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And You, Senate?

by on May 8, 2012

A short commentary on the past sounds very current.

The article, I think, gave the impression that the power of the [Roman] Senate to execute its enemies was somehow a new one, or a rarely used one, or some kind of exception, whose door once opened might not be closed.  That really wasn’t the case, and Caesar was more than anything speaking from memory. not predicting the future.

Julius Caesar’s youth was largely formed by the conflicts between his relative Marius and Marius’s main rival Sulla.   Caesar was around 15, when Marius, as Consul of the Senate, embarked on his campaign of executing Sulla’s supports as enemies of the state.   Caesar was closer to 20, when he had to flee the city and spent a year or two in hiding, because Sulla had declared him an enemy of the state needing execution.  The senate executed literally 1,000s of people as enemies of the state during the 86-BC to 80BC period.   After Sulla’s retirement, the Senate stopped most of that behavior, but the Catiline debates are only around 17 years later.

The nature and quality of the debates, though, is fundamentally historic, not prescient. They are about whether the Senate wishes to RETURN to the era when enemies of the state are regularly executed or not.  I’m not sure if this doesn’t enhance your point though.  The Senate ALL remembered what happened under Marius and Sulla.  They all remembered the 1000′s that were killed, and they all remembered the craziness, fear and uncertainty during that period.   They all knew where declaring enemies of the state and killing them could lead, and yet, they voted to kill Catilina anyway.

No one needed to be a genius, or a furtune-teller to see the future.  They all remembered the past, and most voted to execute anyway, because, of course, Catilina “deserved it,” and, all that nonsense that happened a mere 17 years earlier, well, that is just irrelevant!

The clear and unmistakable analogies to modern times are important, and rather remarkable.

From → Politics

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