Slippery Slope: Government Undermining of Civil Liberties

“Clematius, an utterly innocent man, was put to death without being allowed to open his mouth or speak.
After this act of wickedness, which, now that cruelty had been given free rein, aroused fears that it would be repeated in other cases, a number of people were found guilty and condemned through mere misty suspicion. Of these some were put to death; others suffered confiscation of their property and were driven into exile from their homes; left with no resource but complaints and tears they supported life on the charity of others, and when what had been a just constitutional government was transformed into a gloody despotism many rich and noble houses shut their doors. In the past savage emperors had often preserved the appearance of legality by preferring charges against their victims in the courts of law, but now even a counterfeit accusation was felt to be superfluous; as one mischief was heaped upon another whatever the implacable Caesar had resolved was immediately put into effect, as if it had all the force of a deliberate legal decision.“–Ammianus Marcellinus The Later Roman Empire (AD 453-378)(Tr. Walter Hamilton), London: Penguin Classics, 2004).

Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman military officer and historian, chronicled the decline of the superpower of his day.


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