The Long View 2006-03-28: Social War; 8 x 8 is 64

John Reilly suggests here that the modern transition to Empire will be less grim than the Roman one, because modernity really is more humane than antiquity. I hope he's right.


Social War; 8 x 8 is 64

 

Paul McCartney turns 64 on June 18, according to AARP Magazine, the journal of the American Association of Retired Persons, which has an interest in following these things. McCartney was, famously, a member of the Beatles. The Beatles were a noted rock-and-roll ensemble of the 1960s and '70s. The birthday is significant because he wrote a song that appeared in 1967 on the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: "When I'm Sixty-Four." A ballad rather than rock, that song is still playing in the minds of tens of millions of people who listened to the radio in that era.

The Beatles are substantially older than I am, but once again I get the disorienting feeling that the future has arrived. The model of the future as a receding horizon is less and less credible to me.

Speaking of the arrival of the future, Joseph Bottum at First Things notes with foreboding that protestors have filled the streets of France, once again:

This time it was students complaining about a law that would have established a two-year trial period in which employers could try out the novel idea that their new employees were not guaranteed perpetual employment.

Be that as it may:

A riot really is a riot, after all, and deep in the Western psyche these days, there is something that wants a riot, that goes out seeking an excuse. There is something in the air now that hungers for the cleansing fire, and the purity of destruction, and the certainty that is loss of self.

To put the matter in theological terms:

Something will always function as the apocalypse, in one way or another; if a culture has dismissed the eschatological idea that a final judgment really does wait, they will eventually start to build their own eschatology. “Apocalypse Now,” as someone in our time put it. Or “Best past all prizing is never to have been,” as someone else phrased it, long ago.

* * *

I would not trade America's immigration problem for Europe's, but that does not mean that we might not be in for a rough patch, as this bulletin from a comparable period of the Late Roman Republic suggests:

The Social War: In 91 BC the moderate members of the senate allied themselves with Livius Drusus (the son of that Drusus who had been used to undermine Gaius Gracchus' popularity in 122 BC) and aided him in his election campaign. If the honesty of the father is open to doubt, that of the son is not. As tribune he proposed to add to the senate an equal number of equestrians, and to extend Roman citizenship to all Italians and to grant the poorer of the current citizens new schemes for colonization and a further cheapening of the corn prices, at the expense of the state. [T]he people, the senators and the knights all felt that they would be conceding too many of their rights for too little. Drusus was assassinated.

Despite his eventually loss of popularity his supporters had stood by Drusus loyally. The opposition Tribune of the People, Q. Varius, now carried a bill declaring that to have supported the ideas of Drusus was treason. The reaction by Drusus' supporters was violence.

All resident Roman citizens were killed by an enraged mob at Asculum, in central Italy. Worse still, the 'allies' (socii)of Rome in Italy, the Marsi, Paeligni, Samnites, Lucanians, Apulians all broke into open revolt. The 'allies' had not planned any such rising, far more it was a spontaneous outburst of anger against Rome. But that meant they were unprepared for a fight. Hastily they formed formed a federation. A number of towns fell into their hands at the outset, and they defeated a consular army. But alas, Marius took led an army into battle and defeated them. Though he didn't - perhaps deliberately - crush them.

The 'allies' had a strong party of sympathizers in the senate. And these senators in 89 BC managed to win over several of the 'allies' by a new law (the Julian Law - lex Iulia) by which Roman citizenship was granted to 'all who had remained loyal to Rome (but this most likely also included those who laid down their arms against Rome). But some of the rebels, especially the Samnites, only fought the harder. Though under the leadership of Sulla and Pompeius Strabo the rebels were reduced on battlefield until they held out only in a few Samnite and Lucanian strongholds.

Was the city of Asculum in particular dealt with severely for the atrocity committed there, the senate tried to bring an end to the fighting [by granting citizenship] to all who laid down their arms within sixty days (lex Plautia-Papiria).

The law succeeded and by the beginning of 88 BC the Social War was at an end, other than for a few besieged strongholds.

Note that the year 88 BC was also the year when Mithridates VI ordered a massacre of all Romans in the east. 100,000 people were killed. The Beginning of the Mithridatic War was, of course, the also about the time the Roman Civil War between Marius and Sulla broke out.

As I said, a bad patch, but do not expect these things to play out in quite the same way. As Amaury de Riencourt pointed out, modernity really is more humane than antiquity. Of course, since there are many more people in modernity than in antiquity, the absolute casualty figures tend to be higher.

* * *

Just because the future is not infinitely distant, that does not mean some parts of it have not turned out to be unexpectedly far away. Consider, for instance, this proposal for stratospheric Resorts, essentially airships that take their time about where they are going. I suppose this might be amusing, except that a resort that was really in the stratosphere would have a problem with radiation from space.

I recently learned that what killed the airship was not safety but the economics of staffing them. They were very labor intensive: Hindenburg-type ships carried as many crew as passengers. That meant that not only did the crew have to be paid, but there was less room for paying passengers, too.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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