There once was a great republic, born out of a revolt against a king.
Liberty was its first battle cry. Its founding fathers created a
constitution based on a system of checks and balances. As time advanced,
the republic prospered and became the world’s greatest military power.
A famous historian once wrote of this republic in the following
“There really was, it seemed, a nation on this earth prepared to
fight for the freedom of other men, and to fight at her own expense, and
at the cost of hardship and peril to herself; a nation prepared to do
this service not just for her near neighbors … but even prepared to
cross the sea in order to prevent the establishment of unjust dominion
in any quarter of the globe, and to ensure that right and justice, and
the rule of law, should everywhere be supreme.”
The great republic met with success, becoming fabulously rich. But
wealth and success have a dark side. The republic’s leaders eventually
showed signs of corruption. Its people grew complacent and decadent. The
old values were no longer fashionable. Atheism was openly advocated,
belief in divine authority was questioned.
At this time there appeared a new politician. He had a wife and a
daughter. His wife was connected to various subversive groups. This
politician was sexually promiscuous and had many mistresses. In his path
to power he made an alliance with the thugs and mobsters of his day. He
also aligned himself with powerful banking and financial interests.
At long last this politician reached the highest office of the land.
He corrupted the entire state administration. He rewarded his allies; he
thwarted his critics. He was not beyond using violence, even murder to
extend his control. He committed many crimes while in office. Because of
these crimes he could not lay down his office without being exposed to
legal prosecution. Only the power of his position protected him from the
law. He therefore resolved to change the constitution so that he could
extend his term of office indefinitely and avoid prosecution.
His political enemies were unable to stop him. They were always
ineffectual, inept — incapable of resolute action. One senator
characterized his colleagues as “each waiting for someone else to act.”
Nobody did anything to stop the destroyer of the republic. Nobody seemed
willing to oppose the world’s most powerful politician. Some were bought
off, others were intimidated, still others retreated into private life.
Perhaps this story seems strangely familiar. I could be describing
the United States at the end of the 20th century. History has an odd
quality in that events tend to repeat themselves, and characters long
since dead tend to reappear. The republic I am writing about was Rome,
politician I am describing was Julius Caesar.
The Roman Senate finally got up the courage to confront Caesar,
ordering him to lay down his office and return to Rome where he would
face trial and conviction. Instead of obeying the Senate, Caesar took
the army under his command and marched against Rome. This was the famous
“crossing of the Rubicon,” from which there could be no turning back.
The Senate organized armies to oppose Caesar in Italy, Greece, Asia,
Africa, and Spain. But Caesar’s political machine in Italy was so
effective, his propaganda so overwhelming, that the senators opposing
him had to flee Italy. He followed them to Greece and fought two pitched
Pompey the Great, the Senate’s leading general. In the first battle
Caesar suffered a minor defeat, but in the second battle he smashed the
senatorial army. He chased Pompey to Egypt, which he conquered, then he
went to Africa, conquering the Senate’s army there. He moved on, at
last, to Spain and won another victory.
Caesar pardoned his enemies and made himself a “perpetual dictator.”
The Roman constitution was finally broken. The great Roman senator and
orator, Marcus Cicero, wrote of Caesar’s victory with these words:
“There came a man [Caesar] whose cause was not right but evil; and
his success was … horrible. Mere confiscations of the property of
individual citizens were far from enough to satisfy him. Whole provinces
and countries succumbed to his onslaught, in one comprehensive universal
Entire foreign nations were given over to ruin and destruction.”
Who did Cicero blame for this “universal catastrophe”?
“Surely,” wrote Cicero, “our present sufferings are all too well
deserved. For had we not allowed outrages to go unpunished on all sides,
it would never have been possible for a single individual to seize
Downcast and defeated, Cicero wrote, “Here in the city nothing is
left — only the lifeless walls of the houses. And even they look afraid
that some further terrifying attack may be imminent. The real Rome has
Those words were probably written in 44 B.C., the year that Caesar
was assassinated by a group of senators. After stabbing him to death,
the senators ran through the streets waving their bloody daggers,
proclaiming liberty. But it was only the beginning of another civil war.
Caesar’s political machine outlived him. It hunted down Caesar’s
assassins and rubbed them out. A permanent dictatorship then entrenched
itself in Rome. Freedom was vanquished, tyranny was triumphant. After
that some of the blackest names in history appeared as Caesar’s heirs —
like Caligula and Nero.
Freedom is a rare and delicate thing. Once destroyed, it is not
easily recovered. The death of the Roman republic is a story we should
all keep in mind. Our republic has been compared to that of Rome. We
need to make sure that it doesn’t share a similar fate.