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One of the easiest ways to dismiss something out of hand is to label it conspiracy theory. Although the word “conspiracy” simply refers to the act of joining together in secret agreement to do a wrongful act, tacking it on as an adjective somehow evokes images of unfounded fears and even paranoia.

But is it reasonable to believe that there are truly none who wish to do wrong, or to think that if such men exist, they will always be foolish enough to declare their intentions openly?

History speaks eloquently on the subject. In the 1,129 years of the great Byzantine empire, the average reign of an emperor was 12 years. This is a bit longer than the eight years we now allow our president, but is rather short considering that the Byzantine position ostensibly offered supreme power and lifetime tenure. But if it wasn’t unheard of for a ruler of Constantinople to die peacefully in his bed, it was also not the norm.

For example, in the 135 years following Maurice’s peaceful succession of Tiberius Constantine, seven of the empire’s 12 rulers saw their reigns end in assassination or execution. Of the five who were not slain outright, two were deposed, and one, Constantine IV, was only able to keep his throne by mutilating his two fraternal rivals.

Roman history is little different. While the violent period of the civil wars is familiar to most literate people, less is known about the 92 years of near-anarchy which began with the drowning of Commodus and ended with Diocletian’s ascension to the purple. During that century of imperial crisis, Rome was under the caligae of 26 soldier-emperors, most of whom died – as they lived – by the sword.

Keep in mind that these murderous successions mark only the successful conspiracies, and in the case of the Byzantines, it was not unusual for an emperor to put down as many as three major plots against his throne in a single year. Nor is it an exaggeration to suggest that the highest circles in Constantinople, as in Rome, bubbled with almost constant intrigue fueled by the desire to claim power.

Has anything changed today? On the surface, the answer is certainly yes. But is it truly reasonable to think that human nature has changed much over the 549 years that separate us from the last days of Byzantium? I submit not, especially considering that we are closer to the 11th Constantine, Dragatses, than was the first Justinian to Julius Caesar. Nor can democracy be considered some kind of magic antidote, as the subsequent careers of successful politicians such as Alcibiades and Adolph Hitler inform us.

But where does that leave us, then, if the leopards have not changed their spots, but remain undetected despite stakes that would take Caesar’s breath away? The Marxian theory of history has been thoroughly discredited. The Great Man theory cannot explain the dichotomy between the proven conspiracies of yore and their seeming absence today. The Accident theory is a vapid ontological argument. Only the much-belittled conspiracy theory of history, which stubbornly insists that events are not always as they appear on the surface, holds together in this light when examined in a historical and logical manner.

Consider the following words, spoken in 1838:

It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot.

Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! Think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon? – Never!”

Abraham Lincoln, no stranger to the illegitimate seizure of power himself, understood the dangers posed by those who hide in the shadows to plot against the rights and liberties of the common man. Such men exist, the only questions that remain are: Who are they, where are they and what, exactly, do they hope to do?

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