Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Ave Caesar

Happy Birthday, Caesar. 2111 years ago, Gaius Julius Caesar was born in Rome. The "noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times" would go on to be spared in the proscriptions of Sulla, fight pirates, conquer Gaul, invade the Rhineland and Britain, subjugate Egypt, and make himself the unparalleled master of the ancient world. As Dictator for Life, the lean and hungry men of the Senate feared he would become a tyrant and name himself King, so under the leadership of his good friend Marcus Brutus they murdered him at a meeting of the Senate. In one of the many ironies of history in Caesar's life, he died at the foot of a statue of his old friend and rival, Pompey Magnus. His adopted heir, Octavian, would finish his conquests and establish the Roman Empire, bringing with it a time of peace and prosperity unparalleled in Europe until the modern day. He remains one of the few Ancients who is familiar to even those who do not study history.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Caesar is his name. When Brutus and Cassius killed him, they sought to kill the idea of Caesar as well as the man. In this, though, they emphatically failed, as Octavian took the name Caesar upon himself and it lived on to vanquish all those who had tried to destroy it. So great was Julius Caesar that his name was itself transformed into a political title associated with complete power and grandeur. Indeed, from Caesar's rise to the dictatorship of the Roman Republic until the deposition of Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria in 1946, there was always a chief of state in the world who bore a variation of Caesar's name--the most famous of the Moderns being the Czar of Russia and the Kaiser of Germany. They chose his name over simple titles like "king" or "emperor" because they all sought to position themselves as successors to this man who had managed to transcend all other men and become like a god on Earth-- and if he was not godlike on Earth, the Romans certainly made sure to deify him in death.

Then we Americans, of course, came along. With our Founders nervous of the likes of Caesar, and understanding of the temptation such a man could bring with him, they purposefully sought to make sure that such a name is not given the grandeur that it has received for the past two thousand years. So far it seems we have been successful, as the images most Americans associate with the name Caesar now include a salad, a pizza chain, and a Las Vegas casino, as well the butt of jokes in movies like The Hangover and Mean Girls. One interesting thing, though, is the phenomenon of naming certain officials in the Executive Branch "czar" lately. The Drug Czar, the Car Czar, the Global Warming Czar, the Healthcare Czar. Caesar essentially represents the centralization of power with one governing authority, as do these executive czars that came to prominence over the last few administrations. On the one hand we now have the ghost of Caesar haunting our halls of government, but on the other we have further ridiculed this name by giving it to a few self-glorified bureaucrats, "peevish schoolboys unworthy of such an honor". Amusing. It is also an interesting note that the independence of our great republic is celebrated in the month named for Julius Caesar. At times I hope that our Founders did that on purpose.
Categories > History

Discussions - 1 Comment

Julius Caesar was certainly great, if greatness means the pursuit of godlike mastery of events, particularly by conquest, and godlike status among human beings.

But if God is the author of life, death, and justice, establishing a fundamental equality among human beings, as the Declaration of Independence holds, then the meaning of greatness is not what the ancients believed or achieved, as with Ceasar. This equality establishes the duty and liberty to govern oneself, and, as as a political community, to govern ourselves, with justice and under law -- a law which no citizen is below, or above.

Thus, true greatness would consist in a combining judgment and assertion (or courage) with deference (to a free people's decisions and to the rule of law to which they consent) -- all informed by God's transcendent and ultimate authority. It is ignoble to rule slaves, unjust to rule a free people like slaves (i.e., without their consent), and impious to claim the authority or status of God in doing either.

Caesar was a military genius, and in our age of commanders (civilian and military) who don't understand either war or peace (but nonetheless have global ambitions), such genius would be especially welcome. But the military is properly subordinate to the political, and statesmanship means comprehending and coordinating the two, so as to secure both life and the way of life of a free people, governing themselves by law and in turn. This is a goal as high as the Alps. Though such a political career would be superficially less glorious than military conquest and tribute, it would be in truth, higher.

Thus, I would say that George Washington, a great and free man, who was the choice of a free people that lived under law, excels Caesar.

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