off history when it comes to what it is they vote for.  Reagan tried desperately to defend the country and the economy.  Modern Republicans would gladly sacrifice either to prevent abortion and gay marriages.  If you don’t believe this is true, spend an evening looking over bulletin boards and blogs that are political, yet Christian in tone.  Over and over, you will hear self-professed Christians – sometimes “registered” Democrats – say “I would vote for Obama if it weren’t for his stance on abortion.”  Worse yet, they try to marry the two into a sham patriotism and equate the rise in sexual freedoms and rights with a decline of civilization.

As I so often do, I like to parallel the Roman Empire over its history with the United States and its relatively short time in the spotlight.  What we see now mirrors the sliver of history where the Republic stood wanting its rights defended firmly and forthrightly.  How they viewed that was invested in the notion of the dictator – a term that, at the time, didn’t have the negative connotation it does today, largely because it was still a democratically-elected position.  As the elections transpired, however, it clearly became less about checks and balances, and more about a cult of personality.  Marius was selected for an unprecedented seven terms as consul, the highest office in the land during the Republic.  The people of Rome thought this was the best thing for their country; three consuls later Augustus would wrest control from Mark Anthony and the Empire was born.

Interestingly, the Republican party best mirrors the actions of Rome as it progressed during the Imperial age;  Rome instituted the Pax Romana, which in reality wasn’t “peace” any more than it was really “Roman” – their version of “spreading democracy.”  Even after the military had been opened up to the plebian class, it wasn’t until the soldiery was made professional that Empire was possible.  Furthermore, the greatest triumphs (usually massacres) and tragedies were well after the military had opened up to “outsiders” – Roman legions in Gaul were usually made up of soldiers from elsewhere in the Empire – Africa, Asia Minor, etc.  They weren’t “Romans,” or even “Italian” (to borrow a future descriptor), other than regarding citizenship.  The emperor used these people to “spread democracy,” albeit only local; they certainly didn’t have a voice between the Alps and the Mediterranean.  And now, we see how that worked out – all it took was an opposing personality like Atilla to hobble the Western Empire and it crumbled from within.

The most telling parallel is how the Empire changed under Constantine; all of the sex and violence remained, it just moved from the “pagans” doing it to the new governmentally-sanctioned Christians.  Wars still raged, the Empire pushed its boundaries, only after Constantine, the rallying cry was no longer Senatus Populusque Romanus but In Hoc Signo Victor Eris.  The tone of the Empire had changed such that when a voice of reason and tolerance was placed in the purple, he would be saddled forever with the nickname “the Apostate.”

The story of Rome from Republic to Empire was that of the transition of ideas – from “Our Country” to “Our Way.”  It wasn’t about trading with the Celts or the Gauls – it was about owning them.  And perhaps we don’t “own” Iraq, but what is there now certainly isn’t Iraqi – not that what they had was acceptable, either.  But let’s get out of the business of spreading “freedom” or “democracy” – which can be argued don’t exist on our own soil in the form they should – and get into the idea of spreading “peace” – one which isn’t conditional on other countries’ ideologies, or even varying ideologies of our own citizens – we here at home are clearly more divided than we have been since the Civil War.  Let’s grab hold of the idea of playing nice – we don’t have to be the world’s police force if we let people know on a global level that behaving isn’t that hard – us included.  If we all agree on that level, we won’t have to walk into a conflict by ourselves anymore.

Now there’s an idea.

comments are closed