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Autocracy in the US and 5th Century Rome

by DOUGLAS C. SMYTH

 

Why do people worry that Harriet Miers is too close to the President? Don’t they watch the miniseries on Rome on HBO? In the fifth century, Emperor Honorius appointed whoever purchased the office of Procurator (roughly equivalent to a Supreme Court Justice). The appointee was usually the son of a wealthy Senator (the highest nobility at the time) and had no experience at all. What was important was that he didn’t challenge the Emperor, God’s Vice-Regent on Earth, and that he, or his father, offered games to the public.

There was no reason to challenge the Emperor, of course. Emperor Honorius was so wrapped up in his prize roosters, one of whom he named Rome, that in 410 when a messenger dashed into his throne room in Ravenna shouting, “Rome has fallen!” he started to run for his chicken coop, alarmed, until the messenger explained he meant the city. “Oh, that Rome,” the Emperor is supposed to have said. And 1,595 years later Brownie did “a heckuva job” rescuing New Orleans.

Honorius (393-423) was the son of the previous Emperor, just as George is the son of George. Dynasty is important in keeping the state together. When Honorius’ nephew became Emperor after a long regency under his mother, he had an obsession, too, the other kind of chicken, the human kind; he couldn’t keep out of the bedrooms of his courtiers’ wives, Christian Emperor though he was.

What does this have to do with Harriet Miers? The Rome of late antiquity was an autocracy, ruled by the men (and eunuchs) surrounding the Emperor. Appointing close confidants was routine. After all, the Emperor, or the people who ruled in his name, had virtually absolute power. Now our Emperor, I mean President, wants to name one of his closest, most loyal advisors to the Supreme Court, to the seat that has held the balance in the court. If she is confirmed, then our Emperor, I mean President, will have assured for himself that neither of the competing institutions will block whatever he wants to do: torture, imprison “enemy aliens,” bankrupt Social Security, take money from the poor and give it to the rich, etc. After a brief insurrection among his party members in Congress, they will support the Imperial party leader. And the Supreme Court, up until now a thorn in his side, will be his play-thing. Roberts, after all, already demonstrated that in his view the executive can do virtually no wrong–as long as he’s a Republican conservative. And with Miers added to the court, the balance of votes for an Imperial presidency will be in the majority.

Oh, it’s possible that Harriet will “evolve” once George becomes Ex-President, but that’s a long time from now, and would she “evolve” if George’s brother is elected? In the meantime, anything George will do, or approve, Harriet is sure to approve of as well. Torture, martial law? Which brings us to the Autocracy in the title: the Supreme Court is supposed to be a counter-weight to the executive and the legislative branches, not its lapdog. There is a very real danger that all our civil liberties will be swept away in the face of the “never-ending war-on-terror,” if the Court becomes lapdog. We will then develop quickly into an autocratic system, because there will be nothing to stop it. The opposition (Democrats?) is as tired and clueless as the Pagan Senators who tried to bring back the altar to Victory to the Roman Senate in 392.

Will Jeb follow George? After all, dynasty creates stability–of a sort. When Valentinian III had dallied with the wrong Senator’s wife, after murdering his best general, he was murdered in turn. What little stability the Empire still had up until then (455) went flying out the palace window. There were Emperors after that (until 476), but the autocracy, and the complicit aristocracy (much like our selfish class) could not deal with the crises of the era–invasions, the breakdown of the Empire’s economy. When the Empire fell–with the Senate’s connivance–the wealthy assumed they could simply continue as lords of their manors, much the way corporate leaders expect they could always go elsewhere if things get bad here–after they have shook down our substance. Chaos followed the Empire’s fall, however, and even the very wealthy lost their–tunics.

DOUGLAS C. SMYTH has a Ph.D in Social Science, and have been both a freelance writer and a college teacher (Economics, Political Science, and History). He is currently working on a book: The Selfish Class. Smyth can be reached at: douglassmyth@optonline.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

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