The Augustus Countdown
March 22, 2016 12:47 PM   Subscribe

If we can’t make our republican system of government work, eventually the people will clamor for a leader who can sweep it all away "The historical model I keep invoking is the Roman Republic, which didn’t fall all at once when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon or his nephew Octavian became the Emperor Augustus, but had been on such a downward spiral of norm-busting dysfunction for so long (about a century) that it was actually a relief to many Romans when Augustus put the Republic out of its misery. In “Countdown” I pointed out the complexity of that downward trend: about half of the erosion in Rome was done by the good guys, in order to seek justice for popular causes that the system had stymied." posted by OnceUponATime (107 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
The battle we have to win is the Catos and Ciceros against the Caesars.

Let's hope we fare better than Cato and Cicero did.
posted by foobaz at 12:59 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]




People are misled by the word 'Republic'. I think if we called it the Roman oligarchy we'd perhaps have a somewhat more accurate sense of how it actually worked.
posted by Segundus at 1:07 PM on March 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


The battle we have to win is the Catos and Ciceros against the Caesars.

I'm not sure I'd like to see our modern-day Cato on the winning side. Just sayin'.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:09 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I subscribe to the school of thought that the Roman Republic destroyed itself by its greed for land and tribute - in quantities which could only be secured by professional generals, who came to command the loyalty of their men. Julius Caeser was the termination of this process, not the beginning: it started in the Second Punic War, probably. THe consular citizen generals got their asses handed to them by Hannibal, but, eventually, Scipius Africanus emerged as the man who could win the war.

Cato and Cicero were deluded. The Republic that they thought of themselves as defending was dead befoire they were born. Little idealistic Republics don't have huge standing armies and wage wars of conquest and raze cities to the ground.
posted by thelonius at 1:09 PM on March 22, 2016 [33 favorites]


People are misled by the word 'Republic'. I think if we called it the Roman oligarchy we'd perhaps have a somewhat more accurate sense of how it actually worked.

That may be true of the U.S. as well.
posted by stevis23 at 1:12 PM on March 22, 2016 [22 favorites]


Little idealistic Republics don't have huge standing armies and wage wars of conquest and raze cities to the ground.

Nor are they usually built on the backs of slave labor, genocide, religious fanaticism, and the normalization of economic theft. But, here we are...
posted by Chrischris at 1:12 PM on March 22, 2016 [36 favorites]


People are misled by the word 'Republic'. I think if we called it the Roman oligarchy we'd perhaps have a somewhat more accurate sense of how it actually worked.

So, just like America, then?
posted by entropicamericana at 1:12 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


People are misled by the word 'Republic'. I think if we called it the Roman oligarchy we'd perhaps have a somewhat more accurate sense of how it actually worked.

Quanto mutantur magis eadem maneat.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


Right now we're dealing with a Commodus more than an Augustus.
posted by ocschwar at 1:14 PM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Fortunately we can not just halt but actually reverse our descent into tyranny by gathering together to vote for the one candidate who has all of our interests in mind, the one candidate who can bring us all together to rebuild our great nation.

I refer, of course, to Philippe the Otter.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:18 PM on March 22, 2016 [36 favorites]


This article does not please me to read; where is the nearest circus I can attend?
posted by mrnutty at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


Quanto mutantur magis eadem maneat.

(for those of you who don't speak latin: "When mutants do magic, who eats the maneaters?")
posted by Greg Nog at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2016 [121 favorites]


The author notes throughout that our current political environment is profoundly dysfunctional, and yet seems opposed to the idea of blowing the current system up. Why, though? Because of the possibility that people like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Bruce Rauner, Rick Scott, and all the other plutocratic enemies of the American people might just decide to listen to some "50-something ex-mathematician" who quietly, soberly implores them to behave honorably?

I hope that Trump does not win the presidency, but I'm hard-pressed to justify a defense of the status quo, and it's even more challenging to imagine our current elites giving up any power without being forced to do so.
posted by clockzero at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Cato and Cicero were deluded. The Republic that they thought of themselves as defending was dead befoire they were born. Little idealistic Republics don't have huge standing armies and wage wars of conquest and raze cities to the ground.

Rome was waging wars of conquest and razing cities to the ground from Day One. Their gift was ever implacability, never peaceableness. Whatever virtues the Republican era had, they were never those of a limited government content to stay within its borders.

That doesn't change the fact that he's right about the broad strokes. Success on the battlefield brought slaves. Rich Romans bought more and more land and worked it for free. Poor Romans fled to the city to live on the dole and become the mob that the Gracci and all who came after them rode to power, including Ceasar. His domestic economic policies were quite progressive for their day, and a big boost to his popularity. The patricians feared him and his army, but there were plenty who loved him in Rome; that's why they had to sweat so hard trying to keep him out of power.
posted by Diablevert at 1:23 PM on March 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


I refer, of course, to Philippe the Otter.

God messed up and here I am.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:24 PM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


author notes throughout that our current political environment is profoundly dysfunctional, and yet seems opposed to the idea of blowing the current system up.

The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen. For the most part, it's been blood, famine, and tyranny, followed by a glorious Restoration of nearly all that was before.
posted by Diablevert at 1:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I refer, of course, to Philippe the Otter.

NEW ACHEWOOD!?! THIS... IS... A HOMEBOY!
posted by dhens at 1:29 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


> Vox has several graphs like this one, showing that frustration with democracy is increasing:

2016 is just a fucking drag.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:31 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


This segment from the Reveal podcast supports the fpp, particularly the bit with former Republican-elite member Susan Chapman that starts around 7:30. Wait til the end for the exciting conclusion! (it rhymes with "malevolent trick-taker")
posted by theodolite at 1:31 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I hope that Trump does not win the presidency, but I'm hard-pressed to justify a defense of the status quo, and it's even more challenging to imagine our current elites giving up any power without being forced to do so.

Because these revolution fantasies ignore the bloody reality of revolution. It's easy to talk about "blowing the current system up", but achieving that is going to mean a whole lot of death and suffering for a lot of people.

And it's more likely than not that even if you blow the current system up, you're not going to get the glorious future you dream of. You're probably going to get an even worse system put in place by those strong enough to be left standing in the ashes of the old system, one that doesn't even try to maintain a pretense of democracy.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2016 [70 favorites]


clockzero, I'd say one reason to resist blowing it up is that generally what comes after is worse than what came before. Revolutions rarely work out well, and blowing out actual democratic norms in favor of a more dictatorial system seems all but guaranteed to produce very bad results.

I think we Americans often have a very wrong view of revolutions and rebellions because our history contains one of the very, very, few that ever worked out well. In fact the American Revolution and the Meiji Restoration are really the only two modern revolutions I can think of that didn't produce a much worse system than the one they replaced.

The system we have is horribly broken and flawed. The structure of the Senate alone may well result eventually in our nation dissolving. But if that does happen, I have very little hope that what will come next is going to be good.

What works is the slow, unsexy, uninspiring, slow march of reform by voting and political activism. Unfortunately getting people to support that is a lot harder than getting people to support a megalomaniac who says that if we give him all the power he'll fix things.
posted by sotonohito at 1:34 PM on March 22, 2016 [51 favorites]


The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen.

Well, I think that was a fluke. Americans tried for a second time, and it ended up with the Civil War.
posted by FJT at 1:35 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


so what we should do, then, is get involved locally and start encouraging our communities to build statues of Barron Trump in the market squares now, so we can get ahead of the curve?
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


he Meiji Restoration are really the only two modern revolutions I can think of that didn't produce a much worse system than the one they replaced.

That's an odd thing to say, considering the post-Meiji government eventually became a totalitarian dictatorship. Was that better than the semi-feudal government before it?
posted by Sangermaine at 1:38 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure you can blame the Meiji restoration for the actions of the militarists of three generations later.
posted by firechicago at 1:41 PM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Also, when you look at where radical change has come from - whether good or bad - it doesn't come out of the blue. People don't just riot in the streets and install a new regime de novo; for any kind of large scale change to even happen usually requires years and years of organizing and mobilizing of people throughout society. Unless you're just talking about some kind of palace coup.

The Mexican Revolution - and indeed, several South American revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries - seem to have been improvements on what they replaced. But those were long struggles.

Also, actual armed struggle usually seems to be a last resort. You look at the Russian revolution, and one reason things got to that point was that other stuff had failed.

It's perfectly possible to imagine revolutionary change a la the election of Salvador Allende, though. The US would have the advantage, in fact, in that if we built up a party structure and mass organizations and elected an Allende, we would not have the US coming in to crush the new administration since the US is us.

I think that reading in detail about one or two revolutions of the 20th century is pretty useful, because we have this narrative that's all "popular discontent>>>>armed struggle>>>>>all-powerful new regime>>>overreach>>>>reaction>>>FAIL!!!!!!" that does not accurately reflect any individual case.

I don't think Americans idealize revolution; I think we're really negative about it, largely as the result of a lot of Cold War propaganda which leaves us only with the USSR and maybe China as models, and leaves us lacking even good history of those countries' revolutions.
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2016 [28 favorites]


Augustus brought relief because the politics of the Roman Republic had been bathed in blood for most of a century. The murders of the Gracchi, the Social War, the proscriptions under Sulla (lists of names in the Forum of men who could be killed without penalty), and two Triumvirates that dissolved into murderous civil wars. I mean, Caesar (Octavian/Augustus) had dealt with all his opponents, he stuck to Republican formalities, and he consolidated all power into his hands over seventeen years. Hardly just a man who rode in on horseback to save the day.

This was an era when every politician was a general, and armies were loyal to their commander rather than to the Republic. Caesar (Augustus) was one of the richest individual men in the Republic, but rather than having himself named King, he pandered to the Senate by accumulating a bunch of titles and powers (Princeps Senatus, Consul / Proconsul, Tribunicia Potestas, Pontifex Maximus, Pater Patriae, Augustus, Imperator) so that in theory he could just be "a man."

There are certain parallels, of course. The strife was caused by friction between the privileged Senators, who basically farmed out the ager publicus (the massive amount of land taken by conquest) as a cash concern, and the plebeians who wanted to use it for their own purposes. The pig-headishness of the ruling classes would be familiar to modern Americans. But the Ciceros and Catos were not heroes of the Republic; they were oligarchs who wanted an unsustainable status quo. The Caesars were not men of the people; they were oligarchs who had a vision of Roman glory led by themselves.

By the time Augustus reached his settlement, both Sulla and Julius Caesar had been made dictators for life. Sulla resigned when he thought he was finished; Caesar was stopped before he could go out on his next campaign. The old system of rule by Consuls, the Senate, and the Tribunes was dead for decades. Each attempt to revive it had led to more dictators or triumvirs.

The problem is, a system as sclerotic as the Roman system was doomed from, probably, the murder of the Gracchi. They offered its only chance to reform on its own terms; when it was refused, the Republic died an extremely bloody death.
posted by graymouser at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2016 [28 favorites]


I refer, of course, to Philippe the Otter.

I think everyone agrees it's time this country was run by someone who is five!
posted by Mayor West at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


PANEM TODAY, PANEM TOMORROW, PANEM FOREVER!*

*In a not too distant future....
posted by Fizz at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sangermaine, without derailing too much, basically yes especially when compared to other post-revolutionary governments.

Your average post-revolutionary government tends to be dictatorial from the outset, and often is little more than a collection of looters draining as much as they can from the nation. Japan and the USA shared the oddity of having a post-revolutionary government that was composed of people who actually wanted what was best for the nation, and put that ahead of enriching themselves or establishing them and their families as dictators for life.

The Meiji revolutionaries didn't do nearly so well as the US revolutionaries did in the long run. But Japan, again unlike virtually every other post-revolution country ever, actually had steadily increasing GDP, a steadily increasing standard of living, a move to industrialization and increasing technology, and even more liberal politics.

They weren't as successful as the American revolutionaries in divorcing themselves from power and allowing the nation to guide itself. Yamagata Aritomo, especially, was mistrustful not only of democracy in general but really of anyone but him having power. There was no smooth transition of power as the old revolutionaries died off, and the structures they built to keep themselves in power [1] were what allowed the later military dictatorship.

But compared to the near instant ruin of most revolutions, the Meiji Restoration was a tremendous success, and Japan may have weathered the military dictatorship and emerged as a proper Constitutional Monarchy like England if it hadn't been for the expansionism and the whole world situation at the time.

[1] Mostly in power behind the scenes, because that was Japan's historic pattern for where real power was, though Yamagata and others took turns as Prime Minister so it wasn't wholly behind the scenes.
posted by sotonohito at 1:48 PM on March 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


You can too blame the Meiji Resoration. Militarism in support of the God Emperor was baked into the Meiji kokutai. The military was the agent of modernization--very successful modernization, if only from a military standpoint.

Let me dispel the notion that Hirohito did not know what his country was doing, either.
posted by rdone at 1:48 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


it rhymes with "malevolent trick-taker"

Benevolent dick Laker? Kobe?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


But long-term, the way to stop Trump and future prospective Caesars is simple: Make democracy work again.

Yeah, like that's gonna happen.

SIGH.
posted by suelac at 1:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would be willing to bet that the average citizen under the Roman Empire would have seen his life as fundamentally better than under the Late Republic. The conservatives who tried to hold back the rise of the Caesarian autocracy were almost invariably plutocrats whose livelihoods were built on the Latifundia system--pretty much like the slaveholder class of the Antebellum South.
posted by Chrischris at 1:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


largely as the result of a lot of Cold War propaganda which leaves us only with the USSR and maybe China as models, and leaves us lacking even good history of those countries' revolutions.

I don't even really think Mainland China has a good view of most of it's revolution except for the last part where the Communists took over. Before that it was a bunch of British and other imperialists stomping on it, then fighting the Japanese, and then a bunch of warlords controlling their own statelets, then trying to be friends with Hitler, then fighting the Japanese again, and then a civil war.

And then of course, there's the Cultural Revolution.
posted by FJT at 1:50 PM on March 22, 2016


But long-term, the way to stop Trump and future prospective Caesars is simple: Make democracy work again.

It’s not rocket science: End the policy of blanket obstruction. Pass laws that have majority support rather than bottling them up in the House or filibustering them in the Senate. Seek out workable compromises that give each side something to take pride in, rather than promoting an ideal of purity that frames every actual piece of legislation as a betrayal. Stop trying to keep people you don’t like from voting, or gerrymandering congressional districts so that voting becomes irrelevant. Come up with some workable campaign-finance system that lets legislators pay attention to all their constituents, rather than just the deep-pocketed ones.

In short, don’t just follow the rules in the most literal way possible, grabbing every advantage they don’t explicitly forbid; govern in good faith, fulfilling to the best of your abilities the duties you have been entrusted with.

posted by MtDewd at 1:57 PM on March 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


Sangermaine >

Because these revolution fantasies ignore the bloody reality of revolution. It's easy to talk about "blowing the current system up", but achieving that is going to mean a whole lot of death and suffering for a lot of people.

Speaking only for myself, I'm not fantasizing about a revolution. I'm pointing out that the author of the linked article identifies a real problem (the dysfunctional political system) and a likely consequence (citizen frustration leading eventually to the embrace of a quasi-dictator) but either cannot or does not explain why that would be a bad thing, considering that the likeliest alternative would be a worsening neoliberal plutocracy. I'm not saying that "blowing the system up" is an especially appealing idea, in large part for the reason you identified, but is there some reason I'm missing that we should tolerate the vicious, predatory behavior of politicians who cut billions in public funds for necessary services more or less because they feel like it and they can? For how long should we permit them to loot the wealth of public institutions before we write a strongly-worded letter asking them to please stop, since that's basically the recourse we have at this point? Again, I'm not advocating a civil war or a seizure of power, I'm just pointing out that lots of people are already suffering horribly (debt, medical bills, murdered for walking while Black, unafforable housing, no jobs) and there are few clear or plausible tools at our disposal to stem the tide of oppression and wealth extraction.

And it's more likely than not that even if you blow the current system up, you're not going to get the glorious future you dream of. You're probably going to get an even worse system put in place by those strong enough to be left standing in the ashes of the old system, one that doesn't even try to maintain a pretense of democracy.

Again, I am personally not envisioning a glorious future whatsoever. I'm noting that the present is not great and it seems to be getting worse, at the behest of the most powerful.

I don't think it's obviously true that history tends toward justice, and I don't think there's any reason to assume that we can solve big and systemic problems through the internal mechanisms of that system.
posted by clockzero at 2:00 PM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


it rhymes with "malevolent trick-taker"

Benevolent dick Laker? Kobe?


Irreverent flick-maker (Tarantino)?
posted by Lyme Drop at 2:05 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


> What works is the slow, unsexy, uninspiring, slow march of reform by voting and political activism.

This isn't in any way a new strategy, and the left has been systematically attempting to do that for the last 30 years, and yet all our political and economic systems have moved far to the right even from Reagan's day.

As this article basically points out, if the other side can just cheat, all your hard work is basically meaningless.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:12 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


I believe that "how America will fail like Rome" has been a favourite American parlour game for at least a century and a half. It's a disease you inherited from the Brits.
posted by clawsoon at 2:16 PM on March 22, 2016 [30 favorites]


This isn't in any way a new strategy, and the left has been systematically attempting to do that for the last 30 years, and yet all our political and economic systems have moved far to the right even from Reagan's day.

That's because, frankly, conservatives have just been better at the "slow march of reform by voting and political activism" over the last 30 years.

They actually get people out to vote in midterms and state elections. They organize like a machine, they get their message out consistently and constantly. The Left has been consistently bad at all of this and so they get their asses kicked. It's when you do have that level of organization and dedication that you get victories, as with gay marriage.

The lesson isn't "slow reform doesn't work", it's "get better at it". Stop ignoring the boring stuff. Stop letting the Republicans dominate non-Presidential elections, for one. Conservatives care deeply about every level of government, but it sure feels like liberals just don't give a shit about anything but the Presidency and maybe Congress.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2016 [47 favorites]


"John Roberts has made his decision. He makes a yuuuuuuuuuge amount of decisions like me. Sometimes good ones. Sometimes bad ones. This is a bad one. Now let him enforce it!"
posted by Talez at 2:19 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sangermaine that's bullshit, there are countless grassroots congressional campaigns. What's actually happened is that the Democratic party (via the superdelegates system among others) is built to stomp out actual left leaning candidates. See for example, Ned Lamont vs Joe Lieberman. Or Sanders vs Clinton.
posted by wuwei at 2:23 PM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


Clockzero-you have plenty of recourse, but you're not using it. Go find the local office of the political party of your choice and offer to volunteer. From there you can volunteer to become a precinct head or a delegate to the county or state convention. Run for local office - school board or city council. Becone c a state assembly person or state senator. Run for county sheriff. There are lots of things you can do to change things but if we focus on only national politics then little gets done. The reason we're in the fix that we're in is because the Tea Party did those very things I mentioned - taking over their local party apparatuses, running for office, etc. They control the Republicans delegates and so they decide a great deal of the direction their party goes. You can make a change but you actually have to go change it rather than dream of something better.
posted by Docrailgun at 2:24 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sanders vs Clinton

I vividly remember their tight race for the 34th congressional district in '14, which Clinton narrowly won despite the huge number of lefties that turned out for that year's midterm elections
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sangermaine that's bullshit, there are countless grassroots congressional campaigns. What's actually happened is that the Democratic party (via the superdelegates system among others) is built to stomp out actual left leaning candidates. See for example, Ned Lamont vs Joe Lieberman. Or Sanders vs Clinton

"[I]t sure feels like liberals just don't give a shit about anything but the Presidency and maybe Congress."

"That's bullshit, what about the Presidency and Congress?!"
posted by Sangermaine at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


Lets get our terms straight. A revolution, as we are using the term here, means that the populace rises up against the government and tears it down. The American Revolution was not a revolution, as defined. It was a War of Secession, in which the American Colonial Governments gained independence from their parent government. Likewise, the Meiji Restoration was also not a popular revolution, since it was led by the Emperor.

In the case of America, Britain was not "The Government." It was a foreign power that had left its child alone, then when the child was grown up came back telling it when to go to bed, and demanding money.

In the case of Japan, the instigator was the highest legal authority in the realm trying to regain its power from a subsidiary government. I'm not sure what to call this one, but it's certainly not a popular revolution like France or Russia. You're comparing totally different phenomena.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 2:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


I keep hearing that "the American Revolution was successful" and I look at the history and see it wasn't much of a Revolution. 'America' was a group of colonies, with all of the local native people shoved away and run locally by an elite that was far more similar to the elites of the Motherland than most, who chafed under the authority of far-away higher-ups and rebelled against them, making a 'new nation' that was run by the same local elites, but with a bunch of pontifications they didn't really believe in the New Constitution they wrote to make themselves look good (thus encouraging other More Genuine Revolutions that failed... because they actually believed that shit). The Founding Fathers are vastly overrated and one of America's modern failures is that we stopped amending the Constitution and just stopped moving forward, replacing progress and enlightenment with "Original Intent".
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:27 PM on March 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


Worth pointing out that the American Revolution is badly misnamed. It was an independence movement, not a revolution. Historically, genuine independence movements (that is, movements that are not the proxies of belligerent nation-states) turn out way better than revolutions do.

That having been said...the American Revolution did not yield good results for the whole country. Notably, the parts of the U.S. that were more opposed to the revolution experienced far worse results for the enslaved peoples and classes who were not economically powerful enough to own slaves.

Wanting everything to be burned down and started over is evidence that your well has been poisoned by the people who have power and the inclination to use it to gum up the works, rather than solve real problems. Powerful interests have been steering the U.S. away from solving problems for many, many years. Most historical evidence suggests that incremental good-faith attempts to solve problems have the best chances of working out. But that's what this piece is about. Governing in good faith. Oppositional politics in bad faith literally destroys empires. And yes, the U.S. is an empire, as distinct from a coastal republic where there is generally far less fundamental disparity between regions.
posted by Strudel at 2:28 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen.

Successful for whom, exactly? White landowners and slaveholders?

On preview, what oneswellfoop and Strudel said.
posted by blucevalo at 2:31 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Revolutions do a tremendous amount of work, clearing out in months the accumulated shit of decades or centuries. People don't make them, the situation turns into a revolution because the old conditions are no longer tenable. When you get to the point that a revolutionary situation actually happens, you're past the point where arguing over reform or revolution is even meaningful. The old regime is discredited and power falls into the street. The alternative is, generally, bloody reaction, the forestalling of the inevitable by several more decades. The point is how you react when faced with a revolutionary situation. Too many would-be reformers fall back into the hands of "law and order" and defeat.
posted by graymouser at 2:33 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


The old regime is discredited and power falls into the street... to the military-industrial complex.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:40 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Frowner: It's perfectly possible to imagine revolutionary change a la the election of Salvador Allende, though. The US would have the advantage, in fact, in that if we built up a party structure and mass organizations and elected an Allende, we would not have the US coming in to crush the new administration since the US is us.

A couple of points in response:

In theory "the US is us", but in fact there are power centres within the state which might have the ability and will to push back against a broadly-based "democratic revolution". If the Armed Forces decided that it didn't like your revolution, for example, it's doubtful it would get far.

And: There are already organizations who are waaaay ahead of you on the path of building a parallel state that would make revolution easy. They are the churches. They've been working in an organized way for decades to accomplish a soft revolution. The left has a long way to catch up.

On the other hand, FDR already demonstrated that what you're talking about is possible.
posted by clawsoon at 2:43 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen.

Yeah, if it wasn't for that you guys could've ended up... Canadian. Scary!

I kid, I kid.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


John Ralston Saul does a great job of telling the story of the Canadian revolution (and failed counter-revolution in 1848) in his horribly-titled but well-written book, Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin.
posted by clawsoon at 3:02 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Alvy Ampersand: "Yeah, if it wasn't for that you guys could've ended up... Canadian. Scary!"

Not to derail too far, but I do wonder about this sometimes. What would an English-speaking North America without an American Revolution look like? Hard to predict of course, but I think it's incontestable that Canada looks the way it does today because of the existence of its southern neighbor.

Would there even have been Confederation without a strong centralized American state and the concomitant threat of American invasion? Or representative democratic government without the American model close at hand?
posted by crazy with stars at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2016


Vox has several graphs like this one, showing that frustration with democracy is increasing

Wherever that is, democracy's got to be better than whatever we've got now in the US.

what?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I subscribe to the school of thought that the Roman Republic destroyed itself by its greed for land and tribute"

Oh yeah. For late republic, I blame the meddling Clodius Pulcher to start.
posted by clavdivs at 3:13 PM on March 22, 2016


In short, don’t just follow the rules in the most literal way possible, grabbing every advantage they don’t explicitly forbid; govern in good faith, fulfilling to the best of your abilities the duties you have been entrusted with.

We've been offered the chance to go this route as a country: Obama has been the near-embodiment of this ideal.

And the Republican party has rejected it, because they don't care in the slightest bit about governing in good faith (even assuming there's anyone left in the party who'd know good policy from a week-old ham sandwich) more than they care about playing out their utterly deluded narrative in which any opposition is the reincarnation of Gay Warlock Joseph Stalin regardless of whether he/she governs to the right of Reagan.
posted by wildblueyonder at 3:40 PM on March 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


"Our awareness of our dissolving norms ought to be sharpened by the current presidential campaign. Donald Trump makes a lot more sense as a candidate when you realize that he’s not running for President, he’s running for Caesar."
-from the article.

I posited a similar analogy concerning Caesers first run at council and how the establishment refused Caeser a triumph but allowed him to run, he then maneuvered his way into the councils seat.
posted by clavdivs at 3:41 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen. For the most part, it's been blood, famine, and tyranny, followed by a glorious Restoration of nearly all that was before.

South Africa 1994
Poland 1989
Spain 1975
Botswana 1966
India 1947 (Yes, Partition. But it was a relatively short period of intense violence which led to a relatively stable and democratic government over most of the former British India territory)
Canada 1867/1931/1982

Revolutionary democratic transitions can and do happen.
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:42 PM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


And for that matter, the US also saw counterrevolutionary violence and the dismantling of multiracial democracy at the end of Reconstruction, replaced by a century of what can hardly be called free and fair elections in the US South.
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


> And the Republican party has rejected it, because they don't care in the slightest bit about governing in good faith (even assuming there's anyone left in the party who'd know good policy from a week-old ham sandwich) more than they care about playing out their utterly deluded narrative in which any opposition is the reincarnation of Gay Warlock Joseph Stalin regardless of whether he/she governs to the right of Reagan.

This is true. But it's important to point out exactly why this is true: not because Republicans are inherently craven or just plain evil people, but because modern Republicans (both voters and politicians) have been polarized by an entire generation of talk radio and other alternative media sources funded by rich white dudes. Because of this propaganda machine, GOP voters honestly believe the stakes are super-high for everything, hence "the spirit of the rules" is never more important to them than the outcome they want.

(I think we're in agreement here — just picking an aspect to emphasize.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 3:54 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Not to derail too far, but I do wonder about this sometimes. What would an English-speaking North America without an American Revolution look like? Hard to predict of course, but I think it's incontestable that Canada looks the way it does today because of the existence of its southern neighbor.

If the colonies hadn't rebelled (seceded) as a whole in the 1770s, the southern colonies would have done so later when Britain tried to stamp out slavery. ... And then maybe New York would be part of Canada. Oh shit. Philadelphia would be a border/crossroads city, and New Jersey would probably try to play Switzerland. ("Everything's legal in New Jersey.") I would kind of prefer this reality.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 3:54 PM on March 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


Not to derail too far, but I do wonder about this sometimes. What would an English-speaking North America without an American Revolution look like? Hard to predict of course, but I think it's incontestable that Canada looks the way it does today because of the existence of its southern neighbor.

Would there even have been Confederation without a strong centralized American state and the concomitant threat of American invasion? Or representative democratic government without the American model close at hand?


If there were a rebellion that were put down, I'd imagine that the pressure for parliamentary reform that culminated in what we know as the Reform Act 1832 would have been greater and would have either led to a super-parliament over all the NA colonies (as happened in Canada sort of) or to North American representation in the UK parliament, which of course was the original demand leading up to the US Revolutionary War.

And yeah, this is probably a full-on derail.
posted by tivalasvegas at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


His proposed solution in the article ignores the structural issues that create all the problems. He says:

It’s not rocket science: End the policy of blanket obstruction. Pass laws that have majority support rather than bottling them up in the House or filibustering them in the Senate. Seek out workable compromises.... Stop trying to keep people you don’t like from voting....Come up with some workable campaign-finance system....In short, don’t just follow the rules in the most literal way possible, grabbing every advantage they don’t explicitly forbid; govern in good faith.

The problem is that there is no incentive to do that in our current system and many incentives not to. Why give your ideological opponents, who all your supporters tell you are EVIL, a leg up by compromising with them when you don't have to? How many mefites would favor extending the courtesies above to Republicans in ways that make it easier for them to pass Republican policies?
posted by zipadee at 4:07 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Doug Muder blog post is well written, and I agree with most of what he says. It's interesting that this paragraph:
In short, don’t just follow the rules in the most literal way possible, grabbing every advantage they don’t explicitly forbid; govern in good faith, fulfilling to the best of your abilities the duties you have been entrusted with.
Pretty much sums up the hopes and fears I had in my own country's federal elections last year. The norm-skirter there was Stephen Harper, who had spent the better part of a decade minimizing the importance of Parliament and centralizing as much power as possible in the executive branch. I think Canadians made the right choice in that election, and still hope that Trudeau will be the guy who walks it all back, restoring the traditional importance of Parliament. I don't think the norms here are so damaged that they can't be restored, and I don't think the US is that far gone either.

But the problem in the US is often perceived differently, because of your country's built in balance of powers. They can lead to the illusion that the problem is with all politicians, and every single one of them is corrupt, reckless and partisan. But that isn't actually the case. The truth is that the vast majority of the norm skirting and brinksmanship in America comes from one political party. It's not a pox on all your houses situation, it's a pox on one particular house in particular, and Republicans need to come to terms with the fact that the dysfunction in their party is damaging American democracy before anything can be fixed. First admit you have a problem, Republicans. It's not everybody, it's just you.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:10 PM on March 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


Could Trump actually end up helping the right-wing in America? If the Republican establishment have to resort to some transparently anti-democratic convention fixing to stop him, or even start a new "GOP with the label sanded off" party and defect to it, either situation could lead to a collapse in support for the Republican party, and some much needed time in the wilderness where they're forced to sort themselves out.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:20 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Donald Trump makes a lot more sense as a candidate when you realize that he’s not running for President, he’s running for Caesar.

Donald Trump is a man who would be 70 when he becomes President. Caesar became consul in suo anno, the first year he was eligible, when he was 40. He was only 55 when he was assassinated – younger than Trump was when he was doing The Apprentice.

Julius Caesar was a more interesting human being than Donald Trump. He slaughtered and enslaved millions of human beings, amassed a fortune, started a bloody civil war, and made himself dictator for life. He also was the greatest general in ancient history, a formidable literary talent, made himself the glue that united two political rivals (the First Triumvirate), had an ambitious reform program, and genuinely wanted to be a man who was magnanimous enough to forgive his Roman enemies. (This last quality had a lot to do with his assassination.) Caesar thought he was going to be able to be the man to sew everything up and be done with it.

Donald Trump could never run for Caesar. Nothing he ever does will be as terrible or as great as what Caesar did. He's just a populist, racist demagogue. And he's frankly too old to ever attain any more stature as a politician.
posted by graymouser at 4:22 PM on March 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen.

LOL, "American exceptionalism," much? There was also the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. If you think these two are somehow imperfect compared to the American Revolution, consider that it took a war for the United States to abolish slavery, and another hundred years before civil rights for all citizens were codified into law.

Japan's Meiji Restoration was also a de facto revolution. Haiti had a revolution, there was the Iranian revolution, and let's not forget Indian independence.

You can't really argue that the American Revolution was "less bloody" considering the sheer number of First Nations ("native Americans," or "Indians") who were slaughtered by Americans during the 19th Century.
posted by My Dad at 4:25 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think the article is overly cynical. The President is as much a part of the American Republic as the Congress. The Roman Republic had a serious weakness in that appointing an executive required a broad suspension of the normal rule of law.

The constitution explicitly writes this weakness out of the American system. There is always an Executive, and as a consequence there is always the danger than the Executive will overreach. Likewise, there is the danger than the Congress will step beyond its mandate.

I think the argument about the end of the Republic is muddled by confusion over the power relations with the American Government. Instead of the arrangement suggested by the author, the Judiciary is meant to have a close relationship with the Executive. Weakening the Supreme Court benefits the Congress. To quote Federalist 78 (which the author refers to)
It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments
Where I think this article really goes off the rails is in its expectation that right action leads to good governance:
In short, don’t just follow the rules in the most literal way possible, grabbing every advantage they don’t explicitly forbid; govern in good faith, fulfilling to the best of your abilities the duties you have been entrusted with.
We would have been sunk a long time ago if that was what was required for progress. Rather, the system is designed specifically for the case where one grabs every advantage. The operation of the government requires skillful maneuvering for advantage by all of its departments.

Occasionally we are reminded of this, when someone miscalculates. Trump is symptomatic of another miscalculation. In November we'll see if it was only on the part of the GOP.
posted by ethansr at 4:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think the norms here are so damaged that they can't be restored, and I don't think the US is that far gone either.

Well you guys have a much clearer connection between responsibility and actual power; the PM can get things done legislatively that the President can only dream of, even if Congress is controlled by the same party as the White House. Our system is so muddled that everyone can sort of claim a mandate to do whatever it is they wanted to do, and so nothing gets done; whereas in Westminster systems the PM's usually got a clear program/vision/mandate and gets the power to implement it, except if there's a minority government or whatever.

I think Canada also has a more structured division of labor between the federal and provincial governments; in the US the federal government has typically implemented a variety of clunky work-arounds to get the states to do what it wants, like categorizing things as interstate commerce (desegregation of public accommodations), threatening to cut off spending on things (holding highway money unless states reduced their speed limits), starting new pots of money that are only available to states that implement reforms (No Child Left Behind, Race To The Top) and so on. Mind you I think these were mostly good and necessary things, but they were implemented by the weird workarounds and clever elisions that inevitably have to happen when you are working within the constraints of a constitution designed for a much different nation.

On the other hand, I shudder a little bit at the thought of what a US Constitutional Convention in the 80s would have produced. It definitely would've made Charlottetown look like, um, small potatoes.
posted by tivalasvegas at 4:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Current politics is always depressing, but we should try to have some perspective. The time for real despair was 2005, when Republicans were in charge of all three branches of government, Bush had won the popular vote, the program of plutocracy and foreign wars was in full swing, and it was hard to imagine a Democratic resurgence. (In retrospect, we underestimated the awesome scale of Republican incompetence.)

Now, stopping the rich, the religious right, and the Tea Party from getting everything they want is not exciting. But it's important, and the rage of those folks this election season is a reminder that they aren't getting the horrible things they want.

Republicans chose a policy of total obstruction in part because they saw the demographic writing on the wall: they knew it might be their last chance to enact reactionary policies. They've lost the battle for the next generation. But they still know how to organize and dominate local politics, so they can cause a lot of damage on their way out.

For those dreaming of revolution... if you can't win an election, you can't win a revolution either.
posted by zompist at 4:44 PM on March 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


if you can't win an election, you can't win a revolution either

To the extreme extent that elections in the US are about money, I'm not at all sure this is true. You can't win the US elections without billions of dollars, and frankly the will doesn't appear to be there to fix this. Upending the current oligarchy requires some kind of a radical change from below; if calling it a revolution upsets your sensibilities, then you can find something else to call it.
posted by graymouser at 5:04 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


You can't win the US elections without billions of dollars

House races, state government races, etc are not billion-dollar events. Pretty much only the Presidency reaches that level (opensecrets.org says 2008 election topped $1B for the first time).

Money is an issue, but its not the only issue. The reality is that Americans don't actually agree on what the solutions are. Maybe a majority agree there is a _problem_, but not where the answer lies.

Change can and does happen in elections. The right has been more successful at this than the left.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


The reality is that Americans don't actually agree on what the solutions are. Maybe a majority agree there is a _problem_, but not where the answer lies.

Isn't this also partly an artifact of a significant amount of money powering political media machinery?

I mean, I understand that we're talking about human beings here, and there's no way we'd all agree on problems and solutions even in the absence of Fox News and Talk Radio. But I don't think it's an understatement to say that one of the reasons we have the problems we do is that there are massive amounts of money being spent to shape people's basic political philosophies, and that factors into who gets elected and how.
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:38 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Undoubtedly it does, but the question of what it would be like without that is I guess unanswerable then. If the money is driving people's desires and solutions and philosophies, then what they would be like without it is a question mark.

I don't think a revolution is going to happen, though. Whatever might have caused it, people are too fragmented to come together against the "elite" or whoever, even if that would somehow produce a better outcome (which I absolutely do not think it would). Instead we see one disaffected group going to one extreme (Trump - authoritarianism and returning to good old white-male-dominated conservative "values"), another group going to Sanders and the idea of a shift to socialism and progressive values, and a lot of people who still basically want the status quo (some because it benefits them, some because it is "good enough", and others because they fear the alternative is much worse).

Or maybe we'll have some massive free-for-all revolution and tear each other apart (like the Civil War?).
posted by thefoxgod at 6:12 PM on March 22, 2016


ethansr: Where I think this article really goes off the rails is in its expectation that right action leads to good governance.... Rather, the system is designed specifically for the case where one grabs every advantage. The operation of the government requires skillful maneuvering for advantage by all of its departments.

I think you're underestimating the amount of right action that keeps the US system going, and overestimating the amount of advantage that different parts try to grab. Many countries have had beautifully designed constitutions which have turned into scrap paper because the political players really do "grab every advantage". The American system - any democratic system - would quickly collapse without large doses of voluntary deference: Deference to the procedures, deference to the winners of even close elections. Consistent failure to grab full advantage. Right action, as it were.

I think you see this better if you look at successful democratic systems which don't have the American division of power, or don't have a written constitution. Division of power and a written constitution aren't the important things keeping good governance going. A willingness of parties to be "her Majesty's loyal opposition" is. A willingness to not foment a coup or rebellion every time an election is lost is.

A constitution, even one as beautiful as the American constitution, wouldn't survive a decision by a major party to attempt a military coup.
posted by clawsoon at 6:23 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


thefoxgod: Or maybe we'll have some massive free-for-all revolution and tear each other apart (like the Civil War?).

But think about how much effort that would be, especially when there's so much good stuff on Netflix to binge-watch.
posted by clawsoon at 6:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hoping this isn't a derail, but Dan Carlin's Death Throes of the Republic series covers the Roman stuff. This is part of the Hardcore History series that comes up whenever there's a post about World War One. It's thanks to Dan Carlin that I understood what graymouser and thelonius and others are talking about.

Back on topic, I think the article is spot on that norms are very important to keeping an open system of government working. My feeling is that there's a significant portion of the population that is losing faith in democracy because they know they're no longer in the majority.
posted by Loudmax at 6:26 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


When I was twelve years old they put me on the throne.
When I was twelve years old, they gave me everything.
From the Oceanside right here and the northern hemisphere,
They gave me everything.

But now I'm thirteen and no one takes me seriously.
Now I'm thirteen and they're trying to take away control.
I don't know how stupid you all think I am,
But as sure as flowers grow along the Western wall,
Some heads are gonna roll.

(Mountain goats, young Caesar 2000)
posted by kaibutsu at 7:22 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


The US system has been basing itself on unsound decision polling from the beginning, with the two-party system, an extension of winner-take-all (Duverger's law). To save the American system, and perhaps improve it beyond recognition, all we would need to do is to allow everyone to vote straight ticket by party AND allow everyone to also vote for any individual they cared to, in separate columns on the same ballot (either one or both). Nothing new here, except the tally, and this is where it gets counter-intuitive for some. No party column should be added to a candidate column for the win, as they would wish (and require computers). A candidate either wins by a majority of party votes or individual votes, straight up. This method simply functions as a safety vote to allow multiple candidates to compete on one ballot without a sure spoiler. (It conservatively compares with voting for two candidates on the same ballot, based on the principle that they are tied in the voters mind, but allowing the election to decide). The problem to avoid is discouraging the need for parties while encouraging more candidates. Parties are a welcome source and filter of candidates, if they can't monopolize the process. The ultimate goal is reliable voting information to make sound decisions. The current US election system is gamed beyond our ability to even comprehend, not even by Nader or Sanders. It isn't just money, it's their ability to command attention in a rigged system that punishes the lack of unity going in.
posted by Brian B. at 7:31 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


'American Coup D'Eat' (2006)
posted by clavdivs at 7:58 PM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


And the Republican party has rejected it, because they don't care in the slightest bit about governing in good faith (even assuming there's anyone left in the party who'd know good policy from a week-old ham sandwich) more than they care about playing out their utterly deluded narrative in which any opposition is the reincarnation of Gay Warlock Joseph Stalin regardless of whether he/she governs to the right of Reagan.

This is true. But it's important to point out exactly why this is true: not because Republicans are inherently craven or just plain evil people, but because modern Republicans (both voters and politicians) have been polarized by an entire generation of talk radio and other alternative media sources funded by rich white dudes.

i think brad delong puts his finger on a deeper reason why beyond 'they don't care' and 'polarized by the kochs': "the key to understanding the moral and—I hope—political bankruptcy of the Republican Party lies in its transformation from a party of those who think they will have wealth, and so have something to gain, into a party of those who think they have had wealth of some sort, and so have something to lose. The first party is very friendly to enterprise, progress, growth, change, and creative destruction. The second is quite hostile to them: it is friendly to established property alone."
posted by kliuless at 9:14 PM on March 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


The American political system is in no way dysfunctional. A political system works when it provides for peaceful competition of interests and the continuity of external security and domestic tranquility regardless of that competition. A political system should actively suppress the achievement of any particular utopia because utopias are always idiosyncratic or individualistic visions.

The US system is quite functional by that critical standard. The things that a lot of short-sighted people most hate about the American political systems are actually bulwarks of its good function. Just as a for example, the day Republicans no longer represent most Evangelicals or Democrats no longer represent most New York and California multi-millionaires is going to be a very dangerous one for anyone invested in this country at any level beyond a homeless guy with a shopping cart (and he'll need to be a bit worried, too.)

Probably the most important thing that a system oriented to consensus and continuity needs is the ability to permit change agents to arise less consensus and continuity leave us in the ditch like a car with bad steering will do when there's a curve in the road. Sanders, Trump and Cruz are textbook examples of this ... Sanders and Cruz as dissidents against the centrists of their respective parties and Trump as a dissident against (some of the) pieties of both parties and the non-partisan elite.
posted by MattD at 9:38 PM on March 22, 2016


oh oops, direct link...

also btw, fwiw, re: ending up canadian...
Maya Jasanoff on the war of independence from the loyalists' perspective: "During three days in November 1776, this petition sat in Scott's Tavern, on Wall Street, to be signed by anyone who wished. A frank declaration of dependence, it completely lacks the revolutionary genius and rhetorical grace of our hallowed July 4 document. Yet in all, more than 700 people put their names to the parchment — 12 times the number who signed the Declaration of Independence."

oh and here's fukuyama a year and a half ago...
posted by kliuless at 9:58 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in the actual end of the Roman Republic, Tom Holland's Rubicon is rather good. Mary Beard's SPQR also spends a lot of time on this period.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:02 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also this thread needs a shout-out to the world's most successful and lasting revolution: the Glorious one of 1688. In a moment, the English did away forever with the risk of despotic, arbitrary or incompetent monarchs and elevated the rule of law and Parliamentary supremacy to irrevocable fundaments of the English (soon to be British) constitution. The American revolution 90 years later was pretty much just an extended reminder to the English and Scots that British abroad didn't sacrifice those essential rights. (Canada, Australia and New Zealand didn't need revolutions because that the Americans had established that corollary to the rights of Englishmen so well.)
posted by MattD at 10:09 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


the world's most successful and lasting revolution: the Glorious one of 1688

How about the Dutch revolt? It started in 1568, led to their independence in 1581, and the Netherlands have been sovereign ever since. In some ways it inspired the Glorious Revolution.
posted by foobaz at 12:19 AM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just a side note thanking the people above for the details about Rome. As a former "radical" who has been online for a very long time, I've been sort of monitoring the rise of the Right in a desultory but horrified way. First they grabbed AM radio, and then took the high ground on the internet very quickly and in huge numbers (Newt Gingrich was their prom king), but I never did my due diligence (homework) on the babblings of the more educated of them about "Oh, the horrors of Empire replacing the glories of the Republic". I did, however, always have the feeling that it was some kind of 3-card-monte code for a justification for "states-rights" and all the evil that phrase encompasses. Bingo, I guess.
posted by Chitownfats at 4:10 AM on March 23, 2016


Modern Egypt dates to either Muhammed Ali's capture of it in 1805, or its revolt against Britain in 1919. The Arab Revolt against the Ottomans led to the formation of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon etc., even though they're colonial creations they deserve to be counted. And Israel, of course, came into being following a revolt against the British Mandate. I think Israel and Egypt can be said to be successes; Jordan less so; Syria and Lebanon are basically failed states.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:24 AM on March 23, 2016


Not for nothing, but the fact that wealthy people are disproportionately influential in America does not make America an oligarchy.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 6:21 AM on March 23, 2016


clawsoon: You are perfectly correct that content or even the existence of a written constitution is secondary to the actions of the citizens of a republic. I didn't mean to imply otherwise by mentioning the constitution. Many of the most interesting features of American democracy are unwritten. For example, the Supreme Court gave itself the power to invalidate laws by declaring them unconstitutional.

Rather, I was trying to point out that the American system incorporates a quotidian Cesar as an inoculation against a more exceptional one.

Andrew Jackson was surely a better analog for Julius Cesar and the Republic survived him. Washington's election as the first president was certainly a case of rejecting inaction by appointing a war hero as an executive. Both Roosevelts ran much more rampant than anyone in recent memory.

I'm staunchly in Montesquieu's camp in that I believe that political systems can be considered more sophisticated as the variety of political forces that work against each other increase. A parliamentary system with proportional representation could be much more robust than the American system precisely because it disperses power more widely.

Similarly, he attributes the driving force of a republic to the a form of patriotism on the part of its citizens. I think this enthusiasm for the endeavor is closer to the quality that we are reaching for. If the Republic fails, it will be because the electorate is ambivalent about it.

This comes very close to what the author was originally claiming, with a critical difference. In my mind, electing Trump would be a participatory act within the operation of the Republic. Restraining an ascendant Trump would be more delicate task, but no less foreign to the operation of the Republic.
posted by ethansr at 9:00 AM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


re: the glorious 'bloodless' revolution, amy chua (pre-'tiger mom') had some nice chapters in _day of empire_ ('how hyperpowers rise to global dominance--and why they fall') on the dutch republic --> empire, starting with the spanish inquisition and expulsion of sephardic jews;* here's a relevant snippet from a review: "Chua, a Yale law professor, worries that America may now be slipping off the top perch for the same reasons that its predecessors did: Once 'a magnet for the world's most energetic and enterprising' people 'of all ethnicities and backgrounds', she says, the United States seems to be tipping toward intolerance and 'xenophobic backlash.' "

---
*who went on to amsterdam and, with their fellow (relatively tolerant) scots, huguenots and dutch, helped found a trading empire -- sending the spanish armada packing (will despots never learn?) -- and what later (GR) became british/american sea power (after WWI), eventual air superiority and then whatever has come next in nth generation 'warfare' if that's even what anybody is still calling it nowadays!
posted by kliuless at 9:17 AM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


oh and fwiw, there was something of a jacobite connection (not to be confused with jacobinism!) as the loyalists in part were motivated by: "the dreadful experiences of many Jacobite rebels after the failure of the last Jacobite rebellion as recently as 1745 who often lost their lands when the Hanoverian government won."

but why were the jacobites (and loyalists and spanish) on the 'losing' side of history?

political background: "Since the late Middle Ages, the Kingdoms of England and Scotland had been evolving towards a quasi-oligarchical or collegiate form of government in which the monarch was held to rule with the consensus of the land-owning upper classes."

jacobite ideology: "Jacobite ideology comprised four main tenets: The divine right of kings, the accountability of Kings to God alone', inalienable hereditary right, and the 'unequivocal scriptural injunction of non-resistance and passive obedience' " (+'rights' vs 'possession'-based contract law ;)

in short, my guess is that more and more people didn't want to be in thrall to social hierarchies, religions/ideologies and property owners that continually screwed them over. people believed (or saw or heard) that it didn't have to be that way and could be better, or as richard cameron said:
[I]f ye be not delivered, and made a free and purified people, we shall be no more a free corporation, nation, or embodied people, than the Jews are this day. I say not this to disquiet you, but to stir you up to take hold of Christ, and his standard on which it shall be written, 'Let Christ Reign'. Let us study to have it set up amongst us... When it is set up, it shall be carried through the nations; and it shall go to Rome, and the gates of Rome shall be burnt with fire. It is a standard that shall overthrow the throne of Britain, and all the thrones in Europe.
and the dutch legacy of religious tolerance in the US -- like the flushing remonstrance -- is still with us today. the tighter 'rich white dudes' hang on to power to the exclusion of everyone else, the more it'll slip away from their grasp, like all ancien régimes before them; now enter the jacobins :P
posted by kliuless at 10:45 AM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wait, I though Rome fell due to the lead plumbing making rich folks crazy.
posted by jetsetsc at 10:53 AM on March 23, 2016


Wait, I though Rome fell due to the lead plumbing making rich folks crazy.

Rome fell because the land-owning elites in the Western Empire cut separate deals with the invading Germanic confederations, rather than continue to prop up an increasingly useless and bankrupt central government. The Augustus stuff is about the change from the late Republic to the Principate, which was the apogee of Roman civilization rather than its fall.
posted by graymouser at 11:11 AM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


How about the Dutch revolt? It started in 1568, led to their independence in 1581, and the Netherlands have been sovereign ever since.

Wasn't the Netherlands conquered and ruled by the French during the Napoleonic wars?
posted by Diablevert at 12:17 PM on March 23, 2016


graymouser: "Rome fell because the land-owning elites in the Western Empire cut separate deals with the invading Germanic confederations, rather than continue to prop up an increasingly useless and bankrupt central government.

Here's 209 alternate theories. I like "Gout" the best.

The Augustus stuff is about the change from the late Republic to the Principate, which was the apogee of Roman civilization rather than its fall."

"If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. "
posted by Chrysostom at 12:49 PM on March 23, 2016


Donald Trump could never run for Caesar. Nothing he ever does will be as terrible or as great as what Caesar did. He's just a populist, racist demagogue. And he's frankly too old to ever attain any more stature as a politician.

Caeser! Nice guy... maybe too nice. Got stabbed! But I make a lot of money. A lot of money. Of course we have to build a wall. I'm great at building. It will get done. I'm winning the polls. You name a poll. I'm winning all the polls. We have to treat our vets better. I have such respect for the vets. I get a lot of support from the vets. Believe me. But Caeser... Not a smart guy to be honest. No really. He was low energy. Not as low as Jeb but still low. Believe me. I have a lot of energy. You would not believe how much energy I have.
posted by vicx at 3:14 PM on March 23, 2016


Of course we have to build a wall.

worked for Hadrian
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:22 PM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Stabbed in a theatre, Pompeys', Nice place, terrific seating.
posted by clavdivs at 4:27 PM on March 23, 2016


We can laugh, but it seems like something has got to give. As the article says, right now the Senate won't even consider the nominee of a sitting President. It just seems like the level of obstruction keeps escalating each cycle.

Let's consider the likeliest outcome of the election. Clinton defeats Trump in an election that is about everyone from moderate Republicans to the left refuting Trump. Meanwhile, the Democrats retake the Senate and eat into the Republican majority in the House by picking off suburban swing districts where moderates are turned off by Trump.

That leaves Democrats in the Senate to confirm Clinton's Supreme Court pick, but it also leaves the Republicans still with a House majority. Worse, that Republican House majority would be even more dominated by the Tea Party than it is now because the seats Democrats would have won would have come at the expense of moderate Republicans in suburban districts.

We saw a similar configuration from 2012-2104, and that brought us a government shutdown and showdown over the debt ceiling. Would we be heading towards more showdowns over the budget? A replay of the endless congressional investigations of the Clintons from the 90's (I guess those already started)?

I don't see how our government can go on like this. Eventually something is going to come up that needs to be addressed but both sides find it politically difficult to compromise over. For me, the most likely candidate would be a recession. Historically they seem to come every 8-12 years, so we'd be about due.
posted by eagles123 at 7:20 PM on March 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


we would not have the US coming in to crush the new administration since the US is us

I have met the enemy - he is us.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:44 PM on March 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Let the ripe age be suppossed of twenty-one years, and their period of life thirty-four years more, that being the average term given by the bills of mortality to persons of twenty-one years of age."

-Thm. Jefferson. Paris. Letter to James Madison, Sept. 6, 1789.
posted by clavdivs at 9:03 PM on March 23, 2016


The American Revolution was one of the most successful the world has ever seen.

Well, of the 25 British colonies in North America, 13 joined the Rebellion successfully but 12 did not. British North America ended up being partitioned into two (a familiar pattern from the British post-colonial playbook), and a massive diaspora of loyalist British subjects to the non-breakaway colonies caused a lot of hardship. And if you had dark skin, or were First Nations, you probably had a very different definition of "success". But yes, the post-Revolution turmoil was relatively contained, with only a few minor skirmishes and breakaway factions.
posted by meehawl at 5:20 PM on March 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


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