Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Kill Your Leaders?
Currently I’m reading a book called “Why Rome Fell” which details the reasons why we don’t solely speak Latin any more and don’t care for Italians—other than every four years when the World Cup comes around. It’s a pretty good book, a little dry in some parts, but filled with some interesting tidbits about Roman Republic’s lesser known emperors who make Nero look like Mr. Rogers.
What I find most fascinating is that the way that most of these emperors came to power is through a brutal and always violent power grab. The would-be emperor was either a general or a senator who had the backing of the army who decided that they wanted to rule Rome*. They’d then kill the existing emperor and after a song-and-dance with the Senate (“No, no. I couldn’t accept this crown? Oh, alright. I’ll do it.” It reminded me of Tenacious D’s “City Hall”.) would accept the crown. Normally within nine months or fiveyears later, the cycle would repeat itself.
Power was transferred like this for a couple of hundred years and the people of the republic seemed okay with the way things went down. They just went on living and paying tribute to whomever was running the show.
* An interesting story that exemplifies the treachery of the age was of Emperor Valerian and his co-ruler who happened to be his son, Gallienus. Valerian was taken prisoner by Persian King Shapur after he tried invading Persia. Shapur didn’t just throw Valerian in a prison and let him rot. The story was that he used Valerian to make him get on his knees so that Shapur could mount his horse, essentially turning him into a step stool. Once Shapur died, the Persians skinned Valerian alive, painted him red and hung him in a temple as a trophy. Gallienus didn’t even try to rescue his father, he was having too much fun being the sole emperor.
At some point in history, the act of overthrowing an unpopular ruler by brazenly murdering him and then taking over his rival’s position lost a bit of favor with civilization as a whole. The answers are obvious to us why this isn’t a good idea and to be truthful, I’m not even sure why someone would want to be ruler of Rome if they know how the story is going to end.
When did this practice stop? What prompted the ruling hierarchy to figure out that this wasn’t a good solution to replacing leaders. Remember, this didn’t happen over a decade or two, the activity of murdering the emperor occurred over centuries. At some point the light must have gone off in someone’s head and it was decided that this wasn’t a good way of doing things. This moment of clarity represents an evolution in the modern human brain. Or it at least represents some foresight and the ability to understand history.
What if this practice came back into vogue? All of a sudden being the President really became a life threatening job that usually ended in a grizzly death? And not only was the assassination by someone that you trusted, but it would be one that virtually no one would mourn. Even when shitty presidents die, it’s a pretty big deal in America. But if this was Rome and a shitty emperor like Georgius Bushian II died, he’d be thrown onto a pile with the rest of the plagued and war-torn bodies. It would barely register a mention in any of the public records.
I’m obviously not advocating for a return to regularly-scheduled regicides*, but I would imagine that after a few of them went down in quick succession, we’d have the same blasé reaction to them as our Roman ancestors did. Remember, much like the United States, at one time Rome was the crowning achievement of civilization and if their economy and their ways of life were able to exist and thrive with their leaders getting snuffed out every few months, I’m sure that the American people could eventually handle it too.
* I know that this is the Latin word for an assassination of a monarch, but I’m not sure what the Latin term is for the assassination of a president. I tried looking it up on Google, but couldn’t find anything.
In any event, those years before deciding that our leader’s lives were worthless would descend into complete and utter chaos. In other words, it would suck. Thank god for the anonymous cabal that controls and runs our world.