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.

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  1. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    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.

    OldB,

    Agreed.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #31
  2. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Hang On (View Comment):
    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.

    Reverting to form is the problem. Their “forms” are terrible. What shall we do when Germany reverts to form? Another continental war in Europe. The old forms were not good. That is why people worked on making new ones.

    • #32
  3. Anthea Inactive
    Anthea
    @Anthea

    Claire, your book sounds fascinating, and I would buy and read it based on the information you have shared. We are reading Plutarch’s Lives in our homeschool mornings; we’re currently reading about Julius Ceasar, so this is a timely topic for me. I’ll be reading your book summary to my 13 and 16 year olds to see if they can relate.

    I’d like to echo what some other commenters have suggested: that Americans have ceased to care about virtue people as necessary for democracies to function, especially virtue as the primary goal of education. The farther we travel from our history (both ancient and modern) in time, the more essential it is to remember and teach it. I am reminded of this by the current movement to silence all critics with cries of “racism” and other such labeling, leading to rationalized violence. We have obliterated the memory of Mao’s Red Army, as well as the memory of Plato and Augustine. If you do not remember, you are condemned to repeat.

    • #33
  4. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    As every writer needs to hear before the editor starts talking about “a few changes” – it’s great! Brilliant stuff.

    Oh and by the way (throat clearing) the flap jacket copy is too long. I copied it, set it at 12 points Helvetica, indented to make it skinny, then compared it to other books on my desk. It’s 3X too long, and doesn’t leave any space for the author photo and bio. If it’s on the back of the jacket, it leaves no room for the glowing blurbs it will no doubt receive.

    • #34
  5. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    As every writer needs to hear before the editor starts talking about “a few changes” – it’s great! Brilliant stuff.

    Oh and by the way (throat clearing) the flap jacket copy is too long. I copied it, set it at 12 points Helvetica, indented to make it skinny, then compared it to other books on my desk. It’s 3X too long, and doesn’t leave any space for the author photo and bio. If it’s on the back of the jacket, it leaves no room for the glowing blurbs it will no doubt receive.

    Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.

    • #35
  6. Blue State Blues Member
    Blue State Blues
    @BlueStateBlues

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

     

    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 …

    Calling all the above groups “kooks” does not make me want to read further.  More facts and less hyperventilating are needed.  Living in Europe for a long time, you may have a deep familiarity with all these groups and what they are about, but many of your readers (myself included) will not have heard of some of them.  If “many” (but not necessarily all) are “cultivated and financed by the Kremlin,” it is unfair to those that are not to be lumped together with those that are.  The entire paragraph sounds like a conspiracy theory.  I presume the facts are laid out later in the book; obviously, not everything can be said in the introduction.  But I would dial it back a notch; if nothing else, change “kooks” to something less inflammatory – or show why they are kooks.  Just my $.02.

    • #36
  7. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    • #37
  8. Morituri Te Inactive
    Morituri Te
    @MorituriTe

    I’m afraid I have little wisdom to add, but I feel your thesis and approach has merit, and will buy the book as described.

    • #38
  9. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Blue State Blues (View Comment):
    If “many” (but not necessarily all) are “cultivated and financed by the Kremlin,” it is unfair to those that are not to be lumped together with those that are. The entire paragraph sounds like a conspiracy theory. I presume the facts are laid out later in the book; obviously, not everything can be said in the introduction. But I would dial it back a notch; if nothing else, change “kooks” to something less inflammatory – or show why they are kooks. Just my $.02

    BSB,

    A very reasonable request and well worth the $.02

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #39
  10. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    On Reincourt: In the preceding twenty-five years to 1958, American military men had reshaped his world in unprecedented ways. Europe was still in economic recovery from the war or freshly recovered, the Cold War and fears of nuclear armageddon were sharply shaping the public debate. Dwight David Eisenhower, the American general that beat the European totalitarians in 1945, was in the White House and making infrastructure improvements at the federal level that prepared for the next war. Eisenhower very much admired the German Autobahn, a high quality highway that allowed for very rapid ground transportation. The American federal highway system is designed to serve as emergency runways in the event of war on the North American continent as well as superior ground transportation supporting command and supply. And, of course, Reincourt is only a few years removed from a strutting General MacArthur whose bald-faced political ambitions while in uniform led to his firing by Truman, a civilian leader MacArthur was known to hold in contempt.

    And this was the period where NATO came together and France held out for independence, in part to check the gauche American goliath. To the smaller nations of Europe it was easy to imagine muscle bound America as the next Russia or Germany, tromping through their yards and looting their museums.

    • #40
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Crassus, not the Gracchi brothers or Catiline. Rich, execrable taste (that is where we got the word “crass”), and an opportunist rather than a strategist. Trump has stated that he always attacks when attacked. The real Julius would have sneered at that and picked his bones clean.

    Crassus was nominally an optimate not a populares, but really he was on no one’s side but his own.

    Not a great fit, but better than Julius.

    • #41
  12. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Regarding the factors leading to the fall of the Roman Republic, Mike Duncan, The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic.

    • #42
  13. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Regarding the general write-up: Given the topic I expected to find words like populist and administrative state and oligarchy and so on to place where this Caesarism fits and how it is different and how to distinguish.

    Most book jackets won’t accomplish all of that, but a few choice key words could certainly whet a book browser’s appetite. I think your biggest risk in the US market would be to leave the anti-Trumpers thinking it’s pro-Trump and pro-Trumpers that it’s anti-Trump.

    • #43
  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Wow. Great comments here, as I knew there would be.

    I have another deadline tomorrow. So I have to wait until the weekend to reply specifically to the comments that most jumped out at me. (I should have posted this on Saturday morning.) But would you please keep your thoughts coming, if you have more? There are so many good ideas here so far — and so many of them are ideas that just hadn’t occurred to me. I’m pretty sure this is indeed the thread that’s going to break the logjam on this chapter.

    This is not the first time I’ve used Ricochet to help me un-knot some excessively-knotted thoughts. I’ve done it before and it’s usually helped. Do any of you remember an article I wrote a long while ago about banning the burqa? I’d been struggling with it for a really long time, unable to figure out whether my arguments were really good arguments or just prejudices dressed up as arguments. I finally took the question to Ricochet, and our discussion here was what helped me think it through to the point that I felt confident writing that article and defending my arguments: I’d already tested them here, and knew they stood up to tough scrutiny.

    So I’ve found this to be a very useful way to get un-stuck when I’ve been hanging out too long in my own head. I can see from the comments so far that the trick is apt to work yet again.

    Please keep them coming, even though I’ll be quiet today and tomorrow: All of the comments so far, but especially the ones about Rome, are hugely useful. A lot of you obviously know that period in a much deeper, more intimate way than I do. That’s so valuable to me.

    I’ll reply to the comments over the weekend, but I’ll check in to read them periodically beforehand.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ricochet. Your comments were a remarkable thing to see this morning when I woke up …

     

    • #44
  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    As every writer needs to hear before the editor starts talking about “a few changes” – it’s great! Brilliant stuff.

    Oh and by the way (throat clearing) the flap jacket copy is too long. I copied it, set it at 12 points Helvetica, indented to make it skinny, then compared it to other books on my desk. It’s 3X too long, and doesn’t leave any space for the author photo and bio. If it’s on the back of the jacket, it leaves no room for the glowing blurbs it will no doubt receive.

    Yep. (Scroll down to about para 20 to see the definition of “the merde sandwich.” Clearly you appreciate the importance of this, as every writer does.) Thanks!

    • #45
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Wasn’t this whole America’s Roman Decline one of Gore Vidal’s ‘things’?

    Remind me. I’d forgotten and it’s still not ringing a bell.

    • #46
  17. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    And I know that, having my fears confirmed, I am now thorougly depressed and think I will go back to bed.

    Note the whole chapter called “AGAINST DESPAIR.”

    • #47
  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Gaius (View Comment):
    wish I could comment more extensively

    You can! Please do!

    • #48
  19. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Wasn’t this whole America’s Roman Decline one of Gore Vidal’s ‘things’?

    Remind me. I’d forgotten and it’s still not ringing a bell.

    A bunch of his essays, such as these.

    From memory he thought America’s decline from Republic to Empire set in with Vietnam.

    • #49
  20. Dr. Jekyll Member
    Dr. Jekyll
    @DrJekyll

    Claire,

    Wow!  First, my background: I teach High School History at a Private Christian School, but you might be interested in the courses I teach:

    Western Civilization I [Greece and Rome], The History of Revolution [A self-designed course inspired by Mike Duncan’s Revolution’s Podcast but focusing on primarily the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions], Modern European History [another self-design focusing on the period from German Unification to the Present], and AP European History.

    My first reaction is that my better students could handle a book at this level and might be quite interested by it, therefore, change the title of the introductory chapter [“What the Hell”] to something I could sell to Christian Administrators and Parents.  In the end, my ‘market’ is small, and you might lose as many readers by surrendering to what will be deemed prudery, as you would gain in this market but you did ask…

    I am sure that I will not be the first to mention his name, but Mike Duncan has just published a book called the Storm before the Storm which focuses exactly on the topic at hand.  I just finished his book and he comes up short of addressing Caesar himself, but details the narrative history from the Gracchi Brothers to the death of Sulla.  Mike Duncan attempts to fill the space between the general public and hard scholarship, but he has done some thinking about how the history of the late republic applies to the present American moment.  Our times are nothing like the chaotic violence of the late Republic and yet there are useful parallels to be sure.

    In reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton some years ago, I read that an interaction between Hamilton and Jefferson before their rivalry dominated our early republic wherein each man was asked what historical figure inspired them.  Hamilton chose Caesar and made a lifelong enemy of Jefferson in so doing.  This might be an interesting line to follow.

    The final bit I will contribute is to quibble with the word democracy.  The Polybian theory of Roman success was that the republic is a balanced government including elements of democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy in equal and balanced parts.  The failure of the Roman Republic highlighted the failure of the democratic and oligarchic elements of the Roman government to balance each other which pushed more and power power into the hands of a single man who could make peace between the other two elements.  If you address the issue as if democracy is all that matters, I will point to the short and violent run of pure democracies and suggest that should not be our goal.

    Sorry for prattling on, but your project interests me very much.

    TJ

     

    • #50
  21. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Reverting to form is the problem. Their “forms” are terrible. What shall we do when Germany reverts to form? Another continental war in Europe. The old forms were not good. That is why people worked on making new ones.

    And expecting it to be any different, as neocons do, is foolish and the basis of failed policy.

    • #51
  22. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    I expect I will read the book, since, while it is a plausible interpretation of what seems increasingly chaotic and incomprehensible, I cannot subscribe to “Caesarism” from reading the flap copy. That is to say, to land on the global concept of “Caesarism,” one would expect to see lots of Caesars. You name some, none Americans. As you say –

    “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.”

    Thus, from my American perspective, I see lots of authoritarianism here, but not one emanating from  Caesar-like individuals. Rather, the authoritarianism has been incremental, arose sub rosa, and seems more ideological than personality-based. As to Europe, I understand little, but do see entities like UKIP as representing a legitimate and understandable desire to retain national sovereignty and not necessarily as agents of Putin. In the US, I see something far more insidious and corrosive: the unaccountable, unelected and faceless technocratic state (as in the EU). It is legal authoritarianism, applied unequally (Scooter Libby vs. Hillary). You can shoot a (or stab) a tyrant and end a tyranny. Good luck with that where  “… erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” What was ascribed in the Declaration of Independence to King George III is already well-entrenched and resides in hundreds of agencies with acronyms whose letter arrangements test the limits of combinatorics. This unmistakable authoritarianism did not come about, as best I can tell, through the actions of one or a series of “Caesars.” So, if this is what you suggest, Claire, it will require a very clear explanation.

    @OldBathos speaks for me in comment 12. Our human nature has regressed and hence our culture has rotted. It takes virtue to be a politically-aware adult citizen. Here, adults have become as children and have no taste – as they had at the Founding – for moral agency; “democracy” has become a bidding contest to determine who will provide the most aromatic bread (never mind whether it is nutritious) and most entertaining circuses at the expense of others. It may be that Claire’s “Caesarism” formulation somehow better explains what I see than cultural decay coupled with the lust for power of most progressive utopians. In any case, I surely need, at the very least, a chapter “Against Despair.”

    Claire – you probably don’t remember, but when I first discovered you almost 15 years ago via an interview I saw online, found your email, and wrote – it was about my despair, at rock bottom even then. (That, and the fact that I had a big crush on you, but was too old to be of concern). Plus ça change…

     

    • #52
  23. civil westman Inactive
    civil westman
    @user_646399

    Oh, and as to thoughts regarding classics – Victor Davis Hanson might be a great resource. He has just published an epic “The Second World Wars” and may have some free time. About half-way through, I can say it is extraordinary and recommend it highly. He has always been generous with email replies, even to nobody pipsqueaks like me.

    Addendum: Having now re-read your OP carefully, I can say I will definitely buy and read your book. The title, however, I don’t think captures what you are hypothesizing. What you are trying to describe is indeed unprecedented and “Caesarism” connotes a single tyrant. Our present soft (so far) tyranny is really something more diffuse than a tyrannical individual Caesar. There is a large component of manipulation of the perceptions of much of the populace, so as to camouflage the nature of their enslavement by an entire metastatic state apparatus. The Roman god Janus comes to mind more than the human Caesar. Our recent executives resemble shameless two-faced manipulators of public perception; kind of societal chiropractors. Not likely a useful title. So, I want to understand why you chose “Caesarism” and see if it is consonant with my experience of oppression here in the erstwhile USA.

    In the US, at least, authoritarianism does operate under color of duly-enacted law. What has happened in the last decade, though, is more unequal application of laws against political opponents. Our law is so pervasive that anyone can be “legally” convicted of something – just like in the former USSR. Prosecutors’ discretion is, in part, exercised at the behest of a given administration, but is also informed by the culture of the broad and deep state apparatus, which has a life of its own, regardless of the present figurehead. I don’t know what to call this form of authoritarianism where there is no Putin as avatar. I must admit, though (and it may show my ignorance), that I am not convinced that Putin, in the full context of the threats Russia actually faces, is not the right leader for that country at this time in history. I don’t quite see him as inherently evil. I could be wrong. In any case, what you are attempting to flesh out is bigger than Putin or Erdogan. Maybe it is bigger and more diffuse than “Caesarism” too?

    Is this phenomenon not more about infantilization of society –  denigration of the virtues of the populace necessary for them to be true citizens –  than the arising of a popular, charismatic leader?

    • #53
  24. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    @claire

    I didn’t see it in your post and don’t know if it’s in your book, but Putin, Erdogan, etc. are very different people with very different agendas that are often in conflict with one another. (Putin is after the Dardenelles and Erdogan is doing a magnificent job of isolating Turkey from the West and the protection this affords his country. Does he have a clue?)

    There was only one Caesar at a time (i.e., in series). If we are calling them Caesars with Caesarisms, they are not in series but in parallel. I don’t know if you address this – but I would.

    • #54
  25. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    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.

    I read it the same way as Right Angles – to take it further, when I read the below on the Fund Me page, I immediately thought of Obama:

    The steps are distinct and predictable. First, rewrite history. Then foster nostalgia for an authoritarian past. Exploit ethnic, racial, religious, and class divisions. Magnify fear of foreigners and outsiders. Enter Caesar—the voice of the “real people” in their struggle against a nebulous class of “elites.” Conflate entertainment and politics. Create chaos, confusion, and a sense of permanent emergency. Destroy confidence in the idea of objective truth. Humiliate or destroy the people who are better fit to be leaders. Gain control of the media to starve adversaries of access to the public. Discredit what media you cannot control. Reward loyalists with government tenders. Punish the disloyal with punitive taxes and lawsuits. Stack the courts. Jigger the constitution so that opponents have no hope of coming to power through democratic means. Erode critical civil rights and freedoms, stitch by stitch—until elections still happen, but denuded of everything that makes elections meaningful. “

    Trump was unprecedented if you lived in the US – Hillary spent 10 times the money on a campaign, the media, the pollsters, were all on her side and predicted a shoo in. The Caesar dismantling of our foundation occurred under Obama-the outcome is our present nightmare – Trump’s a band-aid.

    • #55
  26. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    The Caesar dismantling of our foundation occurred under Obama

    It occured under bush when the left abandoned the Iraq war and were rewarded for it.

    • #56
  27. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    continuing my above comment: Obama didn’t magnify fear of foreigners nor does Trump  – that was brought on by the behavior of foreigners themselves who ignore our laws, engage in criminal behavior (not to mention terror), skirt the immigration process or use it wrongly, and refuse to assimilate while making demands.  Trump wants to play by the immigration rules already on the books – Obama chose to throw those out the window and open the borders, no questions asked as well as greatly encourage immigration by those that were not considered refugees or in harm’s way. It was a free for all – the benefits were the same.

    • #57
  28. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    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.

    I read it the same way as Right Angles – to take it further, when I read the below on the Fund Me page, I immediately thought of Obama:

    The steps are distinct and predictable. First, rewrite history. Then foster nostalgia for an authoritarian past. Exploit ethnic, racial, religious, and class divisions. Magnify fear of foreigners and outsiders. Enter Caesar—the voice of the “real people” in their struggle against a nebulous class of “elites.” Conflate entertainment and politics. Create chaos, confusion, and a sense of permanent emergency. Destroy confidence in the idea of objective truth. Humiliate or destroy the people who are better fit to be leaders. Gain control of the media to starve adversaries of access to the public. Discredit what media you cannot control. Reward loyalists with government tenders. Punish the disloyal with punitive taxes and lawsuits. Stack the courts. Jigger the constitution so that opponents have no hope of coming to power through democratic means. Erode critical civil rights and freedoms, stitch by stitch—until elections still happen, but denuded of everything that makes elections meaningful. “

    Trump was unprecedented if you lived in the US – Hillary spent 10 times the money on a campaign, the media, the pollsters, were all on her side and predicted a shoo in. The Caesar dismantling of our foundation occurred under Obama-the outcome is our present nightmare – Trump’s a band-aid.

    Yes. Trump is a place-holder, not the End of Conservatism, not the End of the World. He’s a place holder until the Establishment of both parties get it through their heads that we are fed up.

    • #58
  29. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Here’s his prophecy:

     

    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.

    I read it the same way as Right Angles – to take it further, when I read the below on the Fund Me page, I immediately thought of Obama:

    The steps are distinct and predictable. First, rewrite history. Then foster nostalgia for an authoritarian past. Exploit ethnic, racial, religious, and class divisions. Magnify fear of foreigners and outsiders. Enter Caesar—the voice of the “real people” in their struggle against a nebulous class of “elites.” Conflate entertainment and politics. Create chaos, confusion, and a sense of permanent emergency. Destroy confidence in the idea of objective truth. Humiliate or destroy the people who are better fit to be leaders. Gain control of the media to starve adversaries of access to the public. Discredit what media you cannot control. Reward loyalists with government tenders. Punish the disloyal with punitive taxes and lawsuits. Stack the courts. Jigger the constitution so that opponents have no hope of coming to power through democratic means. Erode critical civil rights and freedoms, stitch by stitch—until elections still happen, but denuded of everything that makes elections meaningful. “

    Trump was unprecedented if you lived in the US – Hillary spent 10 times the money on a campaign, the media, the pollsters, were all on her side and predicted a shoo in. The Caesar dismantling of our foundation occurred under Obama-the outcome is our present nightmare – Trump’s a band-aid.

    Yes. Trump is a place-holder, not the End of Conservatism, not the End of the World. He’s a place holder until the Establishment of both parties get it through their heads that we are fed up.

    I get where Claire is coming from. She’s in Europe, and really Claire, you are writing this new book more as a European than an American?  I am not dismissing your theories on Trump, but they are, as your new book seems to be pointing out, a partial snapshot of the world picture -similar but different. Europe has been socialist, far-left leaning for some time. This is new territory for America and we’re not happy about it. It is not compatible to our Constitution. Obama tried and now you have Trump.

    • #59
  30. Chuckles Thatcher
    Chuckles
    @Chuckles

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    He’s a place holder until the Establishment of both parties get it through their heads that we are fed up.

    When do you suppose that will be?  Obviously you think they will figure it out within the next few years, but how?  They clearly aren’t getting enough phone calls, enough letters, to concern them – Republicare proves that, the budget proposal proves that.

    They know that I’m still gonna vote R no matter what.  And that makes me, I suppose, part of the problem.

     

    • #60
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