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Foreign Affairs

Caesars are just Men

Caesars throughout history have often argued that the stability they bring proves their necessity in ruling. History, of course, shows that this has been a tremendous lie, for the reign of kings has been the greatest source of war and violence in our world. Though a Caesar may reign over peace and prosperity, mankind has the greatly important aspect of mortality assigned to it, and those Caesars eventually die. Occasionally their deaths can be followed by a peaceful transition of power, but this is very much the exception and not the rule. The promise of the United States, upon which the arguments for the exceptionalism of our Founding rely, is that by trusting in the better nature of men to govern themselves while containing the ambition of men with the rule of law, we can maintain peace and prosperity with both liberty and longevity. Our experiment in this line of thinking has been mostly successful, beginning with the voluntary retirement of George Washington and then the peaceful transfer of power from Adams to Jefferson. Our one failing in this formula has been the Civil War, but that particular conflict was unique in that it was not a fight over just who would rule, but what the principle behind their rule would be: the principle of equality, or the principle of kings--that is, the long-held principle of inequality. In that line, then, our Civil War was, as some have argued, more a continuation of the work of the American Revolution than something like the civil wars that wrack other nations.

During the Cold War, another war rooted, however muddled at times, in principle, new Caesars rose around the globe to fill the void left by the waning empires of Europe in the wake of the Second World War. Most of these men came to power in the poorer corners of the world, promising their citizens peace in exchange for liberty, ruling throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Even after the Soviet Empire collapsed, many of these men maintained their position and were seen by the West as necessary evils to maintain global stability and help advance our own security. Unable to change them, we thought that if we just contained them through the use of both carrots and sticks that peace could be kept, with only occasionally lashing out at those we perceived as crossing the line (and this we did not stick to all the time, as evidenced by Iran getting off free after sacking our embassy and North Korea's petulant acts over the past several years going unchecked). The year 2011, however, has been a forced reminder in why the promise of peace from Caesars is always a lie--for they are but mortal men, and men die.

Moammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule came to an end with him being dragged through the streets and sodomized before choking on his own blood. Hosni Mubarak is at the mercy of an Egyptian court as it determines whether or not to find him guilty of crimes and have him executed. Bashar al-Assad is literally at war with his own people, killing thousands in his frantic quest to maintain power. The House of Saud, the most absolute and stable of monarchies, is trying to do what it can to stem the spread of the Arab Spring into its own borders, but its future is uncertain now that the King's heir apparent has died and been replaced by a conservative hardliner unlikely to embrace reforms. The aged Robert Mugabe has cancer, and will likely be dead within the next two years, and Fidel Castro is reaching the end of the road as well. And now Kim Jong-Il, the mad ruler of North Korea and most cruel dictator of our time, has died of a heart attack, the Korean Peninsula being mired in confusion as the world tries to determine if his son, Kim Jong-Un, or his brother-in-law, Chang Sung-taek, will assume power in the impoverished and oppressed Communist nation.

In some respects, the existence of these strongmen did help contribute to relative stability in the world following the end of the Cold War. Occasionally one tyrant would fall to be replaced by another over the past twenty years, and this could be easily contained, but fate has now seen to it that so many reigns came to an end at the same time. Having relied too much on the false promises of these Caesars to maintain peace over the past few decades, we have been caught unawares by this surge in instability. In the year 2012, the world is bound to suffer in a way unforeseen for some time the pains inflicted when men rule in lieu of laws, and when Caesars reign instead of equality in justice. As evidenced clearly in Syria, and disgustingly in Egypt, the fall of kings is almost always a messy affair. While we must not expend our blood and treasure in the pursuit of peace and justice all over the world, and the urge will be tough to fight given our predisposed love for those two ideas, we ought to use this tumult to pursue some good by encouraging the embrace of law and respect for human rights. We must also seek to ensure that we are protected in this new world as it is formed around us. As we go into an election year, our president and his would-be opponent must be constantly reminded of how dangerous, how important, and how opportune the fast-shifting sand of world politics is right now. We need someone who can articulate the idea of America, think in a truly strategic fashion, and best help us act as an example to others of why our principle is superior to those professed by the Kim Jong-Ils and other Caesars of the world. The world could use a city on a hill to look up to right now.
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Discussions - 3 Comments

Isn't it a bit of a stretch to commence the post by mentioning Julius Caesar? And isn't it also way more than a stretch to equate Julius Caesar to the murderous dictators mentioned?

Did Caesar starve his own fellow citizens?

Or for that matter, was it Caesar who commenced hostilities against Rome?

Why exactly did Julius Caesar take his army south over the Rubicon?

You seem to be implying that Caesar intended all along to impose his will on Rome, when its very easy to argue otherwise? I believe that Caesar himself did not know beforehand that he would become "dictator." Rather it seems clear that he intended to become "First Man," which was not unprecedented. Marius had achieved such a lofty status before him. Caesar was pursuing the cursus honorum, {the way of honour}, but by the time he took his army north into Gaul, Roman politics had become a blood sport.

Was it Caesar who brought death when he entered Rome, or was it Sulla before him?

People without a firm understanding of the surrounding context need to be a bit cautious invoking Julius Caesar.

Think of it this way, Caesar was arguably the best stylist in Rome, Cicero himself acknowledged as much. His Commentaries on Gaul are read by students of war and Latin to this day. If one desired to get a sense of the man, read the manner in which he made war in Gaul. Beyond this however he was also one of the best lawyers in Rome, there were many who desired him to advocate their causes, and that was before he had ever possessed a field command.

His personal bravery was off the charts, the man won a "grass crown," and again had done that before he had ever become the guy he would become. In Rome, whenever a man wore a "grass crown" and entered a room, all present had to rise. ALL had to rise.

To compare him who was a genius to these murderous non-entities is just too much.................

As previous posts of mine can reveal, I differentiate Julius Caesar from the name Caesar. The name Caesar itself represents a dark idea--the consolidation of power in the hands of an individual, and the name has been worn by monsters like Caligula who were just as depraved as beasts like Kim Jong-Il. Caesarism represents highest form of power, the enemy of liberty.

In regards to Julius Caesar (whose small bust sits upon my desk in between Washington and Machiavelli), I tend to be much more forgiving. My undergraduate thesis at Ashbrook tried to explore the man's character, and I have spent some time playing with him. I believe that Julius Caesar himself was an noble man, but at the end of the day he represented a corruption of politics, and as honorable a man as he was, he nonetheless paved the way for the decadent and dishonorable empire of the Caesars and is thus, while certainly worthy of our admiration, also worthy of our weariness.

Excellent essay and response.

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