Learning his own history is the free man’s first defense against government abuse of power. Continue reading
So far, no modern, complex industrial society has figured out how to run a democracy via direct popular participation, and no one has figured out how to establish a system of popular oversight of government with or without internal checks and balances sufficient to preserve government reliability. Continue reading
At one point during Julius Caesar’s Gallic campaign, when the Aeduan tribe was allied with Rome, the question of whether or not to break the alliance and join Vercingetorix’s “rebellion”–what today might be called Gaul’s “national liberation movement.” The Aeduan leader had recently been confirmed in his position through the personal intervention of Caesar, who had ruled in accordance with Aeduan laws. The Aeduan leader observed,
It is true that I am under some obligation to Caesar – though the justice of my case was so apparent that he could hardly help deciding in my favor. but the cause of national liberty outweighs any such consideration. Why should we call Caesar in to adjudicate questions involving our rights and the interpretation of our laws? We do not expect him to submit questions of Roman law to our arbitration? (Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul. London: Penguin Classics, pp.173-4.)
With that, the lackey declared his independence and led the Aeduans into revolt.
“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.
Whether or not Solzhenitsyn made up the passage below about a Russian commander in 1914, it provokes numerous questions:
- How often do critical moments in political behavior occur?
- How often are they recognized?
- How can one detect them in time and figure out how to respond?
Solzhenitsyn (see previous post) is not the only Russian novelist to have had something to say about human military plans and their outcomes. The man Solzhenitsyn no doubt had very much in mind when writing August 1914 is also worth remembering in this context. In War and Peace, Tolstoy observed, for example: Continue reading
Lessons from history are revealed not by events but by good history, i.e., by interpretation, and a good historical novel can serve that purpose remarkably well. Consider the following marvelous explanation for Tsarist Russia’s debacle in WWI at the hands of the rapidly modernizing and efficiency-oriented Germany: Continue reading