“In a republic this rule ought to be observed: that the majority should not have the predominant power.” -Cicero
A few weeks ago, I posted a simple article titled: “A Garden and a Library: Everything You Need” that featured some of the remarks of Cicero, a famed historian from Rome who witnessed the fall of the Republic and the beginnings of the decline of the empire under despotism.
After browsing through some old photos I took in Rome and throughout Italy, I realized how visible this cycle of decline can be for those who have eyes to see… i.e. those who know at least some history and can see how it is being repeated to all our horror.
Slideshow: Vital History – He who forgets the lessons of the past is doomed to repeat it. (Scroll over photos to read quotes)
Photos by Aaron Dykes.
The Roman Republic was never perfect or kind, of course, but it was a respectable system, which established laws and a reasonable distribution of power and rights to a certain extent. Though it thrived on war, empire, colonialism and slavery, it clearly declined under dictatorship and over-expansion, after Caesar crossed the Rubicon, as it were.
Cicero was an advocate of the Republic, which he saw as the best form of government. Dictatorship was a nasty and brutish power shaft, while a system overrun by plebiscite power is given to cheap manipulations and the erosion of individual rights.
He witnessed dangerous strains of both, as Caesar took power. Later, he was branded an enemy of the State by Mark Antony and murdered, after giving speeches decrying the tyranny of the times and advocating instead a return to the Republic.
Such are the wages of speaking truth to power. Subsequent decline and ruin has been sharply noted by historians. Reference: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons.
Today, we must recognize that we are witnessing a similar decline, though the names, circumstances and decorations have been largely changed.
We, too, live through an age of mass mind control – with our modern plebiscites captivated with entertainment and technology, and degraded enough to cheer on immorality, criminality, murder and depravity.
We, too, have seen our Republic crumble into ruins; our rights have been eroded, erased, violated, displaced; petty dictators and usurpers have sought the crown, or certainly abused their powers.
The institutions have fallen, thoroughly corrupted to the extent they were ever fair to begin with.
More bread and more circuses, perpetual wars and wanton looting and criminal seizures will increase; debts will accumulate, and the masses will accept handouts in exchange for dictatorial powers, just as they acquiesced to Mark Antony’s subtle bribe in his speech after Caesar’s death, where he named the public as a beneficiary to his will, with his estates, roads and treasure chest an offering to his ascension to power (as portrayed in Shakespeare’s drama, anyway).
Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men—
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there.
And none so poor to do him reverence.
O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honorable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honorable men.
But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar;
I found it in his closet, ’tis his will:
Let but the commons hear this testament—
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read—
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar’s wounds
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.
Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it;
It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!
You will compel me, then, to read the will?
Then make a ring about the corpse of Caesar,
And let me show you him that made the will.
Yet hear me, countrymen; yet hear me speak.
Why, friends, you go to do you know not what:
Wherein hath Caesar thus deserved your loves?
Alas, you know not: I must tell you then:
Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbors and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! When comes such another?
Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt!