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The Fall of the Republic

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I received an email from mediamatters.org yesterday regarding a commentary from Glenn Beck on Fox News relating the Fall of the Roman Republic to his perception of current political circumstances. This thread has nothing to do with your personal political affiliation or whether you think Beck is a destabilizing lunatic twit or if you think mediamatters.org is the Marxist beginnings of George Soros' attempt to take over the world.

 

I'm just curious what you think of the questions, how you might answer them etc. They didn't use any of my answers as there were obviously some respondents with considerably more clout than an internet historian hack like myself.

 

Anyway, first the background on the email, then the next post provides the questions as presented by Ned Resnikoff of mediamatters.org with the original Beck assertions (I did check to make sure Beck actually said these things before I responded. Nothing he says really surprises, me but I had to do the due diligence.)

 

Hello,

 

I am a researcher at Media Matters for America compiling a piece on Glenn Beck's use (and abuse) of historical events and analogies. He's made a few assertions about the fall of the Roman Republic yesterday and today that contradict my admittedly crude understanding of Roman history, and I was wondering if you could take a few moments to tell me and our readers whether or not they are accurate....

 

Here is the link to the final story. Notice the missing questions (provided below) that didn't work their way into the story. Ain't politics grand! The Romans would be proud.

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CLAIM: In 133 BC, the republic started illegally seizing land from the rich and redistributing it to the poor.

 

BECK: In 133 B.C., the decline of the Roman Republic begins and they start to redistribute the land. They started seizing illegally occupied by the rich, the lands illegally occupied by the rich, and they gave it to the poor. They put caps on the amount of acreage that one man could own. If it exceeded that, it was given to the poor.

They didn't have approval from the senate. They didn't wait around for the senate. They just went around them and did it anyway.

 

I would argue that this is a mischaracterization of the dispute.

 

The lands seized from defeated powers were almost always treated as public lands, and were then leased for income to wealthy Romans.

 

One problem with this practice was that it meant that Rome's public lands in effect became the property of only those Romans who were cash-rich enough to lease them.

 

Another property with this practice was that it favored system insiders who manipulated the leasing system to get the best lands for themselves at favorable rates.

 

The land reforms proposed by the Gracchi would have saved the Republic if they had actually been successful. After the fall of Rome, Byzantium solved its land-ownership problems by breaking the backs of the landlord class and undertaking successive land reforms not very different from what the Gracchi proposed - and Constantinople stood for 1000 years more than Rome as a result.

 

I think Beck is blinded by the "poor people vs. rich people" aspect of the public lands dispute, and immediately jumps in on the side of the aristocracy by reflex. Taking the Gracchi's side would actually be even more useful to the just-so story he's trying to tell - it would be very, very easy to depict the enemies of the Gracchi as profiteering politicians trying to loot the public lands for themselves, in the manner of machine politicians of the modern era.

 

 

CLAIM: Octavian refused to be called Caesar.

 

BECK: He went a step further. He refused to be called Caesar. Remember, he was the adopted son of Caesar. No, he didn't want to be a dictator. No. Instead, he disguised himself, he was an autocratic ruler, he took the title of Princeps, which is "first citizen."

 

I think this is a fairly harmless error on Beck's part. I think he meant to say that Augustus never called himself Emperor. His point appears to be that Augustus was an emperor who never called himself one, and founded an imperial dynasty while pretending to restore Republican forms. And that's certainly true. The political value to Octavian of the Caesar cognomen is a little too inside-baseball for Beck.

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They did not wanted to discuss Beck's claims, they wanted to refute what he said, so your balanced point of view was not very useful for them.

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My own feeling is that the most important aspect of this has been ignored. The Republic never fell. It was subject to a series of hostile takeovers and whilst power was snatched away by the Caesars, the republic institutions were intact and not without influence. The early Caesars were always keen to keep the Senate happy because it was composed of wealthy, influential men, and not a few who wanted the top job for themselves.

 

It is noticeable that the homes of these powerful families were destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome in 64 under suspicious circumstances. It would seem then that Nero might have been the first Caesar to attempt to sweep aside the Senate as an insufferable obstacle to his rule.

 

When Rome became an empire, it went from
Edited by caldrail

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Beneath the mess of misrepresentation and (I suspect) deliberate distortion of facts, there are a few points which have been missed by both sides but which are worth consideration.

 

1. The American Republic was consciously modelled on the Roman Republic (for which reason Plutarch has been called one of the most influential writers in American history). It would be unsurprising if similar structures did not have similar flaws.

 

2. A prominent feature of the Late Republic (and one of the reasons for its fall) was the capture of state offices by wealthy families. 'Those made consuls in their cradles' Cicero calls them. This is a reference to the gentes Cennedi, Clintonii and Buchi.

 

3. The army went from being the male voters (who were consequently resistant to coercion) to a professional body controlled directly or indirectly by the top families.

 

4. Overall, life in the first hundred years of the empire was immensely more prosperous, civilized and peaceful than life in the last hundred years of the republic.

 

Personally, I don't think the USA is anywhere near a 'Rubicon moment'. Also, despite the above similarities there are so many differences between the USA and the Roman Republic that any direct comparison - let alone extrapolation - is facile and ludicrous.

 

That's my two denarii ...

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This is a reference to the gentes Cennedi, Clintonii and Buchi.

 

Nothing short of Nobel Prize winning genius!

Edited by GhostOfClayton

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2. A prominent feature of the Late Republic (and one of the reasons for its fall) was the capture of state offices by wealthy families. 'Those made consuls in their cradles' Cicero calls them. This is a reference to the gentes Cennedi, Clintonii and Buchi.

 

 

I agree there's a parallel here between the Late Republic and US history, but I don't think the numbers tell a story of two republics being taken over by prominent political families.

 

During the late republic (Sulla and beyond), the number of New Men in the senate seemed to have risen dramatically, while the number of nobiles (literally, the "known"--but let's define as someone who had a consul or praetor in the familiy) was falling. That's what Gruen's appendix shows rather nicely, doesn't it? According to his appendix, between 78-49 BCE, 7 non-nobiles held the consulship (11.5%), 91 non-nobiles held the praetorship (51% of known praetors), 27 non-nobiles held the aedileship (56.25% of known aediles), 80 non-nobiles held the tribuneship (71% of known tribunes), and 154 non-nobiles were ordinary senators (77% of known pedarii). Thus, after Sulla, the majority of magistracies were held by non-nobiles, which I don't think had been true of earlier eras.

 

Same basic story can be seen in the history of the US congress. Here's a chart that was prepared shortly after "Cennedi"'s death -- in response to claims like the one above. What this means is good news for our own New Men, guys like Nixon and Obama.

 

 

senatorial+relations.PNG

 

 

 

 

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During the late republic (Sulla and beyond), the number of New Men in the senate seemed to have risen dramatically, while the number of nobiles (literally, the "known"--but let's define as someone who had a consul or praetor in the familiy) was falling. .... Thus, after Sulla, the majority of magistracies were held by non-nobiles, which I don't think had been true of earlier eras.

 

I'm thinking proscriptions had as much to do with the number of New Men then anything else. Sulla (amongst others) did kill him some prominent families and family members.

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This is a reference to the gentes Cennedi, Clintonii and Buchi.

 

Nothing short of Nobel Prize winning genius!

 

I'm not sure if O is a genius but knowing how one gets on law review journals--samples submitted anonymously with a # rather than name and then reviewed by a committee--he's certainly got smarts to have made it as part of one of the two or three most prestigious law journals in the country (Harvard Law Review).

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As dictator Sulla added more than 300 men to the senate, doubling it's original size as well as replacing losses in the civil war and proscriptions. Most of these new senators were members of the equestrian order and aristocrats and ex-magistrates from the Italian municipalities (new citizens after the Social War). Gruen suggests Sulla thus co-opted the leadership of groups who might otherwise have challenged his settlement. As these men and thier relations gained office in the 70's, 60's and 50's the lower magistracies would have naturally included many new names.

Edited by Pompieus

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This was the topic of my thesis, State of Affairs before the Fall: Roman Agrarian Legislation in the Republic of Cicero. It is the fundamental question to ask about not only why Rome fell, but to find out Rome's true history. The fact that Beck continues to obscure could indicate just how pivotal this information is at this point in time, WITHOUT being historically myopic. The principles of political philosophy endure, after all.

 

In fact, Rome wasn't a republic until it was an empire, as we all know. The myth about Rome that everyone believes today is that she came, saw and conquered, like Caesar. In fact, new citizens were made part of the Pax Romana, able to travel the known world with impunity, and some of the lands became public lands, until some senator DECREED (a mos, not a lex, and definitely not a fas), that the people could work the public lands. I don't know if this led to the landlessness, or if it was just Rome's many imperial wars in the third and second centures, but the fact of the matter was according to the law, citizens could only fight in the armies if they owned land, and there were less men who could fight, levies became unpopular, and they had to rely on volunteers or untrained men to fight war after war. Meanwhile, the senators had taken up squatting on the land themselves, and working them with slaves. Enter the Gracchi. Tiberius said, why not redistribute the public lands among the citizens and the allies? Many of Rome's citizens, who by now lived in the city, fed by the patrons, had little desire however to be packed of to plow, or shipped to the armies to fight. Other tribunes ran against them, on the platform of conquering colonies to redistribute the land. Tiberius demanded those holding the public lands come forth, but none did, so he set up a SuperCommittee, if you will, which he vested with the power of iudicium (bad, this belongs to an elected senate, once it is taken from the king) to determine what lands were whose. That didn't work so well, and the Senate DIDN'T furnish Gracchus with any land, and so he was forced to wait until Pergammom, a rich province given to Rome, to even try to put his plan into affect. A simple precedent whose ramifications would not be felt for many years. It is no doubt to highlight the fact that this would later cause the fall of Rome's republic that Cicero set his Republic during the time of the Gracchi.

 

The only historically myopic one here is Beck. He is using this as an argument against the common wealth, instead of for it. Even though Tiberius seemed revolutionary with his land redistribution, in fact it was the senators who were stealing the land, and using slaves to work it; that mean they got more votes in the comita. Real farmers were unwilling to travel to Rome once a year to vote, so come voting time, the block from the countryside, which got 36 votes, was always just filled with Senators, while all of Rome's one million citizens got only 6 votes. The senators had used it to corrupt the voting system, maintain control of the state, which they had wrested from the people. In fact, according to Cicero, the republic is the land it is build on, the people, and their common wealth or things(res publicae). He says the duties of the state are social welfare, and social justice, and protecting the people. Beck purposely twisted that argumenthere. He is laying the blame on the people for demanding redistribution of wealth: and yes, perhaps the Gracchi were wrong to take lands that belonged to the Sociis, but really the senators were the one who had taken 99% of the wealth for the 1%. Beck is trying to argue against socialism! Turning it into the reason for the fall of the republic! Laughable. For I shall tell you why the republic fell, and it wasn't because the people weren't listening to a senate that no longer represented them, but was out for their own self interests (but Beck would argue that we should still be loyal to a Senate that has abandoned the people, as if a republic that wasn't just was still a republic!)

 

Cut to age of the generals. We have generals promising land to their followers upon completion of fighting, and building vast armies loyal to them! When Pompey and Caesar couldn't get their agrarian law past Cicero and the senate (Cicero argued in his speach agains the Agrarian Legislation that the SuperCommittee, or decemviri, would sell off all the revenues of the state, earned by the sweat of the peoples brows, in proper order, the public lands, everything, not selling some things for the sake of corruption that they might sell them for the sake of bribery). To get their law throught, Pompey and Caesar were forced to end the Republic. That was the end of Rome, for it was all falling after that: they were never able to solve the succession problem, even in the east, because of course only a republic solves that problem through elections.

 

He also appeals to another argument currently on debate in harvardjustice.edu. Do we feed Christians to lions? He's just riling people up against Republic, which should be a model for us, although as Tribune Laticlavius points out, it was a bad model. Alas, we were forced to model on a that flawed state because Cicero's Republic, considered the first constitution, was lost to us until the 19th century: Augustine wrote his city of god over it. So although Cicero attempted to preserve the order that was Rome, the Catholic Church took on the role, and we were forced to re-evolve republics in the Meadow at Runnymede.

 

I find it laughable that Beck makes only one other statement, trying to argue the Caesars weren't dictators, and that the people gave up their power willingly because they were bribed, not that Casear and Pompey, with their giant armies, didn't take it from them. Does he think to absolve dictators like Octavian of their Tyranny? Only a populares would do this, by which we can assume that Beck supports the Dictator party. He supports a "republic," wherein the people have given up their power to a senate that doesn't represent them, but absolves the senate, saying the people "took bribes," and argues that Octavian wasn't a dictator because of his obvious attempt to appeal to the people (as dictators do, having removed the pyrmaid of government that protects the people from him, making him more expedient in times of necessity, but a supreme leader nonetheless, as long as he has the mob on his side), as if two-thousand year old propaganda still appealed to us. (yes o first citizen.) In fact, the whole history of Rome is two thousand year old propaganda: around the time of the gracchi, all of history was rewritten, or retrojected, expanding from 9 volumes to 99, to justify this agrarian law, and giving the land to the senate, and the corruption, etc. Beck has made very few points, but very cleverly. For he has twisted, like the rewritten roman history, to re-allocate powers in the state, the duties of each part, trying to change precedent, but really obscuring political philosophy and the truth (much like the tyrants of Rome's day). This is my understanding of the full calamitous import of such simple statements. He would turn the republic on it's head, and tell you lies were truth, injustice justice, social welfare to be a burden on the state, rather than it's duty. In other words, he twists history to his purpose, rather than using history (Cicero's account of events) to learn the true nature of an ideal state.

Edited by NeoCicero

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I wonder if he called "professor" David Barton for his info on this.

 

It would be helpfull if you could expand/explain what you mean by this comment espercially if you intend providing an alternative viewpoint.

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I wonder if he called "professor" David Barton for his info on this.

 

It would be helpfull if you could expand/explain what you mean by this comment espercially if you intend providing an alternative viewpoint.

 

 

My apologies. I did not intend to provide an alternate viewpoint, but was instead making a comment (albeit snide) in reference to Beck in matters of history. He often relies on David Barton for the information he provides. No need to go into that any more here that the one comment, and I honestly shouldn't have done that. Sometimes temptation overrides wisdom :)

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