Caligulia, Dictatorship, and Monarchy

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.

File_001Domtian 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.

 

 

The Most Satisfying Words an Author Ever Writes…

“The End”, obviously.

I finished The Sword last week. I’ve put feelers out for Readers on my Facebook author page. I have the current draft in a Google Doc. After I’ve gotten some feedback, I’m going to begin the editing process. I can already think of some changes that need to be made.

To wit:

  • Some of the minor Characters (the Soldiers of the Foraging Detail, specifically) need a little more work.
  • The Character of Kip might require some revision.
  • Some bits and bobs to the last chapter.
  • A possible prologue.

But I’m not doing any of that right now. Right now the thing is lying fallow. Which brings me to questions of the Next Project. I’m torn between writing the next logical book after The Sword, which is a western (tentatively titled The Whorehouse), or writing the first book in a trilogy set in my most ancient of Fantasy realms, Cevalon. I’m leaning towards the latter, because I like the idea of starting a different product stream. The first book would be called The Lord of the Black Tower. 

Both books would be bigger and take longer two write than The Sword has. I started The Sword two summers ago and took long breaks from it, but the bulk of the writing has been done this year. I made it a goal to finish writing it in the first half of 2018. I achieved that goal.

There’s other business as well. In Unnamed Journal, I’ve been doing pieces for a project I conceived a while backThe Meditations of Caius Caliguilia. That is progressing at a reasonable pace and I may throw it out as a novella at some point. There’s other projects swimming about in my head as well.

This is all the beginning, is my point.

Unnamed Journal 3.3 is Pretty Rad.

I mean, look at this cover.

UJ cover 15

That’s Ankor Wat on fire from beyond space, and that’s not just there to look cool; it’s relevant to the content: specifically chapters 8 and 9 of the serial Ulysses and the Fugitive. All manner of espionage, aliens, and Burning Man ensues.

We also get Caligulia’s take on his love life, and some space terrorism. Oh, and Steve Martin saving the world from monster versions of his comedy albums with nothing but his trusty banjo.

Click here to read.

A Defense of Brutus?

Over at Signature Reads, a review of Barry Strauss’ The Death of Caesar. Strauss’ take is that the assassination, whatever the particular motivations of the various actors, was at root a defense of liberty and an attack on tyranny, and so ought be commended.

Now, I’ve written on this topic myself. Back in 2016, I argued the opposite, that the assassins, in striking Caesar down, made him more powerful than they dared imagine:

 Julius Caeser was assassinated at the beginning of a public meeting of the Senate by 12 Senators who had decided that Julius Caeser was a threat to the Republic, that his becoming Dictator  Perpetuus was the latest in a string of unconstitutional excesses that would end in Rome becoming an authoritarian state.

In this, they were almost certainly correct.

But in assassinating them, they made that state certain. In assassinating Caesar, they made him a martyr, and themselves – and the cause they espoused – the enemies of good order. Within a few years, the Roman imperium is divided among Caeser’s heirs. Within 20, Octavian has legally obtained from a tame Senate all the authority that matters. And the Roman people stood mum as long peace obtained.

If Caesar had served out his time, even as Dictator Perpetuus, elections might have followed. Octavian, at the time of Caesar’s death, was a nobody, who became important precisely because he was Caesar’s heir. Now, it may be that Caesar would have pushed him up the cursus honorum during that long dictatorship. But the opportunity to seize power and exercise it ruthlessly happened because Caesar became a god in death. Shakespeare has Caesar’s ghost haunting Brutus and Cassius for a reason.

Strauss apparently acknowledges this:

And yet Strauss concludes that the conspirators were heroes after all. “If they didn’t save the Republic, they saved republicanism.” If they hadn’t acted, Strauss argues, Caesar and his successors would have felt no threat to their power. But they did act, and because they did, “as long as men and women remember the names of those who killed Julius Caesar, dictators will not sleep safely.”

And to be fair, only about a third of Caesar’s successors died in their beds. But this did not prevent the Empire from perpetuating. However many Caesars were stabbed, there was always another eager to take his place, and a Praetorian Guard happy to crown him. The assassins missed their mark; the problem was not Caesar. The problem was that the wealth of the Mediterranean world drove a wedge between the Senators and the People. Neither could trust the other, both handed power over to a strong man rather than let the other win. And so liberty died.

As it happens, Caius Caligulia will have some thoughts on this topic in his Meditations. Watch this space.

File_001
This is happening.

Madness in Great Ones Must Not Unwatched Go.

“And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming…”

I don’t know if it’s my subconscious ruminating on the debased state of American politics, or just the idle curiosity to re-watch a train wreck, but I found myself viewing, for the second time, the 1979 film Caligulia with Malcolm McDowell on Netflix. I only got an hour or so into it before I decided that it was just as bad as I remember it, and finally put my finger on the reason for its badness. It’s not the sets, or the script, or the acting. It’s not even the dull pornography. It’s that the film has no moral center. There is no one, not one person in this refuse worth caring about. Monsters and fools alone abound.

Well, it worked some kind of perverse inspiration in me, because I suddenly have the yen to write another book. I want to get elbow-deep into this boyish monster, and plumb the human depths of his tyranny. I’ve lined up the books I must read:

  • Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesers, because it’s been sitting in my bookshelf and I’ve never had the chance to really dig into it.
  • I, Claudius and Claudius the God. I’m familiar with the BBC series, of course, but I’ve got old copies of this, too. Been wanting to read them.
  • Camus’ Caligulia play. A friend of mine read this in college, and gave me the gist of the twist: Caligula, far from being insane, succumbs to the ennui of supreme power and seeks to “make the possible likely.” I like the premise of that, and it’s about time I read it.
  • The obligatory myth-debunking scholarly biography.
  • Possibly Allan Massie’s Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor.

I’m interested chiefly in the widely-reported notion that Caligulia believed himself a god. The Roman Empire was a time of great religious flux, as the old Republican pantheon gave way to thrilling cults from the East: Isis, Mithraism, Manichaeanism, Gnosticism, and Christianity. So I’d like to shift this most notorious emperor from Crazy to Self-Deifying.

This will naturally be a long project. Check this space for details.