For 216 years, the Roman Republic adhered to a custom that eventually became a law. No senator was permitted to serve as consul twice in succession because extended command over the legions might cause the soldiers’ loyalties to shift from Rome to their general – a shift that might well tempt an overly ambitious man. (M. Claudius Marcellus was elected to a third consular term in 214 B.C. immediately following his second term, but that second term he had only served as a suffect consul, selected to replace a predecessor who had died in office.)
In 152 B.C., this custom was made explicit, as ex-consuls were required to wait 10 years before running again for election to their former office.
And yet, less than 50 years later, in 103 B.C., the Roman Senate elected Gaius Marius consul for the third time, the second time in succession. The reason, of course, was a national emergency. This emergency was not the flooding of a small town representing less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the Roman population, but the emergence of two powerful German tribes that had invaded the Roman province of Spain and were threatening to invade Italy proper after defeating no less than three Roman armies and slaughtering more than 80,000 Roman soldiers.
Although he was a demagogue, Marius was also a military genius who ended the 5-year Jugurthan war in 18 months and is credited with making the Roman legions more effective by organizing them into cohorts. He soon had occasion to put that genius to the test, as the situation became even more dire when the Teutoni and the Cimbri allied with the Tigurini, a Celtic tribe that had defeated a Roman army four years before, and began a three-headed invasion of Italy.
Gaius Marius was elected consul four more times, and deservedly so. He defeated both the Teutoni and the Cimbri, killing some 165,000 Germans, and in doing so intimidated their Celtic allies into retreating from Cisalpine Gaul. Rome was saved, but at the price of its liberties. Within 20 years, Rome fought a civil war, was invaded twice by its own legions and endured two reigns of terror at the hands of its purported leaders. And 59 years later, Gaius Julius Caesar was not only elected consul for the fifth time, but dictator-for-life, effectively bringing an end to the Roman Republic after 466 years.
Americans have been told that the Constitution which guarantees their unalienable rights is a living document, which changes over time depending on the current meanings of the words it contains. Recently, we have also learned that it is a water-soluble document, which dissolves any time a federal or state official declares a national emergency or even a hypothetical threat to your life. These officials are, of course, interested in nothing but helping you. The mere notion of the concept that such Constitution-overriding declarations might happen to increase their own power has never even begun thinking about entering their petty, bureaucratic little minds.
Now that the floodwaters are being drained from New Orleans, we have learned that it is not only water, but its potentially maleficent aftereffects that trump one’s rights (which would seem to be alienable after all) to liberty, property and bearing arms.
I have no doubt that many optimistic – and historically ignorant – fools will continue to buy into the idea that these “temporary” intrusions on liberty are justified on the basis of saving lives, winning wars and various other good things. They find it very difficult to believe that any elected official could possibly have anything but their best interests in mind, forgetting that many of the leaders responsible for destroying their nation’s liberties have not only been elected, but were wildly popular with the people as well.
Gaius Marius, Alcibiades, Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher (“We had to learn the hard way that by agreement to what were apparently empty generalizations or vague aspirations we were later held to have committed ourselves to political structures which were contrary to our interests.” – Lady Margaret Thatcher, “The Downing Street Years”) were all freely elected individuals who nevertheless betrayed their countrymen.
Lest anyone should find the “temporary emergency” argument for disregarding the Constitution and American civil liberties to be compelling, let me hasten to remind them that FEMA’s declaration of a disaster in Louisiana is only one of 43 such declarations this year alone, and that there are 13 or more national emergencies declared by executive order which are still active today.
What is truly remarkable is the way in which the federal government’s solution for everything from terrorism to drugs to war in the Middle East to natural disaster is the same – eliminating American liberties. Why, if one didn’t know better, one would almost think that it is the elimination of those liberties, not solving the purported problems, that is the genuine goal!
Now tell me, again, why it is that we know better?