Saturday, March 24, 2018

WIWRD - The Storm Before The Storm - Roman History c. 146-78 BC

I'm starting a new feature here at Ed Notes - What I'm Watching, Reading, Doing - WIWRD,  - pronounce it as "weird" - an appropriate sounding acronym for my life. Not that you all give a shit about what I'm watching, reading or doing but a way for me, as brain cells die daily, to keep a record of sorts. So skip WIWRD labeled articles if you are in the Do I Give A Shit (DIGAS)? what Norm is doing or reading?  

When I start reading a book I am going to open a page on the book and keep adding to it as I read. If interested, check back. Currently I'm reading 3 books so there will be a separate page for each one.

The rise and fall of empires and civilizations is fascinating stuff. They all fall at some point and we will be no different. Wars and or environmental disasters are often the cause. But internal stuff happens too. Is Trump the beginning of the end? Or was it Bush? Or Clinton? Or maybe the Carter/Ford/Nixon tandem. But then again what about Johnson and the Vietnam War? Or maybe it was the Kennedy assassination.

An excellent model is Roman history - I was a history major in college and also had an almost Masters but never studied Roman history. (I didn't finish the masters when I went into teaching and switched to an MA in education.)

I just started reading Mike Duncan's "The Storm Before The Storm - The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic" - the somewhat unreported 75 years before shit really began hitting the fan that led to the undermining and destruction of democracy (The Republic) in Rome and the rise of the Empire (Augustus). (Of course Star Wars is based on this model).

Duncan is a podcaster with a full history of Rome.

Check out Dan Carlin's history podcasts especially this one with Mike Duncan where he talks about the book.
I'll give you one guess why this book is relevant for us today. The Roman Republic lasted hundreds of years and the Empire that followed it another 500 years. So we may be fairly young in comparison. But at the accelerated rate in today's world, the phase Duncan writes about is somewhat analogous to where we are. In other words, Trump is not Caesar but more like the guys Duncan is writing about before Uncle Julius was born. Some really fascinating stuff.

There is a Roman timeline that is analogous to later dominant cultures. Duncan's phases are the origin, revolutionary, global conquest, rise of the Caesars. I would add some phases in between like consolidation after the revolution, internal conflict - Civil War, the massive growth phase between the Civil War and WWI. 

The fall of the Soviet Empire (c. 1989.) might be analogous to the final fall of Carthage (146 BC - the beginning of the Storm) which Duncan says, "The triumph of the Roman Republic was also the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic." But here is the important points he makes in the introduction:
led to increasing economic inequality, dislocation of traditional ways of life, increasing political polarization, the breakdown of unspoken rules of political conduct, the privatization of the military, rampant corruption, endemic social and ethnic prejudice, battles over access to citizenship and voting rights, ongoing military quagmires, the introduction of violence as a political tool, and a set of elites so obsessed with their own privileges that they refused to reform the system in time to save it.
Holy shit -- tell me none of this has been happening since 1989 - in fact I would go back to the election of Reagan in 1980 for the real beginning of the process when the massive assault on unions -- no matter how undemocratic some of them were - they were still a bulwark.

Since I'm in the earliest stages of the book I will continue to add to this post as I read. But I wanted to add one more item about democracy in Rome and what they considered built-in protections against tyranny. (This has some relevance to an upcoming post on democracy in MORE and the UFT.)

Remember that our founding fathers studied Roman democracy and put in a system of checks and balances, which Rome had. Rome began as a kingdom until 509 BC when a group of Senators revolted (American Revolution). Rome had a Senate (the wealthy patricians) which ruled until the regular people (plebians - plebs) became restive - think the Andrew Jackson years (c. 1830) when voting was extended - culminating in the early 20th century with the direct election of Senators and Women's right to vote -- plus of course the abolition of slavery.

When the plebs refused to muster for military service, the die was cast and an elected assembly was established - closed to patricians. Any citizen could seek election as a tribune -- they were untouchable sentinels against tyranny of the aristocracy - the Senate.

The consuls- think president -  came from the Senate - and were elected in pairs - each could veto the actions of the other -- and were term limited to one year. In case of emergency, a Dictatorship could be established to break deadlocks -- but that expired after 6 months. An interesting sidelight --- "the Senate authorized any citizen, at any time, to kill another citizen caught seeking regal
power," a legal justification of sorts for the assassination of Julius Caesar, who made Trump look like a pussycat (not to trivialize but think Cleopatra vs. Stormy).

We shall see how all these institutions were subject to erosion as certain conditions began to escalate. And we're seeing that happen here today. Trump is only the beginning. We may see some retrenchment at times but the tensions on society (automation, environmental disasters, wars) will only increase and the end will not be pretty.

Now what does this have to do with democracy in MORE and in the UFT? Think of the UFT and MORE (origin phase, etc.) and where they lie in their respective life cycles.

Things to explore in the future.



  1. "... privatization of the military..."

    To me, this is the major Tell, for if you have powerful interests that profit directly from fighting wars, wars are what you'll have, just as when you create a private, for-profit prison system, you'll have mass incarceration, and lobbies to maintain it perpetually...

  2. At this point with high employment they have a tougher time getting enlistees. Maybe that’s why trump is trying to drive the economy into the ground.

  3. The storm will be when the 2nd amendment is repealed.

  4. There are no checks and balances that control billionaires

  5. And so it begins. Former supreme court justice Stevens calls for repeal of 2nd amendment. NYT March 27

  6. We lost family members to a home invasion. A gun would have helped.

  7. Go get a permit and some guns. When someone gets killed by a car no one says ban cars. But we do ask people to have licenses.


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