Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had been ruling that country with an iron fist for over three decades. He had prepared the way for a dynasty: his second son Qusay was his intended successor, and by all reports, Qusay was a chip off the old man’s block. Had things proceeded according to plan, Qusay would have become President in much the same way that Kim Jong-Un, and his father before him, became President of North Korea.
The obvious statement is that these are monarchies in all but name, perversions of republican forms. They claim legitimacy from the people, but all power is held by one man, and then his children. We call these governments dictatorships, Aristotle called them tyrannies.
We’ve seen this movie before.
Ancient Rome began as a monarchy, and then removed the monarch and replaced his duties with elected magistrates, elected from and overseen by the Senate, which consisted of the aristocracy. This system worked well until the pressures of governing overseas provinces created opportunities for military adventurism. The legions, drawn from the lower classes, became political institutions, on whose support a successful general could rely on when it was time to cut the Gordian knot of Senatoria conspiracy. This reached its head in the dominance of Julius Caeser and Caeser Augustus.
But Augustus did not establish a monarchy. He very carefully preserved republican forms, holding “elections”, while gathering for himself a combination of political, military, and religious positions that ensure his perpetual authority. On his deathbed, according to Suetonius, he invited the gathered senators to “applaud the comedy”.
Already power has become dynastic. The Crisis Augustus inherited is long gone, replaced by peace and order, but the combination of offices passes down to the next of kin. First Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson. Then Caligulia, Augustus’ great-grandson. Then Claudius, Augtustus’ grandson. Then Nero, Augusus’ great-great-grandson.
Nero had no heir of his body, so this would have been a fine time to restore the Republic. But the Romans had become inured to tyranny. Instead a quick succession of generals and pretenders squabbled for Augustus’ position, until Vespasian, a general lately in charge of suppressing the Jewish Revolt, established himself. He passed down power to each of his two sons in turn. The second of these, Domitian, was assassinated in 96 AD.
Domtian was also childless, and here was another opportunity to end the hidden monarchy. But they did not. Instead, the Five Good Emperors followed: who governed with wisdom, care, and benificence.
Rome, it seemed, wanted neither rex nor res publica. So the tyranny continued until Diocletian and Constantine established formal monarchy in the 4th century AD.
All of which means that in the next chapter of The Meditations of Caius Caligulia, our boy is going to get into his political theory. Look for it in the next issue of Unnamed Journal in January.