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?



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






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. Guruforhire Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):
    @guruforhire, May I just thank you for those videos from the bottom of my soul? Cleared up this whole confusing period for me and, I’m sure, for everyone else. I plan to appeal to them in the book. How would you suggest I footnote them?

    I believe convention dictates the author, the name of the video, a link, and the date you watched it.  But I would check out the last video in the series called lies to make sure its not one of the areas under dispute.  Also the video on Graccus the elder explains a bit too.

    • #91
  2. Hang On Member
    Hang On

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):
    Putin, Erdogan, etc. are very different people with very different agendas that are often in conflict with one another

    This point has caused me many sleepless nights. I’m well aware of it. I do talk, in the book, about this concept being a useful but not a perfect one.

    You might want to look at the role of Aleksandr Dugin and his influence on both Russian and Turkish ruling elites with his loopy Eurasianism ideology. Don’t ask me to define it because it is totally a mess filled with so many contradictions it will make your head spin. But it is pure unadulterated imperialism.

    • #92
  3. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA


    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):
    @guruforhire, How would you suggest I footnote them?

    I believe convention dictates the author, the name of the video, a link, and the date you watched it. But I would check out the last video in the series called lies to make sure its not one of the areas under dispute. Also the video on Graccus the elder explains a bit too.

    Here are bibliography “apps” that can help with a citation.

    APA style? MLA?

    Here is one I found with a Bing search

    Also, sometimes you can find the video page, which will have all the info you need for citation.

    • #93
  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    @hangon I’m all over Dugin. I’ve even written about him here before. (What is wrong with our UI? Why can’t I insert a hyperlink?) Anyway, here:

    • #94
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