It’s getting way too easy to make comparisons between the current U.S. and the late Roman Republic. Sure, they’re not spot-on. But maybe someone there in Washington ought to be reading some Plutarch.
Today in the NYT novelist Ed Harris points to a critical moment in the pre-Empire years, in 68 BC, when pirates attacked Rome, burned a fleet of ships and kidnapped a pair of senators. The city gave unprecedented power to Pompey to track the pirates down (a “war on terror,” Harris says), suspending what had been a vigorous balance of power and system of checks and balances. It took a few more years, but it was disputes between the equally power-hungry Pompey and Julius Caesar that ultimately led to civil war, and the replacement of the democratic Republic by a military dictatorship.
Harris points to last week’s GOP passage of new terror laws as having striking similarities to this relatively obscure moment in Roman history. Suspension of fundamental rights given by the U.S. Constitution, and shifting of some judicial power to the executive, without any oversight. A smart move, right? Because, right, what was that that absolute power does?
Ugh. At least we’ve got some good orgies to look forward to.