Thursday, I ended my post with the example of Caesar’s wife. This morning, after a night of simmering and fretting over the not-distant-enough collapse of Western civilization (God, I would love to be Chicken Little rather than Cassandra!), I started thinking of the conditions that obtained in 59 BC, when Julius Caesar, having finished a frustrating and not entirely successful consulship trying to work around his obstructive junior consul Marcus Bibulus—people would end up joking about events taking place “in the consulship of Julius and Caesar”—rode off to Gaul and his destiny.
The day he left, the Roman Republic had only fifteen years to live.
- Rome had a military presence in several different countries, and ruled several others where it didn’t. Wherever the eagles were—and often where the eagles weren’t—Roman commercial interests were. Rome’s economy was so heavily tied into foreign countries that disturbance at the furthest end of the nascent empire meant panic in Rome.
- Rome’s far-flung expansion of power included a series of disturbances in the Near and Middle East, including a couple of hostile regimes in what is now northern Turkey, Numidia and the Persian Empire, plus struggles for political power in Judea and dynastic strife in Egypt.
- In Rome itself, a massive political power shift had occurred over the last fifty years, moving more power out of the hands of the constitutional legislators—the Senate—into a small handful of tribunes who could only be blocked by one of their own, but who could block action by any other political body through their vetoes. This meant that the two major political blocs, the Optimates and the Populares, had to compete for control through ownership of individual tribunes.
- Because of the complicated, multi-tiered structure of Roman government, neither the Optimates nor the Populares could depend on tribunes alone. They also had to have a complicated patronage system of traded favors with other senators, foreign leaders and commercial interests, as well as means of motivating different sections of the Plebs in their favor. When one of the commercial interests, the tax collectors (publicani), was unable to make good on the tax amounts they had contracted for, Caesar had to slash the contracts to one-third of the original amounts in order to restore confidence in the Populares … which amounted to a government subsidy.
- To keep the poor under control, the Roman government had to subsidize massive quantities of grain. However, there was no public education system; illiteracy was rampant, and only the richest had the leisure to pursue education in philosophy, history or engineering.
- With no publicly funded health system, wealth and access to physicians were directly correlated.
- Over the last fifty years, many rural farming families had been driven off their lands and into the ranks of the working city poor, even into slavery, by wealthy people through latifundia farming.
- Since the conquest of Greece and the absorption of eastern Mediterranean kingdoms, many Roman celebrities made a fad out of Eastern religions; sexual license began to be openly celebrated, especially in the poems of Catullus. In the years before Caesar’s consulship, a series of religious scandals rocked the city, especially concerning the Vestal Virgins and the wife of the pontifex maximus (Caesar himself).
- The United States has a military presence in many countries, as well as exercising legal jurisdictions over several island countries. Wherever the Stars and Stripes have been carried by soldiers and sailors—and even in a few places where they haven’t—there are uniquely American commercial interests. America is so heavily tied into the world economy that a disturbance in a remote corner of the globe can cause a panic on Wall Street.
- America’s far-flung expansion of power is tied to a series of disturbances in the Near and Middle East, including hostile regimes in Iran and Libya, power struggles in the Holy Land and dynastic turmoil in Egypt.
- A massive power shift has occurred over the last sixty years, moving more political power away from Congress and into the hands of the Supreme Court, who can defeat any other political body but who can only be effectively blocked by enough of their own members. This fact has led both Conservatives and Liberals to try to own SCOTUS through the appointment process.
- But because SCOTUS doesn’t own all political power (yet), both Conservatives and Liberals depend for power on a complicated patronage system of traded favors with each other, foreign leaders and commercial interests. When one such bloc appeared on the verge of failing, the federal government bailed them out with public moneys.
- To keep the poor under control, the government regularly subsidizes food, rent and other forms of assistance. There is public education, but it has run into numerous problems that has reduced its effectiveness; as the costs of post-secondary education spirals out of control, students must either have their education funded by third parties or take out massive long-term loans.
- Healthcare is radically available, but its costs must be partially subsidized by either employers or the government, and can still become a crushing burden on the poor and middle classes.
- Over the last fifty years, many independent farmers have been driven off their lands and into the working classes by the increasing costs of farming, which can only be afforded by large conglomerates.
- Due to American overseas activities, many Eastern religious ideas have been made available for American celebrities to adopt as fads. Sexual license is rampant; homosexuality is celebrated in popular culture, especially in the songs of Lady GaGa. A series of sexual scandals have rocked the single largest faith community, a couple of which have attempted to implicate the Pontiff.