Caesar and Our World: A Book Update and Questions for Ricochetti

 

Some of you have just received a lot of the post below in the form of a batch of updates from GoFundMe. But please keep reading, because I have questions for you at the end!

I wanted to share my progress as the book enters the final lap. I sent to everyone who’s contributed, so far, some of the flap copy, the Table of Contents, the book’s introductory paragraphs, and a bit of sample material — enough so you can envision what it would be like to pick this up in a bookstore and thumb through it (or skim through it on Amazon), trying to decide whether it interests you enough that you might buy it.

I also wanted to express my gratitude, again, to every one of you. Some of you have contributed to this book specifically; others haven’t, but every one of you has offered me so much food for thought, and offered it so generously, in the comments of Ricochet. Your comments, even when you’ve sharply disagreed with me, have helped to shape this book more than you’ll perhaps ever know.

To those who contributed to the book campaign: I’ll never know how properly to thank you, both for the honor — and it was an honor to find that so many of you trusted that I’d be able to write a book worth reading — and for giving me such a priceless luxury: time. Virginia Woolf thought that to write, women needed a room of their own. Yes, that’s probably true — but they also need time, and these days, that’s much harder to find. I used that time to read, to reflect and length, and to write — not only about what we’re now seeing in the world, but about what I saw personally, especially in Turkey. There’s been great catharsis in doing that. Of course, writing a book is not about catharsis. In the final draft, I hope, there will be no hint of these emotions. I write for the benefit of my readers, not as a form of psychotherapy. That doesn’t change the fact that I found it valuable, emotionally, really to reflect upon, and try to make sense of, everything I’ve seen in the world since the end of the Cold War. Thank you for giving me that time. That helped me, personally.

Now to the book. (Some of you have seen this already in the mailing from GoFundMe. Just skip down to the questions, below)

***

FLAP COPY. So imagine you’re picking this book and thinking, “Hmmm. Should I buy this?” Would this grab you?

THE PAST DECADE has seen a global authoritarian revolution. In the West, a very particular form of authoritarianism is triumphing — an entertaining but empty form of democracy denuded of everything that makes democracy meaningful.

This is the New Caesarism, so-called because it arises in circumstances reminiscent of those that destroyed the Roman Republic. The founders of the United States, avid students of classical history, knew intimately the story its downfall. They fully understood that democracy and freedom were not identical, and indeed in tension. They grasped the implications of this. Contemporary Americans do not grasp this, and this has had grave consequences. “Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics,” Alexander Hamilton warned, “the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.” What Hamilton feared is precisely what is now happening to established constitutional orders the world around — including ours.

Claire Berlinski argues that this is a genuinely new species of Caesarism, however, one even the founders could not have imagined. We have been slow to recognize the threat it poses because in some respects it is unlike anything humanity has seen before. We are confused because these regimes are genuine democracies, where rulers enjoy real popularity. But the rights and freedoms that Americans associate with the word “democracy” don’t exist — and the ruler’s popularity is based on a system of total surveillance and thought control, one we have made possible through the invention of the 21st-century’s revolutionary new communication technologies.

The New Caesars are learning from each other. The Internet has made their ideology — and yes, they do have a real, coherent ideology — virulently contagious. Such regimes, Putin’s in particular, harness formidable state security apparatuses to spread their form of governance. The New Caesars employ similar, almost stereotyped, strategies to gain power and keep it. This book will tell you what those strategies are and how to recognize them.

In the global war between liberal democrats and the New Caesars, Europe is the critical battlefield. Authoritarian movements and political figures now endanger Europe’s democracy and its long postwar peace, the basis of the postwar global order. We take this order, the only world our generation of Americans has ever known, for granted. But we cannot flourish, and may not survive, in its absence. The battle to control Europe’s future urgently demands our attention.

Understanding these events in Europe is the key to understanding what is happening to us, now. But the daily news cycle and its associated culture encourage us to understand these events and their relationship to our recent experiences poorly and superficially. This book makes the relationship clear: It places the headlines that flicker incessantly over our cell phone screens in their wider historical and global context.

The author’s understanding of New Caesarism as a distinct political phenomenon was profoundly shaped by the decade she spent reporting from Turkey on the rise and consolidation of the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkish politics tend to strike most Americans as distant, alien and irrelevant to them, but they are not: Erdoğan followed a template pioneered by the ur-Caesar, Vladimir Putin, and used by aspiring Caesars around the globe. Millions have recently lived through a similar authoritarian cascade in a long list of countries from Hungary to the Philippines.

The author has personally lived through every stage of the transition to New Caesarism, and she warns that America is not immune. Our constitution, culture, and geography are safeguards — they are what will save us, if we can be saved — but we cannot repose in them all our confidence. Turkey, too, had strong constitutional, cultural, and geographic safeguards. They failed.

To understand what is happening to us, we must begin looking, again, at the rest of the world. That is where we will find the insights we need to meet the 21st century’s challenges. If we fail to do this, and to draw the right lessons — we too are at risk of losing our freedom and meanly losing the last best hope of earth.

***

What do you think, would you keep thumbing through that book?

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

Introduction: What the Hell?

Chapter 1. The Crisis of Liberal Democracy

Chapter 2. The Aquarium

Chapter 3. Old Caesarism

Chapter 4: New Caesarism

Chapter 5: Caesar, Globalization, and the Internet

Chapter 6: American Caesarism

Chapter 7: European Caesarism

Chapter 8: Russian Caesarism

Chapter 9: Caesars, Muslims, Migrants, and Myths

Chapter 10: A Tour of Caesar’s Europe

Chapter 11. How to be a New Caesar: A Case Study

Chapter 12. What is to be Done?

Conclusion: Against Despair

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Acknowledgements

***

Here are the opening paragraphs:

WHEN THE BERLIN WALL fell, scholars spoke seriously of the End of History: the terminus of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universal adoption of liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

Thirty years later, things are not as we had hoped. The structures that made Western countries the world’s most envied, powerful, wealthy, free, and decent have been hollowed out from within and attacked from without. Authoritarian governments are coming to power not through coups or revolutions, but through the ballot box.

What does this mean?

An astonishing array of kooks, many cultivated and financed by the Kremlin, have gained prominence and power, from Ukip in Britain to Syriza in Greece, from the Corbynite wing of the British Labour Party to Spain’s Podemos, from Jobbik in Hungary to Golden Dawn in Greece, from the Northern League in Italy to France’s Front National Front. A race would seem to be upon the West to embrace history’s most comprehensively discredited ideologies. Adherents of these movements inhabit a morally inverted world where the European Union is the USSR and Vladimir Putin is the Moral Custodian of the West—even as Russia, relying on unreconstructed Soviet organs of statecraft, literally invades Europe …

Would you want to keep reading?

***

And here’s some sample material, something you might come across as you’re thumbing through, trying to decise whether this interests you. It comes from the chapter called New Caesarism:

POLITICAL SCIENTISTS HAVE TERMED the period from 2006 to the present the “decade of decline.” What is in decline is freedom. According to every index that may be tracked, the world is becoming more authoritarian—and strongly so, and quickly.

Freedom in the World, an annual and highly reliable report on political rights and civil liberties published by Freedom House, has shown that crucial measures of freedom have declined in each of the ten years in question. This is the sharpest and longest democratic recession since Freedom House began collecting data.

“Democratic recession” is their term, not mine. The phrase is poorly-chosen. It is a symptom of our confusion. By Freedom House’s count, more than 60 percent of the world’s countries are electoral democracies. This is anything but a recession; to the contrary, it represents a massive increase in democracy: In the late 1980s, fewer than 40 percent of the world’s nations were democracies. Nonetheless, as Freedom House show, 105 countries have, in the past decade, suffered net declines in freedom. Countries that were authoritarian to begin with became even more repressive. And a “parallel pattern of institutional erosion” has occurred among established democratic states, “pushing them into the category of ‘illiberal democracies.’

The category, under their definition, compasses countries where elections are held regularly, under reasonably fair conditions.

“But the state, usually under the control of a strong party or leader, applies much of its energy to the systematic weakening of political pluralism and the creation of a skewed electoral playing field. Opposition parties are often impotent, freedom of the press is circumscribed, and the judiciary tends to be dominated by the ruling party. Countries that fit this description include Hungary, Bolivia, Ecuador, and, if recent trends continue, Poland.”

This is the New Caesarism. There no other single, widely-recognized term for this form of governance, although political scientists have studied it extensively. Other terms in vogue include hybrid regimes, partial democracy, low-intensity democracy, or empty democracy; others have personalized it, calling it Putinism, Orbánism, or Erdoğanism. We now have a wealth of evidence about the way these regimes arise, their common characteristics, and what it is like to live in them. Most Americans are unfamiliar with this evidence. They do not realize how relevant it is to our own recent political experiences. They have no reason to be conversant with the academic literature about this regime type. They may sense that something unites the regimes in Russia, Turkey, or Hungary, but they will not know quite what it is.

What unites such regimes is that they are democracies—real ones—where rulers derive their legitimacy from elections and the public’s widespread support. But they are democracies where citizens do not enjoy the rights and freedoms Americans associate with the word “democracy.” Such regimes come to power, and stay in power, in a very particular way.

Russia’s Putinization was the ur-Putinization—the template for New Caesars everywhere. The Kremlin is now endeavouring energetically to spread its form of governance throughout Europe. In many places, it is succeeding. Illiberal movements have gained enough power in Europe to pose a severe threat to established liberal orders. The New Caesars have conquered Europe’s periphery and they are making steady inroads on its heart. …

And now, here’s where I need Ricochet’s help.

The chapter that’s still undeveloped — the one that’s holding up the works — is the chapter before this one, the chapter called Old Caesarism. I’ll bet many of you would have interesting things to say about this subject, or suggestions for further reading that could help me make this chapter what I really want it to be.

I argue in this chapter that the forms of authoritarian governance and political moods now sweeping the world have ancient historical antecedents. Critics often evoke the fascist movements of the 1930s — and they’re not wholly wrong. But I argue that fascism is not the most relevant historic precedent, nor will studying it give us the insights we need to understand what’s happening. The more relevant precedents, in my view, are older — much older

The phrase “Caesarian democracy” comes from the great European historian Lewis Namier. It evokes, as it is meant to do, Roman imperial decay. I argue that to understand the new Caesarism, we must look, literally, to the old Caesarism — specifically, to the Roman Republic at the close of the 2nd Century BC.

Caesarian democracy has since reappeared, at regular intervals, in in Western history. As Namier wrote,

Such morbid cults have by now acquired a tradition and ideology, and have evolved their own routine and political vocabulary. … Napoleon III and Boulanger were to be the plagiarists, shadowy and counterfeit, of Napoleon I; and Mussolini and Hitler were to be unconscious reproducers of the methods of Napoleon III. For these are inherent in plebiscitarian Caesarism, or so-called “Caesarian democracy,” with its direct appeal to the masses: demagogical slogans; disregard of legality in spite of a professed guardianship of law and order; contempt of political parties and the parliamentary system, of the educated classes and their values; blandishments and vague, contradictory promises for all and sundry; militarism; gigantic, blatant displays and shady corruption. Panem et circenses once more and at the end of the road, disaster.

In this chapter, I’m looking at notable historic examples of such “morbid cults” — their similarities, and the circumstances under which they have emerged. And I explore the theme of America and Rome.

As of course you know, the American founders were avid classicists. They consciously imitated Rome. So perhaps, I argue, we shouldn’t be so surprised that modern constitutional democracies are afflicted with Roman problems? I tell the story of the destruction of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire — a story with which, alas, far too many Americans are now unfamiliar.

But the problem is that I am not, myself, as familiar with that story as I ought to be. And here’s where you might be able to help. I’m not a classicist. I don’t read Latin. But I do believe we have among us some first-rate classicists, no? Or perhaps some enthusiastic amateurs? What books have proven most useful to you in understanding Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire?

And what books, in particular — or documents, or resources — have helped you better to understand how the Founding Fathers viewed these events? I want to know what they thought was the moral of this story, what lessons they drew from it, and how this shaped the world in which we now live.

Next, I wonder if any of you have read a 1958 book by a French scholar, Amaury de Riencourt, called The Coming Caesars. I read it for the first time recently and thought, “This is the most interesting thing a Frenchman has written about the United States since de Tocqueville.” When it was published, The New York Times said, “A few decades from now, some later historian may dig out this book and proclaim him a prophet.”

Well, here I am.

Here’s his prophecy:

Our Western world is threatened with Caesarism on a scale unknown since the dawn of the Roman Empire. It is the contention of this book that expanding democracy leads unintentionally to imperialism and that imperialism inevitably ends in destroying the republican institutions of earlier days; further, that the greater the social equality the dimmer the prospects of liberty, and that as society becomes more equalitarian, it tends increasingly to concentrate power in the hands of one man. Caesarism is not a dictatorship, not the result of one man’s overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution. It is not based on a specific doctrine or philosophy. It is essentially pragmatic and untheoretical. It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in the voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master.

Doesn’t that sound just a bit too eerily accurate to you?

If you’ve read the book, what did you think of his arguments?

De Riencourt likened Europe to ancient Greece and the United States to Rome. Not only did the United States have a Roman culture, he argued, it had a Roman future:

With Caesarism and Civilization, the great struggles between political parties are no longer concerned with principles, programs and ideologies, but with men. Marius, Sulla, Cato, Brutus still fought for principles. But now, everything became personalized. Under Augustus, parties still existed, but there were no more Optirnates or Populares, no more conservatives or democrats. Men campaigned for or against Tiberius or Drusus or Caius Caesar. No one believed any more in the efficacy of ideas, political panaceas, doctrines, or systems, just as the Greeks had given up building great philosophic systems generations before.

Abstractions, ideas, and philosophies were rejected to the periphery of their lives and of the empire, to the East where Jews, Gnostics, Christians, and Mithraists attempted to conquer the world of souls and minds while the Caesars ruled their material existence.

Doesn’t that sound eerily familiar, too?

I’m wondering what caused Reincourt, in 1958, to make these predictions? Was it really baked into the cake as early as 1958? Why do you think he noticed what his contemporaries didn’t? (Mostly, the reviews dismissed him.)

I’d like to understand this better, because I think it may be the key to understanding a lot about our era that puzzles me. So I have some specific questions for Ricochet.

  1. If you’ve read him, do you think I’m right to him prophetic and relevant? If so, why?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. Do you think I’m right in saying that the process by which liberal democracies (including, but not limited to ours) are succumbing to authoritarian temptations in the 21st Century evokes the end of the Roman Republic? If so, how exactly?
  4. Who among the Founders, do you think, were most keenly aware of the example of the Roman Republic?How do you think this awareness shaped their views about how America should be safeguarded from the same fate?
  5. Who should I read, in your view, better to understand all three of these periods: The transition of Rome from Republic to Empire, the influence of the classics on the Founders, and the relevance of both of those epochs to ours?

Are you curious about this book, based on what I’ve shown you above? If not, I need to rethink the marketing. (It might be too late to rethink the book.) Please don’t be too harsh in the criticism, though: Constructive criticism is very welcome, but being totally depressed and demoralized for days probably wouldn’t be … so helpful.

There are 94 comments.

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  1. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Going to work, but, I’ll be back…

    • #1
  2. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Look no further than the EU for all that you fear.

    • #2
  3. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    I’m looking forward to the book.   Are the mechanisms leading popular governments toward loss of freedom western and classical or just human   The bureaucratization, meddling, the centralized attempt to meet popular demands in democratic systems principally by  organized interests  give rise to dysfunction and the ultimate populist search for the leader who will fix things.   The man on horse back.   Simultaneously the centralization concentrates wealth allocating mechanisms and hence raises the returns to political effort and skills.  The men on horse back are ultimately symptoms of and part of the same centralization and top down governance that causes dysfunction in the first place.  The authoritarian leaders can’t fix it for the simple reason that top down can’t produce prosperity it can only consume it and allocate it to supporters and does so relentlessly.   Rome had become dysfunctional.  Conquest led to two major imports, slaves and precious metals  so they got unemployment and inflation, concentrated wealth in ever larger estates and cities bursting with unemployed.  I think our founders looked to these risks rather than other classical attributes, e.g. the risks of popular demands and  of concentrated power such demands can lead to, and I think they were right.

    • #3
  4. Gaius Inactive
    Gaius
    @Gaius

    I’m looking forward to the book and wish I could comment more extensively. I will say as one of the (very) amateurs you’ve alluded to, that I’ve found Syme to be very helpful in understanding the role of faction in the transition from republic to empire. I tend to think that mass immigration in the west today plays a similar role as Rome’s decision to integrate the cities and towns of Italy after the social war. Rome grew overconfident in its ability to effectuate e pluribus Unum, in the face of historical resentment and forgot to pace itself. Also there is Syme’s assessment of the oldest of the patrician families who, unlike the stalwart plebian nobles of the republic, had survived one monarchy and assumed they would survive another (they didn’t). I’m not quite sure what that has to tell us about the folly of today’s elites but I would be surprised if it were nothing.

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Wasn’t this whole America’s Roman Decline one of Gore Vidal’s ‘things’?

    • #5
  6. Gaius Inactive
    Gaius
    @Gaius

    On second thought I wonder if a better title for your thesis might be “The New Catalinarians.” Formerly respectable political establishments supporting crazed demagogues who dishonor their tradition out of a fear of becoming a minority in their own country certainly describes the relationship between Cataline and his supporters in the optimates. Replace Cicero with judge Curiel and Sallust’s speech for Cataline sounds downright Trumpian at times. After all Orban, Pen etc. are creatures of the European right while Caesar, to the extent we can analogize, was of the Roman left. He comes later, for us, I fear, as well as for Rome.

    • #6
  7. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Gaius (View Comment):
    I’m looking forward to the book and wish I could comment more extensively. I will say as one of the (very) amateurs you’ve alluded to, that I’ve found Syme to be very helpful in understanding the role of faction in the transition from republic to empire. I tend to think that mass immigration in the west today plays a similar role as Rome’s decision to integrate the cities and towns of Italy after the social war. Rome grew overconfident in its ability to effectuate e pluribus Unum, in the face of historical resentment and forgot to pace itself. Also there is Syme’s assessment of the oldest of the patrician families who, unlike the stalwart plebian nobles of the republic, had survived one monarchy and assumed they would survive another (they didn’t). I’m not quite sure what that has to tell us about the folly of today’s elites but I would be surprised if it were nothing.

    We didn’t meaningfully assimilate the mass immigration waves of the turn of the 20th century or any of the waves since.  This lead to a collapse of enough of a common identity for there to be a common destiny, and has prevented enough of a common enough consensus for there to be a coherent democracy.  Thus in the face of disputes without broadly satisfactory solutions power politics subsumed cooperation, and with that power replaced agreed upon principles as the dominate political organizing principle.  In the increasingly hollow pantomime of our constitutional republic, the courts are the ultimate trump card and everybody knows it now and acts accordingly.

    Diversity does what diversity does. every. single. time.

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I’m definitely reading the book.

    Two of our branches of government have grown in power because one of them is composed of morons, plus Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton.

    Amendment XVII delenda est.

    • #8
  9. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix
    @JohnHendrix

     

    • Do you think I’m right in saying that the process by which liberal democracies (including, but not limited to ours) are succumbing to authoritarian temptations in the 21st Century evokes the end of the Roman Republic? If so, how exactly?

     

    @claire, with respect to the U.S. I’ve been having this is like the last days of the Roman Republic feeling for some time now. With respect to your question I think that you’re correct. My take is that our institutions were being overrun–in slow motion, to be sure–by our mobs for some time now.

    Recently, however, it appears that that pace of collapse is increasing. This doesn’t bode well. As an engineer I am familiar with the phenomena of the rate that a failure mode causes damage suddenly increasing just prior to total catastrophic failure. Seeing the increasing rate of damage to our institutions gives me a queasy feeling that I am about to witness something worse happening to my country.

    I know you’ve brought the chapters on how we’ve got here in for a landing. Allow me to offer my thoughts anyway.

    Teddy White, I think it was in his Making of the Presidents book, criticized California’s referendum system because it removed the buffer between popular emotion and governmental action.  Creating a buffer between popular emotion and governmental action is the entire point of a representative republic and its institutions. I believe removal of such buffers are is a key factor  in the rise of the new American Caesarism you’ve identified. Often our institutions perform a buffering role. (This is also exactly why American institutions are under constant Leftist attack, but that is another rant.)

    Put crudely, the point of having elected representatives essentially sequestered in a remote capitol is to enable them to deliberate without continually receiving pressure from constituents. Changes since the beginning of the twentieth century have exposed our representatives to increasing pressure from their constituents, and increasingly in real-time.

    I’ve got to get to work, so what follows is more of a list of factors rather than arguments.

    primary elections. Our political parties switching to a sequence of primary elections so as to select a nominee made things worse. Previously politicians had to win the approval of their party’s leaders, who’s experience, one would hope, would have disabused them of at least some their earlier fallacies. In contrast, under our primary system politicians are essentially performing before an amateur audience. Trump would have been immediately rejected by the old system. So would a politician with Obama scanty record of accomplishments. (You want more Trump? Well, under our primary system you will get more Trump. In fact, you could only get Trump under this system.)

    Old Media and Social Media. A recent Constitutionally Speaking podcast pointed out that FDR’s fireside chats made it possible for a President to spin-up a the population into a sort of virtual flash mob to pressure their congressman into supporting FDR’s policies. This had never happened before because we didn’t have the technology in place to do it before. FDR’s fireside chats were the beginning of the end of our representatives’ sense of being sequestered from popular emotions and impulses.

    And, of course, Twitter and all the rest of social media means that we’ll never have to worry about our representatives thoughtfully deliberating over contentious issues ever again.

    An obliviousness to the point of institutions.The Left using the Judiciary to enact their preferred policies instead of just interpreting the Constitution is just one example.

     

     

     

    • #9
  10. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    John Hendrix (View Comment):

    • Do you think I’m right in saying that the process by which liberal democracies (including, but not limited to ours) are succumbing to authoritarian temptations in the 21st Century evokes the end of the Roman Republic? If so, how exactly?

    @claire, with respect to the U.S. I’ve been having this is like the last days of the Roman Republic feeling for some time now. With respect to your question I think that you’re correct. My take is that our institutions were being overrun–in slow motion, to be sure–by our mobs for some time now.

    snip

    I believe you are largely correct but I think the changes that you are talking about is also a result of a failure of careful deliberation to produce broadly acceptable outcomes, because there aren’t any.

    • #10
  11. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Well done on the Flap Copy!  I definitely look forward to reading the book.

    I have a suggestion – which may or may not be feasible, given how you’ve built the structure of your arguments:  Reverse the order of Chapters 6 through 8, so that the sequence begins with what is obvious to all of us (Russian Caesarism) and builds the case toward something that is probably less obvious and certainly less palatable to most of your American readers (American Caesarism).

    • #11
  12. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I think it is useful to think of political structures in terms of how a society views the nature and character of their citizens.  A society that regards its citizens as stupid, emotional consumers of material things will evolve differently from one that sees them as moral agents, worthy of dignity and deserving of institutions and mores that foster their moral formation. It all flows from that.

    Think of the Bill of Rights as an expression of moral values rather than political structures.  First Amendment: It is monstrous to make a man act against his own conscience, whether made to support contrary beliefs or to to be silenced in the face of injustice or corruption. Second Amendment:  The moral obligation to protect family, community and property must not be constrained or forcibly delegated. And so forth.

    The model of governance that the Founders built presumed that the ultimate check would be the moral influence of the right sort of person.   Checks and balances, separation of powers, subsidiarity, freedom of the press were all intended to work to allow for our shared morals, values and interests to be brought to bear against forms of venality and corruption that would try to conceal and distort their true nature while stealing power and dignity of the people.  By eliminating the tools that would be seized or built by tyrants, by denying rule by the passions of the mob we would have a better chance to ruled by our (presumed) better nature. That was the plan, anyway.

    The mores and morals of the West have not changed so much as rotted away.  The artifice of political correctness is not a replacement of shared moral assumptions so much as a tool to undo the old order so as to create and transfer power.  If we are no longer able to assert must less foster the kind of moral judgments that underpin the entire American political project, then it collapses and there is either Caesar or the barbarian hordes.

    It starts (and ends) with how we understand our nature.

    • #12
  13. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Here’s his prophecy:

    Our Western world is threatened with Caesarism on a scale unknown since the dawn of the Roman Empire. It is the contention of this book that expanding democracy leads unintentionally to imperialism and that imperialism inevitably ends in destroying the republican institutions of earlier days; further, that the greater the social equality the dimmer the prospects of liberty, and that as society becomes more equalitarian, it tends increasingly to concentrate power in the hands of one man. Caesarism is not a dictatorship, not the result of one man’s overriding ambition, not a brutal seizure of power through revolution. It is not based on a specific doctrine or philosophy. It is essentially pragmatic and untheoretical. It is a slow, often century-old, unconscious development that ends in the voluntary surrender of a free people escaping from freedom to one autocratic master.

    Doesn’t that sound just a bit too eerily accurate to you?

    It’s eerily accurate with respect to Barack Obama, but not to Donald Trump. I sense that your book is a veiled attempt to cause fear of him, and I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. It looks to me like sprinkling in terms such as “kooks,” morbid cult,” and “authoritarian” are meant to pave the way for an anti-Trump polemic. I saw a recent reprinting of de Riencourt’s book that has Obama on the cover. Obviously it must have been published before 2016. It’s the Left which leads to totalitarianism, not the Right.

    Donald Trump is the people’s correction.

    • #13
  14. Chuckles Thatcher
    Chuckles
    @Chuckles

    You did not identify your target audience, or if you did it didn’t register with me.

    And I don’t know if I’d pick it up to read or not:  Would be slightly more likely if it was available as an ebook.

    I do know this:  Your quotes and discussion in the post caught me and I read it and the comments with interest.  And I know that, having my fears confirmed, I am now thorougly depressed and think I will go back to bed.

    • #14
  15. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Three thoughts:

    • You should listen to the Hardcore History podcast, by Dan Carlin, specifically Destroyer of Worlds.  It’s about 8 hours long.  Its core argument is this:  The advent of nuclear weapons, with their massive destructive power and rapid delivery, fundamentally changed the nature and power of the US presidency.  Living now in a world where wars could end as soon as they begin, with massive flights of city-destroying weapons, we have had to assign to our executive the unilateral ability to declare war, and to make that power in any way meaningful, we have also had to hand over the ability to run far more of the government than our Constitution was designed to allow.  Even setting aside the massive power grabs by Wilson (himself something of a proto-fascist) and FDR (which were immense and cannot be understated), nuclear weapons are so inherently dangerous that we cannot entrust their ultimate control to a body as large and mercurial as Congress.
    • For a really detailed account of the end of the Roman republic, you might also want to read The Storm Before The Storm.  Republics, to function, must be run within their own rules.  But this makes them slow to act, and sometimes overly conservative.  This very slowness of movement, during times of crisis, leaves them vulnerable to those who are willing to break those rules, and seize crises as an excuse to overthrow or undermine the order.  Caesar did not appear in a vacuum, he had generations of populist and anti-populist destroyers before him.
    • Have you examined the example of Chile, and how it fared compared to Argentina?  Pinochet, whatever his faults, destroyed a system that Allende was going to destroy anyway, but then put it back together, while Argentina has lurched from crisis to crisis, while the populists there have kept its society in constant chaos.
    • #15
  16. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Guruforhire (View Comment):
    We didn’t meaningfully assimilate the mass immigration waves of the turn of the 20th century or any of the waves since. This lead to a collapse of enough of a common identity for there to be a common destiny, and has prevented enough of a common enough consensus for there to be a coherent democracy. Thus in the face of disputes without broadly satisfactory solutions power politics subsumed cooperation, and with that power replaced agreed upon principles as the dominate political organizing principle. In the increasingly hollow pantomime of our constitutional republic, the courts are the ultimate trump card and everybody knows it now and acts accordingly.

    Diversity does what diversity does. every. single. time.

    This cannot be overstated.  Our society is increasingly balkanized.

    • #16
  17. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Would you want to keep reading?

    Not if I didn’t know you were the author.

    • #17
  18. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    Well, I’ve always liked a good classical approach. However, one must be careful of such things. One must test out the hypothesis. A thought experiment or two might be useful.

    First, is it possible there are rulers who are worse than a Ceasar?

     

     

    Second, are those who openly challenge Ceasar necessarily so noble? Are their motives never to be questioned?

     

     

    Food for thought.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #18
  19. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    I don’t know anything about Honduras and Ecuador. But I think I know a little bit about Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Poland. To put Orban in the same category as Putin and Erdogan is to implicitly define such a vast category as to be analytically useless.

    As to American Caesarism, don’t you have to look past the Founding to Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson and FDR to see how the institutions of the US do and don’t react/adjust to authoritarian democratic rule?

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Namier: “Caesarian democracy,” with its direct appeal to the masses: demagogical slogans; disregard of legality in spite of a professed guardianship of law and order; contempt of political parties and the parliamentary system, of the educated classes and their values; blandishments and vague, contradictory promises for all and sundry; militarism; gigantic, blatant displays and shady corruption.

    One of these things seems not like the others: “contempt … of the educated classes and their values”. Your argument does seem to have a flavour of ‘the people have got it wrong – time to dissolve them’.

    • #19
  20. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    genferei (View Comment):
    To put Orban in the same category as Putin and Erdogan is to implicitly define such a vast category as to be analytically useless.

    gen,

    Agreed.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
  21. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Doesn’t that sound just a bit too eerily accurate to you?

    It’s eerily accurate with respect to Barack Obama, but not to Donald Trump. I sense that your book is a veiled attempt to cause fear of him, and I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. It looks to me like sprinkling in terms such as “kooks,” morbid cult,” and “authoritarian” are meant to pave the way for an anti-Trump polemic. I saw a recent reprinting of de Riencourt’s book that has Obama on the cover. Obviously it must have been published before 2016. It’s the Left which leads to totalitarianism, not the Right.

    Donald Trump is the people’s correction.

    Except that Trump is much more akin to Obama than all the Trump fans like to think. Basically both won on the basis of celebrity and empty promises, and both are governing in much the same way. When Trump hollows out the Republican party too at all levels State and Federal you will see it more clearly. The one thing Obama had that Trump doesn’t is Obama had a 60 seat Senate majority, so he was able to pass Obamacare. Trump doesn’t have that so he won’t manage to pass anything. They both in the end will rule by executive order while congress passes continuing resolution after continuing resolution lurching from one government shut down to the next.

    • #21
  22. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    @johnhendrix is definitely on to something. On more item for his list ought to be the rise of the unaccountable administrative state. Another might be NGOs and the George Soros phenomenon: a very wealthy individual directly and indirectly funding political and propaganda actors in multiple countries to achieve a particular ideological goal. Soros may be the archetype, but there are others.

    For example, @claire, you recently wondered about Facebook advertising. Here’s a possible answer: The fact that the ad targeting isn’t perfect is an expected part of the process. Facebook (and Twitter, and Google, and Amazon) take money from their advertisers and use it to refine their data analytical tools.

    Putin’s relatively small (though perhaps in some respects effective) ad buy may be worrisom, but a better question might be: if the analylical tools improve, what’s next? Mark Zuckerberg openly has a political agenda (so does Bezos.) In Facebook he has a unique propaganda tool, though propaganda really isn’t an adequate term. Facebook and Twitter are already increasingly ideologically driven companies. YouTube has begun demonetizing videos promoting politics Google opposes.

    Any time you’re talking about Caesar, you’re talking about what happens when a republic is destroyed by democracy and the loss of civic virtue. Those things were certainly on the Founders’ minds. I’m also not a classicist either, but if “Classicists at Ricochet for $400” is the Jeopardy category, “experts on the Roman Republic” the clue,  surely “who is Paul Rahe?” is the answer. Is his Republics Ancient and Modern in your bibliography? Maybe even Soft Despotism?

    Finally, I think @genferei‘s point is worth considering.

     

     

    • #22
  23. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    Now that I have thought more about your premise, I realize that we haven’t explored all the possibilities. Emperors OK but what about an Empress?

    https://youtu.be/fuTweXVlkSw

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #23
  24. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Doesn’t that sound just a bit too eerily accurate to you?

    It’s eerily accurate with respect to Barack Obama, but not to Donald Trump. I sense that your book is a veiled attempt to cause fear of him, and I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. It looks to me like sprinkling in terms such as “kooks,” morbid cult,” and “authoritarian” are meant to pave the way for an anti-Trump polemic. I saw a recent reprinting of de Riencourt’s book that has Obama on the cover. Obviously it must have been published before 2016. It’s the Left which leads to totalitarianism, not the Right.

    Donald Trump is the people’s correction.

    Except that Trump is much more akin to Obama than all the Trump fans like to think. Basically both won on the basis of celebrity and empty promises, and both are governing in much the same way. When Trump hollows out the Republican party too at all levels State and Federal you will see it more clearly. The one thing Obama had that Trump doesn’t is Obama had a 60 seat Senate majority, so he was able to pass Obamacare. Trump doesn’t have that so he won’t manage to pass anything. They both in the end will rule by executive order while congress passes continuing resolution after continuing resolution lurching from one government shut down to the next.

    I’m afraid I must politely disagree with your statement that Trump ran on empty promises. He’s already making good on his campaign promises, and he isn’t done yet.

    • #24
  25. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Caesar, Caesar, Caesar. And then Chapter 12 is Lenin.

     

    • #25
  26. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    If you expect the world to be flat, if you expect the world to be homogeneous, if you expect the world to be a place of liberal democracy, then you are simply deluded.

    Putin is reverting to form – Russian form. Erdogan is reverting to form – Turkish form. Orban is reverting to form – Hungarian form.

    If you believe Davos tripe, it is alarming. If you never bought Davos, it isn’t.

    • #26
  27. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    So freedom in America declined every year Obama was President? I’m shocked, shocked.

    But more seriously, I would probably stop reading when I saw UKIP describes as “kooks.”

    And it’s a terrible thing to do, to list several groups and then say, “many cultivated and financed by the Kremlin.” Well, which ones?? Even if some were, must they all be tarred with that claim? Sloppy and unfair. Hell, it’s literally McCarthyite.

    • #27
  28. St. Salieri / Eric Cook Member
    St. Salieri / Eric Cook
    @

    Finished my lunch break, the founders knew the problems of Rome and wanted to avoid them.  They wanted to minimize the possibilities, Paul Rahe’s 3 volume work on this was the best I’ve ever encountered, and totally redirected much of my thinking and answered many questions that I have had, and I’ll write more later tonight.

    • #28
  29. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    There are trends that preceded and are larger than Trump.  A cynical view of political evolution would put P.T. Barnum at the starting point (cater to public appetites) and Stalin at the other end (dictate to the public what they should want).  Trump craves approval but is incapable of conforming to the comfort zone of others.  He has shown no appetite nor skill for seizing the levers of power.  He has shown no evidence of an over-arching political vision of any kind.

    It makes little sense to me to include Trump in a discussion of Caesarism. A Hillary Clinton administration would have made the administrative state (grown dangerous under Obama) untouchable by appointing judges who would put leftist praxis above the rule of law.

    If anything Trump is a pause in a dangerous trend.  It remains to be seen whether it will resume apace. The voters are not yet sure what they want but they have called a timeout and delivered a vote of no confidence.

    How do you characterize an election in which alleged mob-driven, media-driven instincts resulted in a rejection of the very project created to serve, foster and feed on such instincts?  Russian manipulation to convince us of what we already knew?

    A real propaganda coup would have been to convince voters that Hillary Clinton was a moral paragon and a genius, that complete unaccountability for the federal bureaucracy is an ideal to be pursued or that the EU policies of hyper-regulation, contempt for national identities and waves of virulently hostile immigrants was the future that we should all want.

    • #29
  30. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Doesn’t that sound just a bit too eerily accurate to you?

    It’s eerily accurate with respect to Barack Obama, but not to Donald Trump. I sense that your book is a veiled attempt to cause fear of him, and I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am. It looks to me like sprinkling in terms such as “kooks,” morbid cult,” and “authoritarian” are meant to pave the way for an anti-Trump polemic. I saw a recent reprinting of de Riencourt’s book that has Obama on the cover. Obviously it must have been published before 2016. It’s the Left which leads to totalitarianism, not the Right.

    Donald Trump is the people’s correction.

    Except that Trump is much more akin to Obama than all the Trump fans like to think. Basically both won on the basis of celebrity and empty promises, and both are governing in much the same way. When Trump hollows out the Republican party too at all levels State and Federal you will see it more clearly. The one thing Obama had that Trump doesn’t is Obama had a 60 seat Senate majority, so he was able to pass Obamacare. Trump doesn’t have that so he won’t manage to pass anything. They both in the end will rule by executive order while congress passes continuing resolution after continuing resolution lurching from one government shut down to the next.

    I’m afraid I must politely disagree with your statement that Trump ran on empty promises. He’s already making good on his campaign promises, and he isn’t done yet.

    Yah that’s what the Obama people think about him too.

    • #30
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