The Long View 2006-03-03: Proscriptions and Shields

 Gaius Marius

Gaius Marius

Political proscription is a feature of the late Roman Republic I hope we don't see, but we might, if history rhymes. I do worry a bit that you tend to hear this more and more. I had forgotten this bit from Jody Bottum, who had taken over the editorship of First Things after the death of Fr. Neuhaus.

Like John, I find the coalitions that comprise the major political parties in the United States a bit strange. It is easy to imagine alternatives, but it seems it would take a lot of activation energy to move us out of the state we find ourselves in. I'm not sure any of us would enjoy what it would take to blow up the current party system.

Proscriptions and Shields


Here is a bit of news from the penultimate phase of the Roman Republic:

Marius was possibly suffering from mental defects as he came to power: he ordered the the massacre of even the slightest of his political enemies. Many of those who had their severed heads staked around the Forum's Rostra were largely political bystanders; many had made the proscription lists simply in Marian attempts to settle old scores; and some because a Marian supporter wanted their possessions. Marius created a precedent for organized factional murder that would improved upon by his old subordinate, Sulla, after Sulla returned from the East and resumed political power in the capital. A pattern for the turbulent decades to follow of using tribunes as stalking horses, of using mob tactics to pass his policies into law, and of murdering political opponents had been established.

Marius, now 71, and Cinna forced through their elections as joint consuls. They entered the consulship in 86 B.C. It was Marius' seventh consulship. Marius, however, only "enjoyed" holding his last office for a few days: he died on 13 January.

And now, simply in the interests of causing trouble, here is a bit of what that Spenglerphobe, Joseph Bottum, had to say on March 2 at First Things:

So, a friend and I get talking yesterday. He’s a lefty, kind of....[t]he facts, he said, are these...the Democrats are circling for the kill, and they are entirely serious about impeachment if they gain the House and Senate—and jail time for everybody in the Bush administration if they win the presidential election in 2008. The Patriot Act and other assertions of executive power have put power in the hands of the White House, and there will be no hesitation to use it against political enemies when the Democrats regain the presidency and a thug like—perhaps I shouldn’t name him, but it doesn’t matter: imagine any of a dozen well-known Democratic party operatives here—is made chief of staff to a Democratic president...[t]he Republicans are going down. In fact, they’re going down for a generation, and their opponents will be moving brutally against everybody who has had anything to do with them...Start making Democratic friends as fast as you can, he advised. Give money, intellectual analysis, and political commitment to a couple that seem plausible, and boom them as hard as you can—for things could break so hard against you that your only chance to have influence for years, and maybe to stay out of jail, is to have some elected Democrats on your side.

There are several bizarre notions in the lefty friend's prophecies, notably the notion that there is anything in the Patriot Act that might be useful domestically to a government of vindictive liberal reactionaries. I don't doubt that the Left hopes for another 1974, the year of President Nixon's resignation, except that this time they want to actually convict the president and vice president in the Senate and then try them in the ordinary criminal courts. (All the impeachment process could do is remove them from office; putting them in jail would take a real judge.) I am not altogether certain that the congressional Democratic leadership wants to push that button.

Actually, the particular context in which Bottum entertains these florid hypotheses is the question of what the prolife movement should do if the Republican Party turns into the eponymous pet in the Dead Parrot Sketch. Even if the Republican Party declines below the level needed to function as an opposition, there are unlikely to be lynchings of prominent Republicans, except perhaps in Texas. However, it is true that the prolife movement would be the object of Democratic activists' particular ire.

As I have been saying for some time, the electoral linkage of social conservatives with libertarian and pro-business forces is not necessary, nor even particularly natural. The lefty friend's advice to prolifers to find congenial Democrats to support is well taken. That is not a solution, though, either for prolifers or for the country as a whole. Neither party makes much sense, in that both are composed of unnatural coalitions.

A replay of 1974 is unlikely. The Bush Administration, even now, could call on an ideological network that Richard Nixon never could. In 1974, I don't think that he could have filled the Mall in Washington with his supporters. George Bush probably could do that today, not that the crowd would have much to do with the useless Republican leadership. Conversely, as we saw during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the Democratic leadership has turned into a freakshow. The day it has enough votes in Congress to impeach the president, or even to take control of the ordinary legislative agenda, is the day it discredits itself. It could not enjoy a long tenure in power, as the New Deal Democratic Party did. It will not last that long.

The solution is clear enough. Both parties are moribund enterprises. The salvageable components of each should be unplugged and reconfigured into something viable. The sequence of events by which that would happen is by no means clear.

By the way, I think it's more than a generation too early for Marius & Sulla, but I could be wrong. 

But look up! Our salvation is at hand: A Rochester, N.Y., company has developed paint that can switch between blocking cell phone signals and allowing them through!

Using nanotechnology, particles of copper are inserted into nanotubes, which are ultra-tiny tubes that occur naturally in halloysite clay mined in Utah. Combined with a radio-filtering device that collects phone signals from outside a shielded space...

"We oppose any kind of blocking technology," said Joe Farren, spokesman for The Wireless Association, the leading cell phone trade group. "What about the young parents whose baby-sitter is trying to call them, or the brain surgeon who needs notification of emergency surgery? These calls need to get through."

No, they don't. People had kids and aneurisms long before cell phones were invented and they got along just fine. I want every flat surface in the civilized world covered straightaway with this shielding paint. I want it done right now.

The thought also occurs to me that this stuff might be a defense against electromagnetic-pulse weapons, but that's another story.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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