Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko

The Fall of the Roman Republic: A Narrative and Analytical Comparison with the Contemporary Conditions of the United States of America — (Part 8 of a Series)

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is the Associate Editor for The St. Croix Review.


In the previous installment of this essay we laid out a framework for understanding the idea of arbitrary power in republican systems of government. By arbitrary power, I refer to any exercise of political authority that is in violation of constitutional restraints or regulations. We might presume that arbitrary power should not occur in the ideal circumstances of republican governance, and that any exercise would be detrimental for its continuation. But a survey of the history of republics belies this conclusion. All republican governments feature instances of arbitrary power. The extent to which an elected governor or body can stretch the limits of constitutional prescription is highly dependent on popular consensus and the plausibility of a popular mandate. If the executive retains a legitimate mandate, he can venture exercises of power beyond the possibilities of an executive without such a mandate. A republican system enters a stage of crisis when a government or ruling elite ventures arbitrary power not to satisfy a popular mandate but to illegally preserve its hold on power. If the rulers cannot persuade a critical mass of the population by propaganda appeals to the necessity of the arbitrary action, they provoke the escalatory effects of exercises of arbitrary power. In such conditions, some or all of the republican processes are suspended and the opposing factions fight by means of extra-constitutional force. In this installment of the essay we will complete the analysis of the Roman and American republics promised previously. As the culminating cause of the fall of the Roman republic, we will probe in some detail the intricacies of the events that finally led to the Augustan dictatorship. In our analysis of the Roman figures, the reader must bear in mind that exercises of power are rendered arbitrary not so much by the substance of the event but by the persuasiveness of the actor. The fact that a constitution has been violated is nothing to the perception that a constitution has been violated. This is not casuistry but a necessary insistence of realpolitik. A state facing systemic failure like the Roman state has little to do with objective claims of constitutional legitimacy, but is instead subject to the more fundamental forces of personal charisma, fortune, and audacity. All power participants of the late republic claimed fidelity to the constitution. All claims were dubious. The American republic is entering such conditions, and, just as the Roman republic from the time of Tiberius Gracchus was “post-constitutional,” so is the American republic from the time of Donald Trump.

Cause IV: Analysis of the Roman and American Republics

No Reform from Within

In previous installments of this essay we dealt at length with the Gracchan reform movement that commenced with the election of Tiberius Gracchus as tribune in 133 BC, and ended with the suicide of his brother Gaius Gracchus in 121 BC. The failure of this movement was due to its confinement in legislative procedures. The entire saga of the Gracchan movement furnishes grave lessons in the perils of illegitimate deployments of power. As tribune, Tiberius Gracchus was subject to long-established and highly explicit constitutional prerogatives and restraints. The definite nature of his office worked decidedly against him in his duel of brinkmanship with the Roman senatorial elite. Tiberius was elected tribune in 133 BC determined to force through land reform legislation for the Roman rural smallholders at all costs. To this end, he ventured a series of arbitrary power moves. When his fellow tribune Marcus Octavius (a patrician hack) vetoed his legislation, Tiberius filibustered the entire administration of the Roman state until his colleague rescinded. When Octavius refused to do so, Tiberius summoned an unprecedented plebeian assembly to remove him from office.1 Tiberius further broke long-standing precedent (if not law) by dabbling in foreign affairs (generally, the role of magistrates and provincial governors) and by standing for immediate re-election as tribune. It was this final action that proved intolerable for the senatorial elite. On election day, a mob of senatorial supporters clashed with the supporters of Tiberius on the Capitoline Hill. In the resultant clash, Tiberius and over 100 of his supporters were killed.

Why did this not lead to immediate civil war? The answer lies in the essential weakness of Tiberius’ position. For several decades, the senatorial elite had been corruptly interfering in the election of tribunes in the concilium plebis. Such machinations surely represented an instance of arbitrary power since patricians legally had no right to participate in the election of tribunes. But though this exercise of power was constitutionally dubious, it was also sequestered from public scrutiny. Tiberius felt himself justified in pushing the limits of tribunician power because the Roman elite had already engaged in grave constitutional violations. But Tiberius ventured arbitrary powers that were highly public and dramatic, and paid dearly for violating the long-understood customs and regulations of his official position. In deployments of arbitrary power, the ruling elite always retains the ability to exercise illegitimate power by passive or underhanded means. This ability is bolstered by its domination of media and propaganda functions. In the immediate aftermath of the death of Tiberius, the senatorial elite smeared him as a demagogue who hated Roman institutions. This charge was potent enough to prevent an aggregate of the “urban poor” faction from supporting the tribunate of his brother Gaius Gracchus. Fundamentally, meaningful reform of the Roman state by way of the tribunate had become impossible after the death of Tiberius, though it took two whole generations for this to become apparent. The tribunate office was a standing testament to the integrity of the Roman constitutional order, and the Roman senate was the symbol of that order. There was an inherent contradiction in the populist acceptance of the constitutional prerogatives of the tribunate and the increasing denial of the prerogatives of the magistrates and the senate. The political system itself was inadequate for the remedial necessities of the aggregate Roman populace. But where was power to be found if not within the system?

Gaius Gracchus, grafted with significant political capital from the martyrdom of his brother, was not yet the man to affect a revolutionary breakthrough. This was less a fault of the man and more the fault of the times, and Gaius displayed a nascent understanding of the need for paramilitary protection if he was to survive the opposition of the Roman senate. Generally, Gaius remained more within constitutional bounds than did his brother during his tribunate (123-122 BC), and this momentary restraint led to some pivotal and lasting legislative achievements.2 But the senate was entirely implacable on the issue of land reform, and managed to force Gaius into uncomfortable political association with non-citizen Italians. If the defeat of Tiberius represented the triumph of the senate’s institutional prestige, the defeat of Gaius represented the triumph of its propaganda. The Roman elite attacked Gaius as an enemy to the Roman urban population, and Gaius failed to meaningfully broaden his support within the city itself. The senate exploited a riot to issue the Senatus Consultum Ultimatum that authorized the consuls to do whatever was necessary to “ensure the survival of the state.” This took the form of an extermination of all Gracchan supporters in the city and the issuance of an arrest warrant for Gaius. Gaius committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the senators. Here, again, we see the significant advantages wielded by a ruling elite in the deployment of arbitrary power. The Ultimatum was a legitimate function, but to issue it on the basis of a single incident was highly dubious. Nonetheless, the veneer of legitimacy allowed for a truly disproportionate response as Gaius and over 250 of his supporters died in purges. Besides the lasting legislation, the tribunate of Gaius demonstrated the duplicitousness of the senate’s claims. Gaius, working within the constitutional framework, was killed by a brutal exercise of power apparently justified by the same framework. With the death of Gaius, the demands of the Roman middle factions were set against the constitution itself.

The System Is What It Does

The death of a political system of a state proceeds only when the system itself is deemed inadequate for necessary remediation. Haphazard instances of corruption rarely generate such an alteration because there is latent faith in the ability of a system to correct its own excesses. The turning point in any revolutionary endeavor comes only when a factional coalition is convinced that it is not hostile elements within a system that stymie reform, but rather the nature of the system itself that impedes remediation. A ruling elite has a wide berth to abuse the system, and potentially can do so indefinitely if no insurgent movement rejects the integrity of the system. In the historical dialectic of republics, we ought to speak of an inevitable corruption of “representative government” by a gradual process of delegation. In Part III of this essay, we spoke about inevitable legislative obsolescence. A point is reached in the course of republican government when the representative authorities have ceded so much function to non-representative administration or bureaucracy that there is no means for constitutionally-sanctioned procedure to reclaim the authorities of origin. That point is reached at different stages by different republics. Some republics are fleeting, and overthrowing them is a relatively straightforward matter. Other republics abide for a wide expanse of time, and steward the state effectively for such a time. But the trade-off in “good republics” comes when the accumulation has finally corrupted the constitutional safeguards. The pollution of these republics is deep-rooted, and can only be remedied by traumatic conflagration. The elite classes of such late-stage republics are formidable because they retain the luxury of wielding determinative power under the guise of upholding constitutional procedures. They inevitably claim to be the true upholders of “representative” government, all while covertly abusing the very constitutions they claim to champion. The constitutional system becomes broken, but this is not readily apparent. Any attempts by an insurgent movement to enter the system and push for excessive power within it are easily rebuffed because such exercises are always more open and blatant than the excesses perpetrated by the ruling elite. It is at this stage that an insurgent movement has no choice but to reject the validity of an implacably corrupted political order.3

This necessarily hits at a deeply distressing fact of politics and human nature for idealists. It is not the form of government that is in question but the effect of governance. In our own time in the modern West, we have passed through an era of definite liberal idealism. “Democracy” or “the republic” is a sacred form of government and cannot be condemned on the basis of its effects. No matter that the actual democratic procedures are corrupt, so long as the appearance of democratic government persists, the ruling elite can deploy the moral claim of “righteous government” as a cudgel against insurgent reform. The truth is that all political orders must be judged by effects and never merely on moral appeals to form or construction. The man who says “a republic is the only correct form of government” is a fool and must answer for the litany of disastrous republics littered through history. Similarly, the man who declares “a monarchy is the only proper form of government” is rightly dismissed, for he has no interest in the effects of particular monarchs. No form of government is infallible. Any government which fails to safeguard the interests of its sustaining citizens is bad government, and has no legitimacy to rule. This might be a democracy, a dictatorship or an oligarchy.4 History passes through various phases of “sacrosanct” political orders. The truth is that all claims to infallible political “forms” are transitory, and should be rejected as valid arguments for government.

But surely one could argue that if it is not the form of government that should be held inviolable, what objective standard is possible? Would this not mean that anyone with grievance could declare the existing government illegitimate and be justified in going about its overthrow? Not so. We have dwelt so extensively on factions because, if form is to be invalidated as an appropriate defense of government, there must exist a hierarchy of factions that renders some political grievances legitimate and others discardable. It is those factions, or those segments of the population, that perpetuate the sustained prosperity and cultural cohesion of the state that are legitimized to topple a government if it fails to remediate their grievances. Naturally, such an assertion only invokes greater dissension. We can nearly all agree that a “faction of murderers” who wish to do away with the prohibitions on murder would have no legitimate claims, and we justify this because murder is a horrific breach in the stability and prosperity of individual citizens, and the state as a whole. To take the opposite extreme, we agree that soldiers, veterans, farmers, and other “necessary” factions are to be especially rewarded and aided by the state for their outsized value to its stability and prosperity. But the truth of the matter is that there are always individual actions and societal behaviors that are practiced broadly, and are to be rewarded in the same manner. Law-abiding married couples with children represent a superior societal faction to those who are unmarried because children are necessary for the state to persist. Here again our reigning liberal idealism, with its severe hesitancy to judge in hierarchical terms, must take a hit. A law-abiding single person, employed but living out a hedonistic lifestyle, has legitimate claims on the basis of his employment. But his hedonism bears a purely personal benefit, and must be judged irrelevant (or worse) to the prosperity of the state. If such a person desires the state to benefit his hedonism, he makes an illegitimate factional claim. All political claims must be judged by this standard. Naturally, the complexities of life render such assessments difficult and contentious, and we hardly deny that certain trade-offs are inevitable. A childless person working as a doctor may benefit society sufficiently without children, but a childless person working a redundant administrative job does not. It would be far better for such a person to bear children than maintain employment of marginal value.

A liberal of our times would here accuse us of de-humanizing and retort that such bland assessments of value represent a threat to individual freedom. This is hardly the case. No government has a right to be punitive against any individual behavior that does not violate law. We are speaking of behaviors that a proper government should explicitly benefit and promote by positive incentive. There are two tiers: the law prescribes which behaviors are impermissible to individuals, and good government promotes behaviors which are desirable for individuals. All individuals are free to live within the bounds of the law as they wish. The role of government is to direct individual wishes, by accreted benefits alone, to live in the manner that upholds the maintenance of its prosperity and stability. This need not necessarily be a dry assessment of “rational” needs. The people need life and liberty, but they also require those aesthetic causes which produce loyalty to a state or movement beyond material assessments. The idea of “America” is not only one of potential material prosperity but also a romantic or aesthetic conception of political life. Both needs, the material and the aesthetic, are duties of the state to promote and uphold.

The Marian Interlude

After the death of Gaius Gracchus, two actualities were evident: 1) that the Roman EMF (elite minority faction) had such a dominance of the established methods of power nominally within the Roman constitutional system that any attempts at remediation were not possible through the system, and 2) that the EMF would not hesitate to persecute or murder leading opposition figures who lacked an extra-constitutional means of protection (i.e. a paramilitary). The solution to the first dilemma could only be resolved by a more formidable political appeal. The truth of the Gracchan movement was that its aims and orientation were too identified with the factional grievances of the Roman rural smallholders. When the senatorial EMF eliminated the Gracchi, the other non-patrician factions of the republic (the urban workers, the equites, the Italian non-citizens) were not willing to venture revolutionary action in response. The factional base of the “populist” movement required a broader coalition of support, not only in numerical terms but also in intensity of investment. The factions had to embrace the likelihood of violent conflagration with the EMF. Fomenting this increased willingness was the solution to the second dilemma. It was not enough to have a plurality of the factional coalition willing to vote for a populist platform, because the voting was within the systemic control of the EMF. It was necessary to raise up a militant faction within the coalition that could counter the EMF deployments of force. For two decades this was not possible. The EMF domination of the selection of magistrates ensured that no officer with military authority possessed the will to combat the regime. The career of Gaius Marius testifies to the aimlessness of the post-Gracchan generation. Marius was a blatant populist, and his career was difficult to germinate amidst persistent establishment opposition. He served uneventfully as tribune in 119 BC and as praetor in 115 BC. Serving in Hispania as pro-praetor, Marius avoided controversial ventures and gained a reputation for military competence. As a result of this reputation, the senate was neither able to prevent him from obtaining a command in the Jugurthine War in 109 BC, nor to block his election to the consulship in 107 BC. As consul, Marius’ crucial innovation was in raising up new legions among the Italian allies. It is impossible to know whether this was shrewd political insight, or mere military pragmatism necessitated by Rome’s strained manpower reserves. Regardless of motivation, Marius had discovered the reform that was to lead to the death of the republic, and the eventual rise of the Roman military dictatorship. His unprecedented string of consulships from 104-100 BC was possible only because of the dire threat of the Celtic invasions, but even with the state in crisis the EMF refused to countenance the idea of land reform.5 Marius might have made a bid for absolute power on his terms after his victory over the Celts at the Battle of Aquae Sextae, but he instead chose to ally with the tribune Saturninus in an effort to reward his legionaries with land through the normal legislative means. This proved unwise since the senate had already demonstrated its willingness to dispense with tribunes by arbitrary means. Saturninus was no Gracchus, and entirely lacked the charisma and aura of nobility that had made the brother tribunes the greater threats to the regime. His thuggish tactics within the city alienated many populist supporters, and he was murdered in 100 BC with no immediate consequences to the regime. The land issue remained pressing, and the claims of the veterans were now added to the claims of the Roman smallholders. The tension persisted for a decade and civil conflict broke out only with the murder of the tribune Livius Drusus in 91 BC. After his murder, the Italians mutinied and inaugurated the War of the Allies.

It is impossible to assess whether Marius really had the means to overthrow the regime in the aftermath of the Celtic war, but it is almost certain that he should have attempted it. Apparently, Marius had enough lingering faith in the tribunate and the existing constitutional framework to sequester his reformist efforts in established procedures. His fatal hesitancy at this stage likely explains his later recklessness in 86 BC. Had Marius acted decisively, it is possible that the republic would have died two generations before it did, and much bloodshed might have been avoided. His failure broadcasts a general pitfall for revolutionary movements that many later successful revolutionaries avoided.6 Marius ought to have secured a pro-consular command in Gaul (where he would have commanded an Italian force outside the city of Rome) instead of standing for a sixth consulship in Rome in the midst of the civil unrest of Saturninus’ tribunate. He could have marched into Rome under the pretext of terminating the senatorial tyranny and of quelling the excesses of Saturninus. In any event, his docility doomed him to ten years of political exile, and left for the pro-establishment Sulla to venture the inaugural step of taking control of the city by military force. Revolutions are never kind to half measures, and Marius was to pay for his hesitancy by suffering the historical eclipse of Caesar.

Sulla: The Senate’s Dictator

Marius was awarded a command in the War of Allies in 88 BC but his political stock was depleted, even among the Italian legionaries. The 80s were to be Sulla’s decade, and here again we must speculate as to personal motives. Sulla’s shrewd courting of the senate (by denouncing land reform in existing territories), the Italian legionaries (by promising them land from the Pontus campaign) and the rank-and-file population (by winning victories in Italy and Anatolia) set him up splendidly for a personal dictatorship with his final defeat of the Marian forces in 83 BC.7 But Sulla’s pro-senatorial sympathies were sincere and deep-rooted. Unlike Marius, Sulla was not a novus homo but neither did he originate from ultra-patrician stock. He had numerous patrician senators executed during his dictatorship (83-80 BC) for having opposed him in his rise to power. Whatever personal vendettas he pursued against individual senators, Sulla’s politics were firmly in line with the EMF. It is ironic then that Sulla’s actions were to prove the decisive undoing of the senatorial EMF and its dominance of Roman policy. After the War of Allies, the EMF recognized that it was no longer viable to keep up the pretext of constitutional government and arbitrarily do away with meddlesome tribunes. The Italians, even without Marius, had demonstrated a willingness to topple the government by force, and it was only by investment in a sympathetic magistrate that the senate could forestall populist remediation. Sulla was not ideal in this regard. His own march on the city of Rome in 88 BC (for the purpose of retaining the Pontus command) gravely dismayed many senators, and it was only out of necessary expediency that the senatorial elite threw in their lot with Sulla. Though Sulla claimed to be the savior of the republic and the old order, his own actions were so unprecedented that the claim was risible even to his sympathizers. Sulla combined complete devotion to EMF policy with totally arbitrary personal conduct, and so obliterated the pretense of “upholding the constitution” on which the senate had staked its claims to greater legitimacy. It would be satisfying to believe that Marius (and others) had provoked Sulla and the EMF into such obvious displays of arbitrary power by strategic provocation, but the truth is that Sulla’s actions were his own. Sulla remains a historical paradox, so rarely has a man acceded to the pinnacles of power by unauthorized means only to prove so zealous a defender of the established order. In any case, it was Sulla’s actions and not his politics that were to prove the enduring model for his ambitious successors.

The Glory of Caesar

Sulla stepped down from the dictatorship in 80 BC to spend a brief retirement before his death in 78 BC. It is unlikely that he would have been able to maintain any real stability had he lived longer. The unpopularity of senatorial policy with the non-urban populace was so pronounced (and the sincerity of the EMF appeals to the constitution so discredited) that revolutionary resistance to the regime was inevitable. After Sulla, it was obvious that the republican government was terminal, and that some other form would take its place. But it was an open question how drastic of a departure the new form would prove from four and a half centuries of republicanism. The inherent delicacy in the art of arbitrary power determined that any ruthless or sensational attempt at a coup would still fail as a “violation of norms.” The attempted coups of Lepidus in 77 BC, Sertorius in Hispania in 73 BC, and Catiline in 63 BC, all demonstrated the terminal vulnerability of the state. But each of these attempts failed because they were too flagrant in their proposals for reform, and as yet too removed from the old established constitutional procedures. Elections between the death of Sulla in 78 BC and Caesar’s dictatorship in 48 BC continued with the same degree of corrupt patronage as before, but the offices themselves no longer represented the real source of power in the waning republic. The tribunate (due to Sulla’s crippling reforms and popular apathy) was a dead office, and even the consuls and praetors had diminished prestige and authority. Instead, both the popular and administrative sources of power lay in provincial appointments and proconsular commands. Pompey, for instance, served as consul three times (in 70, 55, and 52 BC) but his real influence and popularity was generated by his military commands.

The senate largely resigned itself to these conditions, and accepted the need to cultivate support among former magistrates, and raise up enough competing strongmen that no single individual commander could gain too much power and push through aggressive populist reforms. The idea of the triumvirate of 60 BC was an attempt to stabilize the conditions of the state under a fragile compromise between the patrician financier Crassus, the politically undefined (but popular) Pompey, and the populist Caesar. Caesar had intentions for dictatorial power probably from adolescence, but he recognized the need to attain a military reputation, especially as his chief rival in any bid for a dictatorship would be the illustrious (but overrated) Pompey. The disposition of the senatorial EMF during this period is best exemplified by Cicero, who, as a novus homo, was himself a beneficiary of the populist shifts in recent decades, despite his fidelity to patrician policies. Cicero accepted that the republic had fundamentally changed into a quasi-military state, and that the senate no longer had the leverage of institutional prestige. To this end, he sought to slander dangerously radical magistrates (i.e. Catiline and later, Antony) and encouraged senatorial support for lukewarm magistrates who might be amenable to senate policies (i.e. Crassus, Pompey, and, as he erroneously thought, the young Octavian). The figure who transcended these efforts at triangulation was Caesar. Caesar recognized that the lingering sympathies for the senatorial cause among Rome’s urban population was only skin deep, and to this end he spent lavishly in the city on gladiatorial games, festivals, and grain relief to secure the support of the one major “popular” faction that had yet refused to accept the death of the republic. The senate accepted Caesar’s military assignment in Gaul as a means of quarantining him from the city, but Caesar’s military ability only ensured rapid increases in his fortune, prestige, and popularity. In the final move of desperation in 52 BC, the senate declared Pompey “perpetual dictator,” and ceded him all administrative power in the state. Unlike Marius, who whiffed his chance for mastery of the state, and Sulla, who was content with amiable retirement, Caesar entered the Italian peninsula with his legions in 49 BC with the intention of erecting a revolutionary political order. This he managed, thanks to the ineptitude of Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. The carcass of an unworthy “republic” had rotted into history.

The period 44-27 BC is secondary in the assessment of the “death of the republic” because the pivotal revolution had already been accomplished by Caesar. The assassination of Caesar in 44 BC was less an attempt at the restoration of old senatorial policy dominance (the possibility of which had died long before), as much as an attempt to install a cabal of senators as military dictators. A man like Cassius was simply an envier of Caesar, hardly a patrician hardliner. Even Brutus was unclear on what “restoring the republic” meant after the upheavals of the previous decades. The only consequential struggle in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination was to determine his inheritor, and only Antony and Octavian had a real chance at this claim. The elimination of the conspirators (Brutus, Cassius etc.) and the war with Pompey’s son Sextus, waged by the second triumvirate (Antony, Octavian, Lepidus) amounted only to nuisances next to the pivotal struggle between Antony and Octavian for the sole dictatorship. When Octavian provoked Antony’s suicide after his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, the chance for stability under a single military dictator was realized.

Assessment of the Fall

The long saga of the death of the Roman republic produced an abundance of interpretation in two thousand years of generations in the West. The historians of the early empire (Tacitus, Suetonius) were members of the disenfranchised old senatorial elite, and it is from them that we receive the colorfully lurid accounts of the emperors of the first century AD. Suetonius drily proclaims that Caesar “deserved assassination” and his account of the first “twelve Caesars” tends toward the venomous and sensational. Tacitus is more partial, but it is clear that he gravely deplored the death of the republic, and catalogs the power struggles of the imperial office of the 1st century AD with a keen sense of resignation. While there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the patrician-historians in relating the deeds of individual emperors, an astute reader senses that he does not have the complete picture. If we take the historians at face value, Tiberius (reigned 14-37 AD, successor to Augustus) was a paranoid pederast indifferent to administration, Caligula (37-41 AD) was an incestuous psychotic and megalomaniac, Claudius (41-54 AD) was a slothful, gluttonous imbecile, and Nero (54-68 AD) was a manic, murderous hack artiste.8 This amounts to over half a century of apparently deranged autocratic governance. And yet, the Roman state prospered economically and militarily over the course of this period. During the reign of Claudius, the Roman army conquered and incorporated the province of Brittania. The civil war of 69 AD was a nasty affair, but fleeting compared to the civil wars of the late republic. It becomes clear upon analysis that despite the mayhem of the imperial court, and the violent transfers of power, the broader Roman populace enjoyed greater prosperity and economic opportunity than they had in the last century of the republic. This fact alone is enough to justify the political order of Augustus, even if we grant that the state did not achieve an ideal of administration until the era of the Five Good Emperors (96-180 AD).

Whatever the reservations of the chroniclers, the autocracy of Caesar and Augustus was so enduring that no republican government appeared anywhere in Europe for over a millennium. The empire itself lasted intact for over four hundred years after the death of Augustus, and the imperial succession continued in the East until the liquidation of the Byzantine Empire by the Ottomans in 1453.9 The triumph of Christianity in the empire did nothing to upset its basic political order. Constantine and his Christian successors found in the legacy of Caesar a fine model for the ideal of a “Christian sovereign” as the secular correlate to Christ, the king of heaven. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire was the end of a centralized state, but not the end of the specter of Caesar. Caesar remained the ideal of the statesman well into the Middle Ages. Dante, sharing a widely held medieval view, considered the victory of Caesar divinely sanctioned by God to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Dante places Caesar in Limbo as a virtuous pagan but rates his murderers Brutus and Cassius the worst sinners of all except Judas Iscariot.10 The prestige of Caesar in monarchical Europe is easy to understand, and so too is the darkening of his reputation with the advent of the Enlightenment and modern political theory. Whatever the corruptions of the Roman republican system, it was a government based on explicit prescriptions in a contracted constitution. Caesar’s power was arbitrary tyranny, based on no social contract and no established legal boundaries. Caesar’s overthrow of the republic certainly fails John Locke’s test for justified revolution because it was based entirely on military force and personal whims instead of parliamentary or procedural consensus. The Founders of the United States, flushed with the philosophies of the Enlightenment, deplored the name of Caesar, and identified strongly with the Roman senators of the late republic.11 Caesar has been more a caution than an encouragement to the post-Enlightenment West, but it is characteristic of “liberal political theory” to misunderstand what it hates. Under our operating idealistic paradigm, Caesar is a villain for dispensing with a constitutional state, but in a real sense Caesar was an authentic “democrat” who merely acted out the will of a people. This is troublesome for modern paradigms because it hints at a native human desire for charismatic over lordship.

We are accustomed to talking about “tyranny” as referring to the illegitimate governance of a single tyrant. But this only flatters our modern idealism. In the history of political systems, tyranny more often proceeds from odiously corrupted elites with systemic advantages. These “elites” are generally without charisma or individualism, and blend into an amorphous mass of faceless bureaucratic control. To liberal idealists, it is inconceivable that a people would genuinely reject a political system that enables their participation for a populist autocrat who rules by personal arbitration. But history demonstrates this very paradigm again and again. The history of the monarchy in medieval Europe, for instance, is not usually the story of arbitrary oppression by kings. More often, it is the people who demand a powerful monarch to protect them from the petty tyrannies of barons, dukes, and boyars. In many instances, only rulers with popular and military backing, and broad licenses of power, can eliminate the systemic advantages of a corrupt and predatory elite. A defective state that attempts to retain power by resting on the claims of institutional prestige (all while producing an endless stream of cowardly, spiritless hacks in power positions) will always fall to the seductive allures of individual charisma. Bureaucracies of a faceless elite make for bad history, and such governments never survive the challenge of a genuine man of spirit. The decline in both the Roman and American republics is the history of overindulgence in procedure and systemic control, and the total neglect of charismatic legitimacy and the generation of real popular enthusiasm. It is a late hour for the insipid overlords of the American “republic” to remedy the damage they have dealt to the American people. In the next installment, we will examine whether the corrupted American constitutional system can survive the enticement of a looming Caesar.

(This article will be continued in the next issue).


  1. 1.Under the Roman constitution any tribune could veto any legislation. Thus, only a total consensus of all elected tribunes would result in the enactment of laws.
  2. 2.Chief among them being the elevation of the equites to greater participation in the judicial system. This not only brought the equites as a faction into the populist fold, but also pressured provincial magistrates to curry favor with popular sentiment, lest they face removal from equite dominated courts.
  3. 3.This line of reasoning mirrors a common dichotomy in many scientific disciplines: The question of form vs. function. In biology and psychology we see this in the well-known “nature vs. nurture” argument. Objective analysis will often favor the “form” or innateness of a system that produces a given outcome. But human nature, desiring powers it may not have, has a wide inclination to favor the “function” or the changeability of a system. This is flattering to us because it indicates that we can overcome nature by making necessary advances and discoveries. But we exaggerate our powers. While it is true that advances in “technology” have appeared to fundamentally alter human nature, it is more accurate to say that they have exacerbated certain essential conditions that have always persisted.
  4. 4.Aristotle, who understood everything, was authoritative when he divided the forms of government into “good” and “bad” incarnations. A monarchy was corrupted by personal tyranny; an aristocracy by oligarchy; and a constitutional government by democracy.
  5. 5.For a complete narrative on the actions of Marius and the tribunate of Saturninus, see Part II of this essay.
  6. 6.Among them William of Orange who seized the opportune moment in 1688 (when the Stuart monarchy was at its most vulnerable) to seize the crown of England in the Glorious Revolution.
  7. 7.Recall that Marius had died in 86 BC after seizing control of Rome and declaring himself consul for the seventh time. Even had he lived, it is unlikely he would have defeated Sulla. His politics in his last days were centered more on personal vendetta than on populist reform, and many of his former supporters had taken up with others.
  8. 8.Ironically for the modern Christian reader, some of the few instances where Suetonius and Tacitus commend the actions of these emperors relate to persecution and expulsion of early Christians.
  9. 9.Technically, the Byzantine Empire was defunct from 1204-1271 after the knights of the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople and established the Latin Empire. The Catholic West generally considered the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, crowned by the Pope, as the belated and legitimate successor of Caesar. The Holy Roman Empire was mainly a loose confederation of German states, and its emperors were only sporadically in control of Rome throughout its thousand-year history (800-1806 AD). After the Reformation, a number of member states embraced Protestantism, even though they still nominally gave allegiance to the Catholic emperor. This collage of facts gives credence to the wisecrack that the Holy Roman Empire was “not holy, Roman, or an empire.”
  10. 10.Their punishment in Dante’s Hell is to be eternally gnawed upon by the several heads of Satan himself. Dante is more interested in personal actions than political affinities. He condemns the conspirators harshly for betraying trust, but he allows Caesar’s enemy Cato the Stoic to serve as gatekeeper of Purgatory. This is the more astonishing when we remember that Cato was a suicide. Dante judges Cato by the standards of the Stoic moral code, and finds Cato virtuous despite lacking the knowledge of Christian revelation necessary for heaven.
  11. 11.Robert Yates and George Clinton, writers of the Anti-Federalist papers opposing adoption of the American Constitution, selected as pseudonyms Brutus and Cato. The writers of the Federalist Papers (Hamilton, Madison, Jay) used the pseudonym Publius in response that referred to Publius Poplica, one of the original founders of the Roman republic.     *
Wednesday, 13 March 2024 10:52

Christ and Nietzsche: Toward Reconciliation

Christ & Nietzsche: Toward Reconciliation

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is the associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

The Resonance of Opposites

Reconciliation between Christ and Nietzsche? — an impossibility! Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philologist, philosopher, bourgeois provocateur and prophet of power is noted in the popular mind for his pronouncement “God is dead!” and for his attacks on Christianity and other ideological emanations of what he called “slave morality.” His doctrines of the Übermensch and the “Will to Power” seem far from any application of Christian ethics. He wrote a book called The Antichrist (referring to himself) that sought the permanent dismantling of Christian belief and influence in European culture. What reconciliation can there be for one so openly of the devil’s party? And more to the point, why should we try to reconcile him with his so dearly flaunted enemy? The answer has nothing to do with mere intellectual curiosity. The fact is that Nietzsche is an interminable lotus for all seekers of power in the modern world. He haunts with a resonance for our times that can be subsumed but not denied. A partial reconciliation of Christ and Nietzsche is of imminent strategic necessity for the political fates of the United States and the Western world. To those attuned to emerging online political trends, this statement is plausible. But to many of you, it’s a shocking and doubtful assertion. A reconciliation is pressing because there is a rising intellectual cohort of young, dissident right-wingers essentially Nietzschean in thought and intended praxis. They have considerable and expanding influence (though as yet, largely online and politically inconsequential). The intellectual energy on the political Right is with them. Some of them would claim the oxymoronic epithet of “Nietzschean Christians.” Others are out-and-proud pagans. Whatever they call themselves, the people they wish to raise up in this country are Christians. Is a quasi-Nietzschean intellectual Right compatible with a Christian popular Right? The answer is yes, with caveats. To say Yea to this unlikely and necessary coalition is the burden not of Christian-Americans but of the prospective dissident power elite. They must understand in what sense they can remain Nietzscheans and what they must be for the people. The first and greatest lesson of power is that the people possess the truth. Once the power-seeker knows and accepts this, he is free to be a Nietzschean in his mind and methods. I am being too obscure, but with this essay the reconciliation I intend will be clear. First, I’ll elucidate what Nietzsche thought and why he is indispensable. Then, I’ll explain how Christianity overcomes Nietzschean negations. Lastly, I’ll integrate what I’ve said with American politics.

Nietzsche, the Prophet of Modern Malaise

You can’t casually dismiss Nietzsche for being a “pagan” or a “blasphemer” because as a diagnoser of the dilemma of modern life he stands alone. The “malaise of modernity” has descended on everyone, even the strongest Christians, and if Nietzsche doesn’t have the cure he has the most thorough diagnosis and deepest comprehension of the symptoms. The modern Christian doesn’t resolve the provocation of Nietzsche by dismissal but by an appraisal of what he must use from Nietzsche without being taken in by the allures of unbelief. The elastic genius of Nietzsche is neither straightforward nor unintelligible, and any Christian who attempts to defeat him by mere contempt will always look foolish.

Nietzsche identified the problem of the modern world as a chaos of values and a general vulgarization of meaning. When he said “God is dead!” he meant that no one could take old values for granted. In the modern world, everyone is a philosopher, whether he wants to be or not, because everyone is forced to confront the void caused by a proliferation of competing, mutually negating, values. Modern secular ideologies of liberalism, Marxism, republicanism, constitutionalism, and individualism compete with the old values of tribalism, traditionalism, and hierarchicalism. In the highest matters, modern “spiritualism” competes with ancient ritual and religious dogmatism. Modern man (and, more tragically, modern woman) is cast into this morass and made to work it out as best they can. Such diffuse circumstances are breeding grounds for anxieties and personal crises of purpose. Man is unsettled because his values are unsettled. What is to be done? For Nietzsche, crises of meaning are always resolved by the creation of values. This creation might be a re-creation, depending on the strength of the resurrected value system. But not all value systems are equal. Some tend towards decadence and degeneration while others tend towards refinement and ascending life. Christianity, in the Nietzschean assessment, is the most formidable formulation of “decadent values,” and maintained its degenerating stranglehold on the West for eighteen hundred years. But the “secular values” of the modern world are no better. For Nietzsche, the utopian political visions of socialism, Communism and liberalism derive from the same veneration for the “sick, defective, and resentful” portion of mankind as Christianity. The closest value system to Nietzsche’s ideal was that of the ancient Athenians, who were “yea-sayers” to all things beautiful, healthy, and vital.1 Nietzsche admired also Renaissance Italy, superabundant in beauty and brutality, and bemoaned the treachery of his countryman Martin Luther in reanimating Christianity through the Reformation.

Nietzsche’s Doctrines

Nietzsche divides value systems into “slave” and “master” moralities. The Jews were the first people to advance a “slave morality” that exalted the oppressed and downtrodden and not the happy, powerful, and victorious. But they kept it within the bounds of ethnic idiosyncrasy. Christianity proliferated this value system when it became a universal religion, and “infected” the mass of the population. The “chaos of values” in the modern world is the opportunity to reject slave morality and return to the healthy “master morality” of pre-Christian Europeans. Nietzsche says:

“The slave wants the unconditional; he understands only what is tyrannical in morals; he loves as he hates, without nuance, to the depths, to the point of pain, of sickness — his abundant concealed suffering is enraged against the noble taste that seems to deny suffering.2

The mark of the slave is that he resents life, and learns also to resent those who enjoy life. “Good” and “evil” are, to slaves, avenging monikers that seek to deprecate privilege, power, and contentment. “Good” in slave morality is whatever is humble, meek, and unambitious while “evil” is the proud, strong, and willful. Life is, at first, a matter of survival, and then a matter of satisfaction. Since power is the means of both survival and satisfaction, the Will to Live is the Will to Power. The man who attains power inspires either fear and envy or admiration and emulation. Nietzsche says:

“According to slave morality, those who are “evil” inspire fear; according to master morality it is precisely those who are “good” that inspire, and wish to inspire, fear, while the “bad” are felt to be contemptible.3

Christianity is “the denial of the Will to Live” because of its professed hatred of the world, its imminent desire for a better, and its condemnation and distrust of all temporal power. It is for Nietzsche the crystallization of the slavish view of life, and unforgivably, it lies to life:

“Christianity in particular should be dubbed a great treasure-chamber of ingenious consolations — such a store of refreshing, soothing, deadening drugs has it accumulated within itself; so many of the most dangerous and daring expedients has it hazarded; with such subtlety, refinement, Oriental refinement, has it divined what emotional stimulants can conquer, at any rate for a time, the deep depression, the leaden fatigue, the black melancholy of physiological cripples.”4

You could question the idea that Christianity represents such escapism. Ultimately, it’s a matter of individual practice. Look to the oceans of martyrs’ blood to dispense with the idea that Christianity is always personally consolatory. But that’s not exactly what Nietzsche means when he refers to Christianity’s narcotic effect. For Nietzsche, the impulse to martyrdom may be an exercise of Will beyond the banality of the ordinary “believer,” but it’s an exercise of Will against life. A martyr believes so strongly in his convictions that he suffers and dies for them. But all convictions are denials of life because they flee from the open pastures of the mind and its infinite capacity for inquiry. The “higher man” must be a skeptic and he must question all values and beliefs. This doctrine is crucial to understanding the uses (and limits) of Nietzsche:

“The great man is necessarily a skeptic (I do not mean to say by this that he must appear to be one), provided that greatness consists in this: to will something great, together with the means thereto. Freedom from any kind of conviction is a factor in the strength of Will. And thus, it is in keeping with the enlightened form of despotism which every great passion exercises. Such a passion enlists intellect in its service; it even has the courage for unholy means; it creates without hesitation; it allows itself convictions, it even uses them, but it never submits to them. The need of faith and of anything unconditionally negative or affirmative is a proof of weakness; all weakness is a weakness of Will.5

The doctrine presents a paradox because isn’t the devotion to the Will a kind of conviction? Nietzsche answers yes, and emphasizes how hard it is for a man to forge new values only on the basis of himself, his actions and his thoughts. Here is the blueprint for Übermensch. The Übermensch has attained the strength to negate all the interpretations of life that have preceded him; he confronts the chaos at the heart of conscious experience. He sees the uninterpretability of life. His Will becomes his God and his law. He is even beyond questioning whether his Will is truly his own, for it is an act of Will to claim the event of the thought.6 Nietzsche’s Übermensch Zarathustra is esoteric. He says his sayings are for the few and it’s hard to be sure that you’re meant for them. But here we arrive at the paradox at the heart of Nietzsche’s vision. The creation of values is the business of the solitary mind, but it’s clearly not for himself alone that the Übermensch forges them. Zarathustra gathers the strength to be a creator of values on the solitude of a mountain-top and then he comes down. Why must Zarathustra come down?

Truth vs. Resonance

Though an open despiser of the trends of modernism, Nietzsche was in the crucial sense a modernist. He was a relativist. Nietzsche declared that the truth of the world was uncertainty. His doctrine was the eternal recurrence, the idea that all values and ideas are cyclical and that the generations of the minds of men are unending mirrors. The “higher men” are questers for truth in the sense that they are embracers of uncertainty; they prefer the Will over inherited values because at least the bearer of the Will lives. The values of the Übermensch are no more sustaining than other values, but the living Will of the Übermensch has precedence over dead creators of any previous values. Nietzsche said he wasn’t a nihilist. But his words are for the few because most men attempting to follow him would succumb to nihilism. Here he is speaking on the “truth”:

“Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the truth one could still barely endure — or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.7

This is the dogma of the skeptic, that truth is found only in the courage of sustained contradictions. The fearless pursuit of truth is for Nietzsche ultimately a matter of suffering and endurance. Such a life is too severe for the masses, and so Nietzsche denies that his philosophy is applicable to them. But the paradox I spoke of above remains. Why should a man seek to create new values? Because value creation is the great evidence of his vitality? Is it only for himself that a man creates new values? That cannot be, for as we observe, Zarathustra comes down. Why should Zarathustra come down if not to give something to the masses? And what does Zarathustra give if he cannot give the truth?

Against “truth” we might set resonance or meaning as the fundamental property of life. The common man doesn’t seek “truth” if that means a remorseless quest of skeptical inquiry. What the common man seeks is resonance, and he finds it in one dogma or another. This dogma gives an absolute and not relative justification for the values which he seeks to live by. The common man ceases questioning when he has found resonance, for to him, resonance is truth. He asks with great dignity: What else can truth be but what is supremely meaningful? If Nietzsche demands that everyone attempt to become Zarathustra then he is no better than the Marxists or the liberals who seek to displace native meanings with impositions of ideology. What vitality is there in a life where everyone is compelled to be Socrates? Zarathustra comes down because he has gotten much too little from “truth,” and requires for himself the resonance which the people found long before him. For the man who has plumbed the skeptical depths, the bar for resonance is higher, and needs power to make it really glow. Zarathustra needs the people and he needs his created values to be resonant for the people, else he is left holding the ragged skin of “skeptical truth” and the crush of his own mortality. A man can live and die without “truth,” but he cannot live, and dares not die, without meaning. And so, the journey of the philosopher ends with the wisdom of the people: Truth is meaning in life, and only death, not mind, is the arbiter of dogmas. Nietzsche knew this, if not for himself, then for Zarathustra. For Nietzsche did not come down, but he knew that Zarathustra, and all who would emulate him, would have to. He probably didn’t like that this was so. Here, at last, Nietzsche was a resenter.

Christianity in the Modern World

The agon between Christ and Nietzsche is whether there is an absolute system of values. When Jesus said “the kingdom of God comes not with observation”8 he meant skeptical inquiry also. The observation of the world can only dilute the values that are already native to the heart. Jesus conveyed that humans possess native meaning that is resonant with the eternal values of God. Man’s freedom means that he can ignore this native meaning through sin, but as the image of God he cannot deny that it’s there. Values don’t really change at all because man’s native resonance is unchanging. Maybe a Jew would say that Christianity was a Nietzschean overthrow of old values, but this isn’t how Christianity understands itself. Christ came to “fulfill the law and the prophets”9 and brought the remedy of grace for the malady of sin. Grace was always the destination of the law, not the refutation. Nietzsche and other modernists did not believe in native meaning because modern man is not at his core an ethical being. He is material, biological, psychological, chemical or whatever. But if even Zarathustra is defeated by the need for resonance, then Christ is right to insist that it’s there in the heart. It’s there not just for the common men, who don’t have to think twice about it, but for the “higher men” also, who might require a long “commodius vicus of recirculation”10 to come by it. If the Will to Meaning always triumphs over the Will to Truth, then resonance becomes truth. And the greatest resonance is Christ.

But, as Nietzsche said, a man (or a skeptic) might perish of the truth. If the resonance of the gospel is truth then it doesn’t follow that this truth is ideal. Whether Christianity is “slave morality” or not has no bearing on whether it is true; it only means that slaves are right. Nietzsche accused Christianity of weakness, cowardice, passivity, resentment, and impotent hatred of healthiness. The modern practice of Christianity was a “practical pessimism which produces a horrific ethic of genocide from compassion.”11 But the rebuttal to the idea of Christianity as slave morality is the historic greatness of the West. Christianity was the dominant ethic of the sublime culture of Christian Europe. Civilization in the highest sense is the legacy of the gospel. Nietzsche was mistaken to hate Christianity itself, but he was right to deplore its modern practice. Christianity in the modern world, for both Nietzsche’s time and ours, is weak. This weakness is a consequence of a long rout from an offensive that began with the Enlightenment and continues mercilessly to the present. The long retreat follows the slow removal of Christianity from its dominant position of communal resonance in the West to the realm of total subordination to banal political creeds.12 This is the reason why so many young intellectuals on the Right are embracing Nietzsche and the ethos of Greek paganism. Modern Christianity is cowed, and it’s a question if it can really be a fosterer of political reclamation for the peoples of the West. I say it can, but first we have to understand the nature of the dilemma.

Different issues are in play for the various Christian manifestations. The mainline Protestant churches are captives of globalist regime ideology and lost for the foreseeable future. The Catholic church remains what it always has been, a hybrid of possible application. You can be a stalwart traditionalist or a globalist and find what you want in Catholicism. We can only hope that with the twilight of liberal globalism the catechism is not much altered. There remains in America the wide phenomenon of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is the dominant religious expression of the Christian-American heartland. The values of evangelicalism are deeply conservative and patriotic, and the evangelical population is the core of any right-wing political base in America. Yet even evangelical Christianity has its weaknesses that prevent it from advancing a strong politics of Christian culture and European-American peoplehood. Evangelicals are audacious in hopes, but not in acts. Much of evangelical practice is overly feminized, and encourages the withdrawal from political society and not its reclamation. The question is whether evangelicals can become a sufficiently active electorate before the globalist desecration of the United States is too deep to salvage. Young white men, who have no incentive to buy into a society in which they are the principal enemy, are in many cases wary of evangelicalism because of its perceived catering to establishment liberalism and the hesitancy of its leaders to call for social reforms like changes to divorce law. There is also the problem of End Times theology. Many evangelicals believe that the parousia is imminent and that only Christ’s return can destroy the power of a globalist Satanic elite. This induces a certain passivity in political matters and, at worst, a warped satisfaction in continued degeneration as evidence of the Last Days.13 The aims of the intellectual Right, to save Western civilization and its prosperity, merge with the deepest concerns of evangelicals in a proud assertion of American nationalism, but the pagan whiff of some young right-wing intellectuals has no resonance in the heartland. Certainly, any right-wing political elite in this country must be profoundly Christian, but it’s worth asking if the religious expression of evangelicals can be nudged in a more muscular (Nietzschean!) direction.

I already said in refutation of Nietzsche that Christianity will never be “dead values.” It is much too resonant a force in the earth. Modern relativism can blunt the force of Christianity and deceive many, but it cannot shutter the evocative power of the gospel. What seems weak in the modern practice of Christianity is really the result of modern secular values encroaching on religious expression, not weaknesses fundamental to Christianity itself. This is obvious in the case of “left-wing Christianity” which is just a parrot for regime ideology, but it’s true also for conservative evangelicalism. Evangelicals are defensive and unassertive, and the unapologetic dogmatism of liberalism has destroyed the communal power of Christianity in the West. The most tragic case is Europe, which has become a barren wilderness of “enlightened” agnostics and empty cathedrals. But even in America, where professed Christianity is strong, believers are largely content to fall back on weak assertions of “individual” belief. The result is that the “religion” of liberal globalism reigns supreme in American institutions. Look at public education which is an unabashed engine for indoctrination of regime ideologies. American Christians responded to being shut out of the public schools by encouraging homeschooling and made no attempt to take back institutional influence. It’s clear in this dire hour that Christians need to develop the Will to Power and assert their values in the culture as unashamedly as the globalists do. Nietzsche may be an enemy of Christ, but his methods, wielded in the service of Christian culture, are not. You’re worthy of power in this world only if you’re devoted to the defense of the dignity of common life and the protection of the native meaning of the people. Here is Christ’s Will to Power.


  1. Nietzsche liked the Athenians before Euripides and Socrates because he viewed them as degenerate influences on the purity of Athenian aesthetic imagination. After Socrates, Athenian culture was no longer young and unconscious, and no longer so beautiful.
  2. Beyond Good and Evil 46.
  3. Beyond Good and Evil 260.
  4. The Genealogy of Morals 17.
  5. The Will to Power 963.
  6. This is one step shorn from DesCartes’ famous Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). Descartes knew by thinking that it is I who think. But Nietzsche knows nothing about any ego. Your mind may be the playhouse for thoughts not your own, but borrowed being is being enough.
  7. Beyond Good and Evil 39.
  8. Luke 17:20.
  9. Matthew 5:17.
  10. See first sentence of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.
  11. The Birth of Tragedy 15.
  12. It’s not hard to find the gay rainbow flag draped over the walls of churches. This is the flag that represents the real religion of the current American regime.
  13. As many theologians have insisted, it’s a great sin to presume the parousia. Though the Last Days will come like a “thief in the night,” and a healthy sense of readiness is necessary, this doesn’t mean that a Christian should allow evil open dominion. This is understood by evangelicals in matters like abortion, where the right to life is defended rigorously from Satanic trends, but less so in matters of political society. No Christian should ever be passive or indifferent to living under a regime that is an enemy to Christ.     *

The Fall of the Roman Republic: A Narrative and Analytical Comparison with the Contemporary Conditions of the United States of America — (Part 7 of a Series)

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is the associate editor for The St. Croix Review


In previous installments of this essay, we discussed the first three causes of the collapse of the Roman republic and analyzed their affinities to the political situation of the present American republic. Recall that the three causes discussed in previous installments were as follows:

  1. The pollution of the Roman legislative function arising from legislative obsolescence and the corrupt interference of the Roman senatorial elite (see Part 3).
  2. The apathy and criminality of the Roman elite minority faction (EMF) and its refusal to relinquish determinative power or fulfill the remedial demands of a majoritarian electorate (see Parts 4 and 5).
  3. The neglect of the grievances of the necessary faction of the Roman legionaries and the legionaries’ subsequent investment in a politics of populist insurgency (see Part 6).1

In the next two installments we will deal with the fourth and final cause of the collapse of the Roman republic: the escalatory effects caused by the exercise of arbitrary power. The fourth cause differs from the first three in that it was not preliminary to the onset of crisis conditions; rather, it was a consequence of the attempts by the Roman EMF to override by unlawful force the problems implicit in the three preliminary causes. The plan for this installment of the essay is as follows. First, we complete our discussion of factions by discussing the concept of an “undecided” or “black box” faction and its implications for factional politics. With this final piece in place for our overview of factions, we discuss the idea of arbitrary power in republican systems. After presenting the idea of arbitrary power in general terms, we apply our observations to the specific conditions of the Roman and American republics. Finally, we speculate on the possible implications of our considerations of arbitrary power for the future political course of the United States.

Cause IV: The Escalatory Effects Caused by the Exercise of Arbitrary Power

The “Black Box” Faction

In our discussion of factional politics, we have thus far maintained an implicitly broad definition of faction. A faction is to be understood, here and throughout this essay, as any division of the population based on specified criteria. Thus, strictly speaking, any division of a population, appropriately specified, can be said to represent a faction, no matter how frivolous or inconsequential the distinction (i.e., fans of a specific sports team). The meaningfulness of a faction depends on whether its distinguishing factor is predictive or correlative with the aggregate political associations of the factional group. As we have seen, factors such as sex, race, marital status, urban/rural residency, age and economic status all reveal pluralities of political preference. The greater the factional discrepancy between opposite groups, the more justified we are in claiming that the factor is determinative for political preference (i.e., the 25-point discrepancy in Democrat vs. Republican allegiance among unmarried and married women, respectively, indicates that the condition of “being married” is a major determinant of political leanings among women). In the previous installment of this essay, we considered the disproportionate influence of necessary factions on the political orientation of states, and endorsed a strategy of manufacturing a necessary faction within an insurgent coalition by advocacy of incentive policies. For the purposes of our discussion, we have maintained a general assumption that factional motivation is rational or, at least, explicable. Individual voters may give allegiance to a faction or coalition on the basis of ideological affinity, economic self-interest, or social prestige. Each of these motives is identifiable, and where they might be in conflict (as in the case of affluent leftists) we can easily assess which motive overrides the other on the basis of aggregate preference. But there remains a class of voters whose motivations are undefinable and amorphous and resist easy analysis. In American political discourse, such a group is often collectively referred to as “undecided” or “swing” voters, and their possible numbers and influence are the source of much speculation. In the context of our factional analysis, we will define this group as the “black box” faction because the motivations of its individual members are impossible to generalize or meaningfully assess. The reasons for individual voters falling into the category of “undecided” are myriad: Total apathy or ignorance of politics, a fickle hubris that disdains affiliation, or a genuine difficulty in reconciling the trade-offs inherent to coalition allegiance.2 Taken together, this oscillating group with no consistent factional allegiance may represent anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of an overall voting electorate. In times of hyper partisanship, the size of the “black box” faction will necessarily be smaller; but no matter its size, the “black box” faction inevitably retains an outsized importance in a two-party, winner-take-all electoral system. This is because a two-party system always aggregates into two large factional coalitions, each short of sustained majoritarian dominance.3 The “black box” faction acts as a permanent tipping-point between nearly equally divided partisan coalitions. Thus, like the necessary factions of the previous installment, the “black box” faction maintains an influence in a two-party system out of proportion to its numbers.

While the motivations of the members of “black box” factions are too myriad to generalize, we can readily observe the consequences of the existence of such factions to political conditions. In the absence of strong ideological convictions, or readily perceived benefits to self-interest, the individual voter will be highly susceptible to dominant narratives, and thus to the propaganda of the established power. We may cite as a general principle of human nature that men (and women) are never readier to blend into the invisible crowd than when they persist in a state of indifference. The “black box” or “unaffiliated” faction always serves in aggregate to the advantage of the ruling elite minority faction because the EMF exercises narrative control and the perception of consensus.4 A political coalition which seeks to supplant an EMF has the handicap of being disruptive or unfamiliar to a perceived normal order, and so is at a distinct disadvantage among the “undecided” segment of the electorate (i.e., those voters content enough to be essentially apathetic to political conditions). An inevitable strategy of any ruling EMF attempting to denigrate an effective opposition movement is to slander it as “radical” or “extreme.” This is seen vividly in the ongoing American EMF response to the “MAGA movement” of Trump supporters. This kind of propaganda makes no attempt to deal with matters of voter self-interest or passion, but relies solely on a nebulous appeal to “normalcy.” It is aimed at those voters who have vague or contradictory voting motives, and who are thus susceptible to received political framing. Since in any state (republican or otherwise) the narratives given out by the EMF will have the most prominence, it is inevitable that undecided voters will have greater exposure, and thus greater comfort, with the political framing of the EMF. So long as the EMF can retain its dominance over narrative control, the “black box” faction remains an advantageous segment of the electorate to them. The challenge for an opposition movement is to uncover methods for loosening EMF narrative dominance. Before we consider such methods, however, it is necessary to consider the question of arbitrary power in republican systems.

The Exercise of Arbitrary Power in Republican Governments

We have declared in a previous installment that the exercise of arbitrary power is far less consequential in fact than in perception. By arbitrary power, we refer to any exercise of power that is in violation of constitutionally prescribed authorities. In republican systems, this can take the form of a constitutional authority assuming powers prohibited to it or explicitly assigned to another constitutional authority (i.e., the American president cannot declare war on behalf of the nation without consent of Congress) or a non-constitutional authority assuming powers explicitly given to constitutional authorities (i.e., a federal bureaucracy cannot pass legislation on its own initiative). Though the definition is quite unambiguous, nearly all exercises of arbitrary power in republican systems are justified by claims of constitutional sanction, however dubious. It is the nature of human power to attempt to justify itself by all means possible and to seek as great a scope as possible (i.e., all men would be tyrants if they could). The ultimate legitimacy of any exercise of power rests more on the persuasiveness of its appeal than on the objective legal fact of its overreach. In American history, nearly all strong presidents have violated the Constitution, some quite overtly.5 The ability to safely deploy arbitrary power in republican systems rests on whether the deploying coalition has a “mandate”; that is, a sufficient popularity among the electorate to justify the appeal of extraordinary authorities. Naturally, there are always some limits to power in republican systems (i.e., the American president cannot suspend an election, though even this step was briefly considered by Lincoln and his cabinet during the Civil War), but a political coalition with a true mandate can stretch the limits of a republican constitution to a considerable degree without meaningful backlash. All this is to say that the mere incidence of an exercise of arbitrary power is often a moot point; power will stretch itself as far as it can without fracturing its popular sanction. An exercise of arbitrary power is of decisive importance, however, when it alters perceptions among the electorate. Repeated exercises of arbitrary power by an EMF that seeks to illegally combat the advances of an opposition movement (and not to benefit a legitimate political mandate) culminate not only in the delegitimization of the EMF, but also very often in the breakdown of the republican system itself.

Recall that we defined EMFs as factions wielding determinative power over a state with the unique factional motive of retaining power. In modern states, republican and otherwise, EMFs are nearly all ideological in nature; they justify their claims to legitimate power on the basis of having correct ideas. But very often, ruling EMFs find themselves in the position of having to balance ideological pressures from the constituent groups of their coalition with objective assessments of the best means for staying in power.6 We may refer to this delicate management of ideological imperatives with practical reality as policy pacing. An EMF that desires to bring an ideological demand of one of its constituent factions into the mainstream will have to lay the groundwork with considerable propaganda efforts, sometimes aimed at its own constituent factions. Insofar as these efforts are successful, it will then be able to advance the policy easily without concern for negative effects to coalition allegiance. Policy pacing that occurs too rapidly can lead to coalition disintegration (i.e., the revolutionary civil rights legislation of the 1960s led to the loss of the white Southern faction for the Democrats, and led to a 24-year period of Republican dominance in presidential elections). But policy pacing that occurs too slowly will yield to an insurgent platform more resolute in ideological commitment (i.e., the Whig party evaporated in the 1850s because of its sluggish approach to the slavery issue, and was replaced as a national party by the openly anti-slavery Republicans). Fundamentally, the EMF desires to move at the pace most congenial for both maintaining the loyalty of its ideological constituents and the comfortability of its hold on power. But the rise of an opposition movement that has achieved the necessary factional clarification (that is, it has formulated a coalition without contradictory factions capable of presenting a clear and formidable challenge to EMF policy) represents a major disruption to EMF policy pacing. Naturally, the EMF will always wish to undermine an opposition by covert means, but this cannot be done when the political fault lines are exposed with overt clarity, and the opposition electorate is no longer persuadable by nominal concessions.7 It is at this point that the EMF must move into more over-handed means of combating the threat to its hold on determinative power. Since the factional clarification achieved by the opposition has generated conditions of hyper partisanship, there is little to be gained in attempting to propagandize on the basis of unity or commonality. Rather, the EMF must consolidate the support of its existing coalition of factions and attempt to firmly secure the remnant elements of the “black box” faction by appealing to the radical and dangerous nature of the opposition movement. But in fostering the idea that the opposition movement represents a grave and lethal threat to “normal” conditions, the EMF inevitably radicalizes its own coalition against the apparently imminent danger of the threat. The EMF is then pressured to venture exercises of arbitrary power to deal with even slight demonstrations of the success of the opposition.8 The EMF hopes that the effectiveness of propaganda coupled with the cowing effects of force are adequate enough to fizzle the determination of serious opposition. But if it does not break the determination of the opposition coalition, it may be necessary for the EMF to suspend all pretense of republican process and attempt to remove the chance of a power reversal by all means necessary. This, in turn, causes the resolute factions of the opposition coalition to reject the validity of republican process altogether (since the ruling EMF is no longer abiding by it) and take the chance of power by means of force. The republican process is then broken, and political resolution can only come about by the subduing of one coalition or the other. When political passions reach a certain pitch of partisanship, we can speak of an inherent and inevitable escalatory effect to any blatant exercise of arbitrary power. Nearly all historical republics have collapsed because of the escalatory effects of this cycle, but it is not necessarily fatal for a republican system. There are many cases where the republican equilibrium is broken but then repaired after conclusive hostilities (i.e., the American Civil War, or the Algerian mutiny of 1958 in the French Fourth Republic).

The Inducement to Arbitrary Power as a Strategy of Insurgent Politics

Generally, the success of EMF deployment of arbitrary powers against a serious opposition movement is entirely dependent on the consequences to the perceptions of the majoritarian electorate. All EMFs would venture arbitrary power if they knew they would suffer no negative effects to favorability among the populace. But overt displays of questionable power are naturally disturbing to republican populations, regardless of factional allegiance, and all EMFs risk considerable loss of prestige by indulging in them. This is especially true among the “black box” faction, whose members lack clear ideological convictions, but are fickly sensitive to any perceived violations to “normal order.” While EMF propaganda may blunt sympathies for an opposition movement among its own factional constituents, it will have less force among the “undecided” or “uninformed” segment of the electorate, which may be perturbed by EMF displays of overt and questionable subjugation. We spoke above about the advantages of narrative control wielded by EMFs; the dominant propaganda perspective in any state will always be that of the established power. But an EMF never has total control over political narratives. An EMF facing the prospect of overthrow or curtailment must prioritize dispensing with a short-term political threat at the expense of the careful cultivation of its long-term legitimacy. An insurgent movement that can force an EMF to venture overreaches of power damaging to long-term legitimacy, disrupts both the power of the EMF to wield narrative control and its power to dictate policy pacing. We will refer to this capability as the initiative of provocation. An insurgent politics of sufficient consolidation (that is, we assume it has achieved necessary factional clarification) retains initiative in goading an EMF into excessive action by means of both rhetorical and escalatory provocation.9 Some of this provocation can be spontaneous and essentially unforeseen (i.e., the 1789 storming of the Bastille, or the January 6 demonstrations), but an insurgent movement may also goad the EMF into excessive retaliatory action by deliberate strategy. The aim of such provocation is to induce the EMF to engage in excessive retaliation that discredits its legitimacy, most crucially among the “undecided” or non-ideological block of the electorate. Like the methods of guerilla warfare, in which an outnumbered force deploys feint attacks, deception and surprise strikes to demoralize a disproportionate enemy, the methods of insurgent provocation represent a kind of guerilla politics. Shut out of the ability to alter policy or wield narrative control by normative means, an insurgent movement can nonetheless chip away at the legitimacy of a ruling EMF by provocative action. Before we proceed to analyze these ideas in the context of the Roman and American republics, we must offer a brief, general view of the methods of provocation available to an insurgent opposition movement.

The two primary means by which an EMF delegitimizes itself is by 1) excessive deployments of powers perceived as arbitrary and 2) excessive acquiescence to extreme ideological imperatives of constituent factions. The aim of an insurgent movement is to goad an EMF into actions of these kinds. Naturally, the most straightforward way for an insurgent movement to agitate an EMF is by increasing its support base. But, as is implicit in our analysis of the “black box” faction, there is generally a cap to the amount of support an opposition movement can securely acquire bereft of determinative power and narrative control. Thus, it may be necessary for the success of an insurgency to bait the EMF into blunders by provocative action. But how does an insurgent movement intentionally provoke the EMF into excessive measures? By targeting those EMF ideologies and anxieties that are most vulnerable to induce an irrational or excessive retaliation. It is in the nature of all ideologies to distort the nuanced truths of life in favor of dogmatic reassurance. This manifests not only in the unrestrained elevation of ideologically favored groups, but also in the demonization of those enemy factions perceived (justly or not) as posing the severest threat to the attainment of ideological aims. In the last installment of this essay, we spoke of the need for an insurgent platform to incentivize and sharpen the support of factions that would ultimately prove necessary for the stability and prosperity of the state. Similarly, an insurgent politics which seeks to provoke the EMF into self-wounding mistakes must elevate and emphasize those factions among its coalition with special powers to perturb the EMF or its ideological support factions. To identify such groups with the power to perturb, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the ideologies that undergird the EMF coalition. We need say nothing more in general terms about the methods related to the initiative of provocation. The methods cannot be satisfactorily elucidated in merely general terms, since every state has its own subjective circumstances. As we turn to our analyses of the Roman and American republics, we shall have specific case-studies to demonstrate the possibilities for insurgent provocation with concrete examples.

(This essay will be continued in the following issue).


  1. Previous installments of this essay can be read by visiting
  2. In modern American politics, many “undecided voters” are assumed to be politically uninformed. But this is not necessarily the case. Genuine indecisiveness can be found among young intellectuals, who take it as a point of independent pride to stand apart from the political alignments determined by their elders. It can also be found among politically sophisticated suburbanites, who have to weigh the tangible costs of declining quality of urban life (by voting Democrat) with the potential for social ostracization or possible association with a “lower class” (by voting Republican).
  3. While it is true that a coalition can win a decisive majority in a handful of election cycles, the currents of two-party politics dictate that the coalitions will reach a gradual equilibrium as the minority coalition adapts to the orientation of a new electorate.
  4. We by no means intend to imply that all members of the “black box” faction fall prey to the persuasive pressures of establishment propaganda. As with our previous factional analysis, we are speaking about aggregate trends. In an electoral system like the American, there will always be “exceptions to the rule” since we are dealing, even among highly compartmentalized factions, with populations of millions.
  5. It would be exhaustive to merely list potential incidences of presidential violations of the Constitution, much less assess them, but among apparently blatant violations we might cite: Andrew Jackson’s dismissal of the Supreme Court ruling against the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that forcibly relocated the southeastern native tribes; James Polk’s intentional goading of Mexico into a pretext to launch the Mexican-American War in 1846; Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the non-Confederate state of Maryland in 1861; Woodrow Wilson’s sponsorship and signing of the Sedition Act of 1918; Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of citizens of Japanese descent by executive order in 1942; Harry Truman’s forcible nationalization of the steel industry in 1952; Lyndon Johnson’s advocacy for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution after intentional goading of North Vietnam in 1964; Richard Nixon’s deployment of the “plumbers” to use illegal methods to stop press leaks; and Ronald Reagan’s tacit consent for weapons sales to Iran in violation of standing treaty in the Iran-Contra affair. Notice that each of these unconstitutional actors is among the most consequential and admired of American presidents.
  6. For the American EMF, the policy of reparations for blacks is rapidly becoming a pressure issue. The black faction that is so crucial for the Democrat coalition is pushing it on ideological grounds, but there is not yet a strong enough support base for the Democrats to adopt it into their national platform.
  7. In the Roman republic, the senatorial EMF was for many decades able to completely neutralize the opposition of the tribunate by secret manipulation of the nomination procedures of the concilium plebis. Similarly, the American EMF is able to cauterize the bulk of the Republican “opposition” by bribery, blackmail, and social intimidation. Witness the outgoing Kevin McCarthy, who, in exchange for rehabilitation and a hefty lobbyist salary, will follow Paul Ryan in the media role of the “good” Republican.
  8. This whole sequence is obviously applicable to the unprecedented and overwhelming persecution of Trump after his election in 2016. The American EMF propagandized hysterically that Trump represented “the end of democracy” and deployed extraordinary and arbitrary powers to curtail him through dubious impeachment proceedings, frivolous legal persecutions, and possibly fraudulent electioneering. Trump’s supporters also faced displays of arbitrary power. The EMF dogged major Trump acolytes with dubious prosecutions, and participants in the January 6 demonstrations were illegally withheld trial rights. Increasingly, the EMF may be willing to venture even harsher methods for suppressing the Trump opposition. Ashli Babbitt was the first, and will likely not be the last, citizen to suffer murder by the state for association with Trump and the growing populist movement he champions.
  9. If an opposition movement does not attempt to challenge or refute EMF narratives, we can safely assume that its coalition has not achieved factional clarification and is not yet a serious threat to EMF supremacy. As of 2024, the Republican Party as a whole can be described as ineffective opposition. Perhaps nothing portrays the stark discrepancy in assertiveness in messaging between the Democrat EMF and the impotent Republicans than the responses to the deaths of George Floyd and Ashli Babbitt. Floyd was immediately hailed by the Democrats as a saintlike martyr and the victim of a brutal racist system despite the fact that his death was due to drug overdose, and he had a history of violent felony convictions. By contrast, the Republicans (including Trump) declined to defend Babbitt at all. Rather, many Republicans propagated the Democrat framing of her death as justifiable.     *

The Fall of the Roman Republic: A Narrative and Analytical Comparison with the Contemporary Conditions of the United States of America — (Part 6 of a Series)

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is the associate editor for The St. Croix Review.


In the previous installments of this essay we discussed the second cause of the collapse of the Roman republic: the apathy and criminality of the Roman aristocratic elite. We introduced a framework for discussing political elites and their influence on factional composition, and proceeded to apply this framework to the American republic. All dominant factional coalitions are led by an elite minority faction (EMF), the slim portion of the population with determinative cultural and political power over a state. An EMF is characterized by its unique factional motive of retaining determinative power. An EMF retains power by assembling a compliant coalition of factions that accept the immutability of its claims to sovereign legitimacy. In functioning republican states, this coalition must be majoritarian (that is, the compliant factions must make up a plurality of the electorate) because otherwise it would not have the votes needed to attain power. We proceeded to apply this framework to a discussion of the future politics of the American republic. In the United States, the reigning EMF represents the left-wing coalition that holds dominion over the bureaucracies, media, public institutions, cities and (at present) federal administration. The American EMF leads a coalition with strong pluralities of racial minority voters, white voters proximate to EMF inclusion, and single women of all races. In order for an effective right-wing opposition movement to usurp majoritarian status in national elections, it must induce a sizable number of supporters of the established power to alter allegiances. We asserted that this was most likely in the event of establishment policy failure, but that incentivizing or reversing certain social trends (such as the falling marriage rates) might reduce the margins of EMF primacy. In Part VI we aim to expand our discussions of factions by describing the phenomenon of necessary factions. The plan for this portion of the essay is as follows: firstly, we define necessary factions in the general terms of political theory. We then proceed to examine the necessary factions of the late Roman republic, particularly the legionaries and their role in the collapse of republican government. Finally, we explore which necessary factions might exist or emerge in the American republic, and consider how they might influence the course of future politics.

Cause III: Neglect of the Necessary Faction of the Soldiership

The Uniqueness of Necessary Factions and Their Effect on Factional Equilibrium

We have mentioned already in previous installments that the power and influence of political factions may be measured in several ways. In non-representative political systems, the mere number of persons within a given faction is rarely relevant to determining its degree of power. This is because numerical superiority only has authority in systems that accept the results of voting and the legitimacy of elections. It is far more useful to consider factions in non-representative political systems by their ability to organize and enforce their aims. All Communist governments, for instance, rise by force, and persist to the degree that the single-party state can continue to enforce its authority over the majoritarian populace.1 For states maintaining republican equilibrium however, it is natural to treat the power of factions as closely proportional to their numbers because this is the measure of how many potential voters they contain. But even within legitimate republican systems there will emerge factions with influence out of proportion to their numbers. The most obvious instance of this is in the case of the EMF itself, which is numerically small but which wields determinative power and easily accrues disproportionate resources and accolades to its individual members. But there are other factions which, for a variety of reasons, are politically favored out of proportion to their numbers. While some of the reasons for disproportionate factional influence are trivial and idiosyncratic, most instances of outsized factional power emanate from perceived necessities to the state. Thus, two factions of the populace that have always wielded disproportionate influence in the history of states have been those members who produce the food (farmers) and those who defend the state (soldiers).2 We call these necessary factions because their functions and activities are compulsory if the state is to persist. Farmers and soldiers are necessary factions in almost every historical state, and are perhaps the only groups for which this distinction is inarguable, but there are a number of other groups, such as child-bearing women, bureaucrats, financiers and health workers that could also justifiably claim the status. While many private economic workers (such as truck drivers, airline pilots, service employees, etc.) act as necessary neurons in an economy, we do not say that they represent cohesive factions in normal conditions because they do not work for the government and their political advocacy is not primarily based on the associations of their employment. However, in special cases, such as that of an industry-specific workers strike, such groups may become necessary factions in the period in which their grievances are paramount.

Necessary factions naturally pose special problems for a reigning EMF. In modern politics EMFs nearly always assemble their coalitions on the basis of ideological values, and desire to reward factions in a state on the basis of their ideological adherence or desirability. But they cannot ignore the necessities of food, security, and administration, and should their ideological proclivities interfere with the maintenance of these necessities, the EMF risks being supplanted. We might cite as an example the recent “Defund the Police” movement in numerous American cities. The city administrations are obliged to view the necessary faction of the police as an oppressive force according to the leftist ideologies that brought them to power; but should they act on the full implications of the ideologies and curtail the police, the cities would face rising crime and reduced safety for residents. Such a circumstance would inevitably jeopardize the administration’s prospects for maintaining power. The impasse might be surmounted by replacing the members of necessary factions with ideologically compliant members, and this has been the strategic tendency of all tenuous EMFs throughout history.3 But this strategy is laborious and often fights against the natural inclinations of the factions to loathe the instruments of their perceived grievances (i.e., not many of the protestors chanting “Defund the Police” are inclined to join any police force, even an ideologically cleansed one).4 More sensibly, political movements might attempt to incorporate the factional claims of long-standing necessary factions into their ideological worldviews. This can be effective, but too precise an emphasis on the specific concerns of necessary factions can be fatal since (at least in modern states) they rarely represent more than a small fraction of the factions as a whole. A third strategy, which we shall address in detail below, is to generate, by policy means, new necessary factions. This is the most complex and also the soundest means for an enduring political order, and we will reserve our consideration of it for the discussion of the Roman and American political situations below.

A regime which neglects the grievances of a necessary faction, or actively works to undermine it, plays a very dangerous game, and is not likely to retain power unless it can do so by brute force. The persuasive power of ideology (especially ethnic nationalism) can often do much to blunt or redirect dissatisfaction over a diminishment in living standards caused by the persecution of a necessary faction, but this can often be achieved only by relentless propaganda efforts and cannot permanently shield a regime from scrutiny.5 In the ancient world, persistent persecution or neglect of a necessary faction without the reservation of force, and without appropriate ideological gloss, effectively guaranteed regime collapse. This is because the number of ancient citizens who belonged to necessary factions was far greater than in the modern world, and in many ancient states even numbered a plurality of the citizens. But the scope of the membership of necessary factions also produced complications in ancient societies. Individual members were politically far weaker than in modern states and generally could not promote a radical platform except in the safety of large numbers (i.e. since so many Roman citizens were farmers they were dispensable on an individual and even local basis). Compliance with the established power could often lead to meager concessions that nonetheless proved tempting for citizens persisting close to destitution. Thus, we may state for both ancient and modern states, it is only when a necessary faction firmly disentangles itself from a reliance on the established power that the conditions may emerge to induce the overthrow of a ruling EMF.

The Roman Legionaries as a Necessary Faction in the Late Roman Republic

For the entire expansionary period of the Roman republic (350-27 BC) the Roman legionary faction was by far the most necessary to the survival and prosperity of the state, and therefore also to the maintenance of the reigning EMF. The legionaries made up the citizen-soldiers of the Roman army and fought wars of subjugation under the command of propraetors, proconsuls and other former magistrates. In the later imperial period, when the army was largely a defensive force stationed permanently on the frontiers, it was common for Roman citizens to spend whole careers in the military; during the republican period however, soldiers were generally recruited only for a fixed term and returned to their previous professional occupations after the duration of their service. The time fixed for the military service of an individual citizen fluctuated over the course of the republic based on the conditions of Roman foreign policy and the number of simultaneous wars. The vast territorial expansion of the Roman state over the course of the 2nd century BC produced tremendous demand for more soldiers and longer periods of service. This caused considerable havoc for traditional Roman ways of life; most rural citizens especially could ill afford to be away from their farms for long periods of time, and were forced to go into debt to fund the upkeep of their lands for the duration of their service. Naturally, the aristocratic farms held competitive advantages, both because their owners could purchase slaves (who were exempt from military service) and because their own required military service was reserved for lucrative command roles. For the rural citizens the double grievance of forced conscription and debt bondage was intolerable, and, as we have seen, it generated the Gracchan reform movement of the 130-120’s BC. The eventual failure of Gracchan populism can be interpreted as a failure of the reform movement to consolidate the support of a necessary faction among the Roman populace. The aristocrats retained many advantages among their factional coalition that allowed them to suppress the rural smallholders (the leading Gracchan faction) with impunity. For the duration of their service, Roman legionaries were wholly reliant for pay and provisions on their aristocratic commanders, and many soldiers were hesitant to support a populist movement that had no real administrative capability to enforce its legislation. Furthermore, due to the compulsory service requirement for all Roman citizens, the legionary faction was a mix of the rural middle and lower class landholders, and the largely lower class urban tradesmen and skills workers. The urban factions relied on the aristocrats not only as purchasers of their goods but also as overseers of grain distribution and water supply in the city.6 The agitations of the populist movement caused disruptions to these crucial administrative functions and alienated most of the urban citizens. While the legionaries undoubtedly represented a necessary faction, the divisions among them and the lack of cohesive political motives enabled the aristocratic EMF to retain its dominance.

In order to make the legionaries a truly anti-establishment faction it was necessary to disentangle them from a reliance on the establishment dominated administration. This, however, could only be done through the erection of a parallel authority independent of senatorial sanction and oversight. After the failure of the Gracchan reform movement, the Roman state confronted a succession of crises that created just such conditions for the populist consolidation of the legionary faction. The first of these crises was the Jugurthine War. After a period of bungling and ineffective attempts at quelling the uprising of the vassal king Jugurtha in the province of North Africa, the Roman senate gave Gaius Marius sole command of the campaign. As proconsul Marius was authorized to recruit legions but, instead of recruiting them from the body of Roman citizens (who overwhelmingly resented the prospects of conscription), Marius recruited from among the capite censi, the large population of non-citizens living on Roman territory. While Marius could not yet offer citizenship to members of this group, he could offer plunder and enticing wages. With this step, Marius was responsible for perhaps the most pivotal reform in the entire history of the late republic. The implications of the policy only became evident with the immediate advent of a greater crisis. After a speedy triumph in the Jugurthine War, Marius was tasked with confronting the massive invasion of Germanic tribes into northern Italy that began in 107 BC, and reached a potentially lethal mass in 104 BC. The sheer numbers of the invaders meant that a swift recruitment of Roman citizens was out of the question and so Marius once again recruited from the capite censi. Assembling a massive force largely recruited from among the Italian allies (tribes subject to Rome but without citizenship), Marius gradually expelled the invaders from Roman territory. The imminent danger of the Germanic tribes forced Marius to offer his legionaries not only wages but also land, and it soon became clear in the aftermath of the Germanic War just how radically Marius had altered the factional alignments of the state. Marius had effectively created a necessary faction of non-citizen legionaries, and though the members of this faction had no vote they did have the means to enforce their claims by threats of force. Taking up their cause, the radical tribune Saturninus advocated not only for fulfilling the promises of land grants but also for granting citizenship to all veterans. His strident advocacy for these causes led to his murder by the senatorial EMF in 100 BC.

In the span of less than a decade, the necessary faction of the legionaries had supplanted the aristocrats as the determinative faction of the state. This was made evident when the allies revolted after the murder of the pro-veteran tribune Livius Drusus and initiated the War of the Allies. In order to ensure the survival of the republic, the senate was forced to give concessions to the rebels in the form of land and citizenship. It soon became clear how drastically the emergent political order had obliterated the hegemony of the senatorial EMF. When the senate attempted to disband the legionaries under the command of Sulla, Sulla entered Rome by force and flatly informed the senate that he would dictate policy as he saw fit. Marius replicated this unprecedented behavior and entered Rome with his own legions in 86 BC. Taking control of the city he eradicated all his prominent opponents and declared himself consul. The senatorial faction recognized that it was now too weak to enforce its own demands with impunity and reconciled with Sulla. When Sulla defeated the remnants of the Marian coalition in 83 BC and reconquered Rome, the senate dutifully awarded him the title of dictator. Though the determinative power of the old aristocratic EMF had collapsed, the senate still believed it could advance its claims (and forestall the claims of the populists) by subordinating itself to a reactionary, pro-establishment commander. If this failed, they could still retain influence as a powerbroker by setting up rival strongmen against each other, and attempt to ensure that no single commander gained too much individual authority. After the death of Sulla in 78 BC, this was the primary strategy adopted by the senate. It was inevitable, however, that the full expression of the populist agenda of the legionaries would triumph, and that fortune would favor the individual commander who gave himself most wholeheartedly to the task of promoting it. Thus, it was left for Julius Caesar to take the final step and bury the well-rotted carcass of senatorial power. As a populist, Caesar had the fanatic support of his legionaries, and his efforts in distributing loot to the citizens of Rome and funding lavish games endeared him to the urban populace that had once been a bedrock of republican loyalty. The assassination of Caesar represented the last effort by the old senatorial elite to wield determinative power, but it was doomed from the moment Caesar’s spirit vacated the earth. The new political order of Caesar was simply too momentous and factionally sound to fail. The military EMF that supplanted the senate and terminated republican government was to last essentially intact for four centuries.7

The collapse of the Roman republic can thus be viewed as the untethering of the necessary faction of the Roman legions from EMF dependence and subjection. The development was not inevitable, and any number of timely concessions on the part of the EMF might have prevented or acutely forestalled the rise of the legionary dictatorship. While the factional clarification achieved by the Gracchi brothers was vital for the ultimate success of the populist movement, it was not sufficient in itself to topple the power of the EMF. The rural smallholders were neither numerous nor necessary enough to head a factional coalition of insurgent politics, and mere legislative methods were too feeble to guarantee sustained reforms. Only the legionaries represented a faction formidable enough to overthrow the regime, but so long as they remained a divided and dependent group they could not develop the cohesion to accede to such a role. The unwitting insight of Marius was to recognize, if obliquely, that a movement on the outskirts of power will sometimes have the means to generate a previously non-existent necessary faction (i.e. the non-citizen legionaries) by policy incentives so long as it can acquire some measure of administrative credibility.8 Though the advancement of the non-citizen legionaries might be analyzed as an instance of an alien faction attaining power over a native established power (similar to the fate that ultimately befell the Roman empire), it is far more accurate to view both the citizens and non-citizens of the Italian peninsula as the “common folk” of the Roman heartland, coerced into serving the interests of an urban-centered cosmopolitan state without the accrual of political benefits. With this framework, it is easy to perceive similarities with the present politics of the United States. While the specific circumstances of the American republic differ considerably from the Roman, the general imperative for the success of a populist opposition movement remains the same: create and consolidate the support of a grievance faction that is necessary to the function of the state as a whole. Conversely, the abiding power of an EMF depends on its ability to marginalize those opposing factions which might imperil its capacity to maintain hegemony. With this framework as a basis, we shall now turn to an analysis of the American republic.

Necessary Factions and the American Republic

The most straightforward question we might ask about the American republic, in light of the foregoing discussion, is whether there exists any necessary faction comparable to the legionaries of the Roman republic as a potential spearhead faction for the overthrow of the American EMF. On first inquiry the answer appears to be unfavorable. None of the indisputably necessary factions listed above as naturally applicable to any state (soldiers, food producers, administrators) represent plausible candidates for such a role because they do not contain the numbers needed for an overriding political influence. Traditionally, the American soldiership has represented a decidedly conservative faction, and it remains so at the present time despite crude attempts by the EMF to promote leftist ideology in military training and recruitment strategy. Should the ruling EMF ever instruct the US military to operate against American citizens, it remains an open question as to what degree the individual members would defect or mutiny. But the greatest power of the EMF is not martial, or even ideological, but institutional. The federal bureaucracy and the major public and private institutions of American society (i.e. universities, NGOs, denominational churches etc.) represent the cornerstones of EMF power, and their formidableness is due to their intimacy with the implementation and execution of policy measures. The bureaucratic faction is by far the most powerful individual faction in American politics (more powerful, at this stage, than any constitutionally sanctioned authority except the presidency), and amounts to the greatest obstacle for the success of an insurgent right-wing populist movement. So much for the “inarguably” necessary factions. Let us take up a broader and more creative view of the “necessary faction” question.

The essential ideological basis for the factional coalition of the American EMF is the claim of oppression. This ideological claim undergirds all of its theoretical paradigms and policy initiatives, and is the decisive factor in the overwhelming success of its propaganda efforts in the last four decades of American politics. To hold such a coalition together, it is necessary that all component factions have a common oppressor though it is not necessary that the nature of the oppression be the same for all factions.9 Fundamentally, the ideological destination is to establish a revolutionary social order in which previously oppressed factions are favored on the basis of their oppressed status. Such an ideology has a narcotic effect on the human imagination, but there is an obvious paradox: How can a majoritarian coalition of the oppressed remain oppressed if they come to wield determinative power? The EMF offers an answer in the idea of “embedded systemic oppression,” whereby the systems and structures of a society remain in force despite lacking the outward identifications of power. But this is merely prudent propaganda gloss to shield the established power from scrutiny. The true reasons for any shortcomings or delays in the fulfillment of EMF promises to its coalition interests has to do with the delicacy with which the EMF must balance objectively deleterious consequences with extreme ideological imperatives (i.e. the aforementioned impossibility of actually disbanding an urban police force as demanded by leftist activists). Like the constant “counter-revolutionary conspiracies” of Bolshevik propaganda, the American EMF hopes it can dangle the permanently nebulous bogeyman of “structural oppression” before its coalition and thereby retain its support. Despite these obfuscations, the EMF cannot (and does not) neglect the demands of its constituent factions, and every acquiescence to these demands moves the nation incrementally leftwards.

We listed above the major plurality factions of the EMF coalition: racial minority voters of all classes, affluent white members of the EMF or proximate to it, and unmarried women of all classes and races.10 All the policy goals of the Democrat Party can be understood as catering to the demands of one or more of these factions.11 In a more strategic sense, the EMF desires to augment the numbers of these groups, and so fosters conditions favorable for such augmentations (i.e. promoting abortion and promiscuity for women that results in single-mother homes, native population decline, and spinsterhood, and opening the border to increase the non-white minority population). The ideologies of the American EMF and the grievances of their major factions can rightly be derided as parasitic, because they emanate from subjective ideological claims of “moral equity,” and not from dispassionate assessments of which factions are most productive or desirable for the nation’s stability and prosperity. The ideological factions of the EMF have no special productive or necessary functions. Thus, though the EMF has assembled a powerful coalition on the potency of ideology, it must rely on excluded productive factions which it can continually plunder to fulfill the remedial demands of its supporters. If we exempt the obvious “plunder of the future” demonstrated by inflation and debt policy, we can readily identify two intersecting present groups that have been singled out for special exploitation by the ruling EMF:

1) the American middle class: The EMF tax, trade and immigration policies are all designed to siphon as much wealth, independence, and productive capacity from the independent middle (i.e., the 40-80 percentile of wealth) class population as possible; and secondly: 2) American whites: the EMF policy and propaganda emphasis on “diversity, equity and inclusion” has led to institutionalized discriminatory and predatory policies directed at the majoritarian ethnic group of the nation. These two groups, the American middle class and American whites, share considerable overlap, and policies directed against one may be regarded by proxy as policies directed against the other. It would seem natural to conclude that a political movement designed to displace the ruling EMF must consolidate a factional coalition among these two groups. But such a course, taken too overtly, is fraught with special difficulties.

The discomfort felt by American whites in advancing explicitly racial claims had considerable historical precedence prior to the emergence of the present leftist EMF, and has only exacerbated with the torrents of EMF propaganda.12 There is a persistent desire among conservatives to deny the essentially racial division of American politics, most likely out of lingering multicultural idealism. The truth of the matter is that an impartial observer, viewing the factional breakdown of the American electorate and with no familiarity of American political culture, would readily conclude that the Republican Party is, in aggregate, the party of American whites with special defections and the Democrat Party is that of non-white minorities.13 This division comes about exactly as the leftist EMF intended, for “whites” are the dwindling racial majority and the oppressor class of their ideological paradigms. The propaganda of “white guilt” has proven particularly effective for affluent “urban” whites who have strong desires to identify with the ideologically elite class, even to the point of personal debasement.14 The other major white faction in the EMF coalition is unmarried white women. The allegiance of this group to the EMF can usually be explained by two reasons: 1) A desire for ease of abortion and contraceptive access to allow for a sexually promiscuous or career-oriented lifestyle and, 2) A susceptibility to the sympathetic victim propaganda of the EMF, sometimes regarded as a misapplied exercise of maternal instinct in the absence of children. Of these, only the first reason produces a tangible benefit to the voter, but this benefit evaporates if the woman marries or desires to bear children. In every other sense the EMF is hostile to the tangible interests of white women, and, generally speaking, no white woman voting out of the interests of her children will have any plausible motive for supporting the EMF. This observation is confirmed by the entrenched support among married white mothers for the Republican Party.

We mentioned in the previous installment the need for a right-wing populist movement to incentivize conditions that promote marriage and child-bearing. This is true in the practical sense, as a means of broadening the coalition, but it is also an imminent strategic necessity. For it is here that the movement can create the appropriate necessary faction of right-wing populism. Recall that a necessary faction which is divided in its political motivation will always serve to the advantage of a ruling EMF. It is therefore the prerogative of an insurgent movement to consolidate a faction on the double basis of its necessity to the state and its dissatisfaction with the established power. In the political situation of the Roman republic, the citizen-legionaries represented a necessary faction but they were divided in political allegiance out of a partial dependence on the aristocratic EMF. With the onset of crisis conditions, the non-citizen legionaries emerged as a faction that fulfilled both prerogatives. Shut out of all political power, the non-citizen legionaries had no allegiance whatsoever to the EMF and were wholly invested in the insurgent populist movement as the sole means for the achievement of their political demands. In the present American situation, both “whites” and the “middle class” represent strong parallels with the citizen-legionaries: each represents a faction exploited for the benefit of the American EMF. But neither is specified enough to represent the consequential necessary faction of an insurgent politics. A purely racial basis for a right-wing factional coalition is insupportable for the specific contours of American political culture. The American “middle class” is divided, both on a racial basis (the non-white “middle” class strongly supports the EMF) and on a dependency basis (i.e. many “middle” class whites wish to enter the ranks of the ideological elite class and move into the “EMF dependent” professions of administrators, academics and social workers), and is therefore too unstable to take such on a determinative role.

One more layer of factional specification is required, and for American politics, our distinction must be between the population of the independent middle class which is child-bearing and that which is not. Just like the specification of the non-citizen legionaries produced the necessary faction that toppled the Roman EMF, the specification of economically independent bearers of productive (i.e. future taxpaying) children represents the necessary faction most likely to usurp determinative power from the leftist EMF. Why is this? Because the greatest crisis of the American republic (comparable to the Germanic invasions of the Roman republic) is the catastrophic decline in the birth rate among productive citizens. The entire ideological consequence of the American EMF has been to reward unproductive (i.e. net cost negative, but ideologically favored) populations with the prosperity generated by productive (i.e. net cost positive) citizens. The EMF is not unaware of the problems caused by such an imbalance, and hopes to keep the nation economically viable within ideological lines by importing a foreign labor force. But most of this immigrant population joins the swelling ranks of the unproductive, dependent factions. Simply put, the EMF cannot fulfill the demands of its factional coalition without increasing the size of the productive population, but its propaganda loses considerable force among productive citizens no longer dependent on EMF favors. The fragility of such a coalition is evident, but no effective right-wing populism has yet risen to take advantage of its fatal weakness. This is because the muddled policies of the Republican Party have served to suppress rather than engender the consolidation of such a new faction. Without the consolidation of the necessary faction of child-bearers of productive children, no political movement will emerge to challenge the EMF even at its most incompetent, and the Republican Party will continue as a plodding, inconsequential foil for EMF hegemony. Let us inquire into the platform that might generate such a consolidation.

Manufacturing the Consequential Necessary Faction of a Right-Wing Populist Movement

We emphasize the caveat of productive in our specification of our preferred necessary faction because, as is obvious, there exists a large faction of child-bearers actually enlarging the population of unproductive citizens and EMF dependents. This is entirely a consequence of the warped incentives produced by current social welfare policy, and works to the advantage of the EMF in numerical, if not sustainable, terms.15 The political platform of a right-wing populist movement must eliminate the perverse incentives that inspire dependents to bear children, and instead provide highly favorable conditions for the independent population to do so instead. At present, the Republican Party is highly dominated by its older generational factions, and as such its platform has produced none of the requisite social reforms that would consolidate the necessary faction of child-bearing taxpayers. But the population crisis is so grave that there is no issue more important than incentivizing child-bearing, and naturally, this means that the pivotal factions within an emergent populist coalition are the younger factions capable of reproducing. The entire armory of the welfare state must be directed towards incentive policy for reproduction among young, non-dependent citizens.

But how might social policy screen for productivity? Simply by making welfare subsidies contingent on optimal social behavior such as marriage and a stable employment status.16 But the matter is not so straightforward. This radical reorientation of social welfare policy is caught in a vast web of currents and countercurrents plaguing the young generations. The decline in the marriage rate has been attributed with a fair deal of accuracy to two previously trivial factors: 1) The generational rise of a substantial portion of women essentially “hypergamous” in outlook for the duration of their “reproductive primes”; and 2) a large number of young men fearful of the consequences of commitment in light of divorce law. Both of these factors warrant some examination. The proliferation of lifestyle exposure and abundance of options offered by social media has conditioned women in their twenties to disdain early marriage in the hopes of securing the best possible mates; frequently, young women will offer sexual access to men perceived as valuable who will not commit to them, or they will lead a promiscuous life for enjoyment. These behaviors create immense resentment among young men “excluded” from sexual access. As women age, they may be willing to accept men as partners they had formally rejected in order to have children. But men are wary of accepting such women because of past promiscuity and the fear of divorce. This fear is not without foundation; the legal system is highly favorable to women in divorce settlements and child custody disputes. The result of these developments has been the fomenting of great distrust between the sexes, and a rise in embittered casualties of “modern dating” unlikely to ever form stable partnerships (mostly women discarded by poor long-term mate choices and men ignored by women totally).17 These social outcomes are the result of the corrosive influence of EMF ideologies but also a natural consequence of technological progress. Thus, it cannot be expected that any right-wing political movement will be able to remedy all of these problems by policy means. Nonetheless, we offer the following suggestions as a forecast of a possible social platform for an effective populist platform:

1) The elimination of no-fault divorce: like abortion, most divorce is a matter of convenience. Women initiate at far greater rates than men, and many young men are highly reluctant to marry if no safeguards are placed on the solidity of marriages. The elimination of no-fault divorce (i.e. arbitrary) would induce some portion of them to reconsider. However, the women have their claims too. Thus, we suggest:

2) The institution of a bachelor tax for men within a wealth threshold. We will not venture into the details of such a policy proposal at present. Despite the assertions of feminist ideology most women desire very much to be married (whether to the same husband indefinitely is, as we have noted, a rather different proposition). Under current social conditions there is a rapidly expanding population of involuntarily single women entering middle age, many of whom are lonely and embittered. Some of these women engaged, no doubt, in sub-optimal behaviors in their twenties, and perhaps squandered viable opportunities for attachment (or were the victims of long non-marital relationships suddenly broken off), but their factional claims cannot be ignored, especially if they remain marginally fertile. Simply put, no right-wing movement can reach a plurality of these women unless it helps them to marry. Thus, a negative incentive applied to eligible (i.e. desirable) men is probably compulsory.

3) Homeownership for young couples. Any married couple that has three children before the mother reaches the age of 25 is to be awarded a single-family house. Specific conditions may be subject to debate, but the incentivization of early child-bearing is abundantly clear. Few women in the United States are bearing children at the age of maximum fertility. Much of this has to do not with the effectiveness of anti-natal EMF propaganda, but to grave economic anxiety on the part of the younger generations. Many believe they will never have the wealth to own a home, and do not want to raise children in morbid rental conditions. Naturally, this policy remedies these concerns.

4) Permanent tax credit (or universal basic income) for married couples with children. For the rejuvenation of American social cohesion there is a need not only to encourage marriages, but to sustain them. In contrast to the adverse incentives generated by current social welfare policy, this proposal would provide a deterrence to spouses looking to divorce for trivial reasons and encourage a more rigorous cultural devotion to family sustainability.

5) Guaranteed family leave and childcare benefits for married mothers. Ideally, for the recovery of the population growth rate, fertile women would be disinclined to work at all.18 But the modern world cannot be peeled back, and provisions must be offered for those women who desire to work and raise children simultaneously. It is in this measure that our suggestions are applicable to current political discourse, though it is the progressives who are most eagerly promoting it. From the EMF standpoint, the preservation of women in the workforce is vital to the maintenance of their coalition. Women are strongly represented in administrative, medical, and bureaucratic jobs that depend on government funding, and the EMF desires to keep them dependent. Thus, we offer the caveat of married mothers. Such women may work, but they are less likely to be so wholly dependent on establishment policy that they cannot sever their allegiance to the EMF.19

With these suggestions, we offer a preliminary forecast of the social incentives requisite to vivify and consolidate the necessary faction of non-dependent, middle class child-bearers. A shrewd digester of our essay might note that, in offering vast welfare and incentives to a population hitherto deprived of them, we are, in fact, making them dependent. But this is a faulty assertion. It is rather the nation that is dependent on them. This faction should be understood as vital to the survival of the American state in much the same way the non-citizen legionaries were vital for the Roman state. It is no exaggeration to say that the demographic issue is the only issue, the one that has the greatest possibility to supersede all others. The ruling EMF has built up a powerful coalition on the basis of ideological resentment, but the economic untenability of this coalition will obliterate the future prosperity of the United States unless enough children are born to overcome the cultural damage and surmount the inevitable economic fallout. Such children will not come from immigrants, or vengeful ideologues but from the folk of the American middle class heartland, who have, in any case, always been most fundamental to the core American cultural identity. The elevation of this faction must be done quickly, for the political circumstances of the American nation are acutely ripe for reversal. All the consequential political movements of history have incubated in an “accumulation of the unsaid,” and no group of Americans of this generation has had to bear such silent plunder as the heartland “middle.” Such a group has the future viability of the nation in its hands, for no other group can solve the crisis of population decline. It is the duty of the American Right to consolidate and sharpen such a pivotal faction, and lead it to wrest determinative power from a parasitic and emboldened elite.

(This essay will be continued in the next issue).


  1. There has never been a truly Communist government in history that has been voted into power by republican process. This is in contrast to “fascistic” or theocratic authoritarianisms, which have frequently emerged from fair voting.
  2. In the United States farmers make up less than 2 percent of the American electorate while soldiers and veterans (including National Guard and inactive personnel, though not including spouses of veterans) make up around 7 percent. Subsidies to farmers and agricultural production have never gone out of fashion with either major party. Veterans are eligible for federal and state financial and health benefits that (theoretically) go well beyond what is available for the general public.
  3. It was no accident that all Communist movements ascended to power through the formation of a fighting force, and a secret police, and then proceeded to forcibly bring agriculture under state control, thus bringing the two indisputably necessary factions firmly under their authority.
  4. We should note that this problem is not confined to leftist ideological movements. A successful populist right-wing movement in the United States will have to confront the necessary faction of the federal bureaucracy, a faction which is solidly leftist in orientation, and which cannot be dislodged without temporary shockwaves to administrative function.
  5. There is a long history of persecutions of minority ethnic groups representing proxy persecutions of necessary factions. Two examples will suffice to demonstrate the complications caused by ethnic minority domination of necessary functions: over the course of the Middle Ages many European states expelled Jews due to pressures of popular prejudice. Because Jews were the only group engaged in interest finance they operated highly successful banking syndicates that gave flexibility to national economies. After their expulsions, the economies of the expelling countries generally retracted to a more primitive feudal state, to the detriment of gross production (though, perhaps, to the modest benefit of the large peasant faction). During the colonial era, the British had a practice of bringing south Asians to Africa to staff the civil service of their African colonies. After independence these upper middle class bureaucrats were viewed with contempt by the native Africans and the new regimes expelled them, with detrimental consequences to their economies and administrative efficiencies.
  6. After the Roman conquest of North Africa, the urban population began to rely heavily on cheap grain exports from this province and not from the farms of the Italian peninsula. While in times of stability this led to more affordable grain, the necessity of moving the supply across the Mediterranean made Roman transport ships susceptible to piracy and impresses. During the civil wars numerous belligerents deployed these tactics in an effort to destabilize conditions in major cities.
  7. The upheavals and alterations of the military EMF throughout the history of the empire is beyond the scope of this essay. However, we might mention three pivotal changes in imperial orientation over the course of the empire’s history: the year 69 AD witnessed the first breakdown in ordered succession established by Augustus and the nation descended into civil war. The commander Vespasian (ruled 69-79 AD) emerged victorious from this war and became the first emperor who was of middle class plebeian, and not aristocratic, origins. In 193 AD a similar civil war followed the death of the emperor Commodus. The winner of this conflict was Septimius Severus (ruled 193-211 AD), of Carthaginian ethnicity, who became the first provincial (non-Italian) emperor. Another series of civil wars followed the abdication of the emperor Diocletian in 305 AD. In this protracted conflict the ultimate victor was Constantine (ruled 308-337 AD), who became sole emperor after decades of divided rule. He established Christianity as the dominant religion of the empire and was baptized shortly before his death.
  8. Note that this does not necessarily mean that proponents of the movement must actually have administrative authority, only that the members of a factional coalition believe they can plausibly get it. While Marius, as proconsul, had no independent authority to fulfill land grants for his legionaries, he represented a far more credible conduit for such demands than the Gracchi.
  9. In leftist ideological jargon, the term intersectionality refers to the overlap of two or more oppressed conditions within a single person. Thus, while a white woman has only to deal with the oppressions of patriarchy, a black woman has to deal with the double oppressions of patriarchy and white supremacy, while a transgender black “woman” has to deal with the triple oppressions of patriarchy, white supremacy and “heteronormativity”. This game of stacking intersectional oppression may be played ad nauseam, and a great many “academics” have done little else for many decades.
  10. For the purposes of our discussion we are classing the influential American Jewish faction with “whites proximate to/part of the EMF.” The Israeli war has opened up a schism in the EMF coalition between Jews (over 80 percent of whom voted for Biden in 2020 and many of whom are direct members of the EMF) and immigrant minorities. We do not have the space to dissect this intriguing development in detail, but we will note that the fundamental discrepancy relates to non-white minorities viewing Jews as white (and thus as oppressors) and Jews viewing themselves as a separate minority with oppressed status (most likely because of historical memory and the Holocaust and despite the fact that Jews are disproportionately represented in positions of power and prestige).
  11. The old bastion of the mid-20th century Democrat factional coalition was the “common working man” of all races, but Democrats began losing white male working voters after the Civil Rights era and now retain virtually none of their “rural labor” support.
  12. The question “who is white?” is an obsession for leftist ideologues. For the purposes of this essay, “white” refers to anyone who is of ethnic European heritage, or who could claim to be a member of the “European diaspora.”
  13. The statistic that bears this out most plainly is that nearly 90 pecent of Trump voters in 2020 were white.
  14. The transgender movement is a hugely white phenomenon, and can easily be explained as an attempt by leftist whites to make up for their status in the EMF victim hierarchy by joining an oppressed group.
  15. It should be observed that, though the EMF benefits from a population increase in dependents from a voting perspective, it remains ambivalent over too great an increase in dependent population. Witness, for instance, its success in keeping the size of the urban black population stagnant through widespread abortion access. The ambivalence comes from a recognition that too strong of an acquiescence to the demands of inherently unproductive or solipsistic factions risks destabilizing the nation to such a degree that the EMF forfeits its claims to credibility. Ultimately, an EMF is always motivated by its desire to retain power, and this motive supersedes all purely ideological motives of constituent groups. Nonetheless, the shrewd operators within the EMF have learned how to advance even extreme factional demands covertly and less abruptly. Consider, for instance, Obama’s deployment of Attorney General Eric Holder in “civil rights” investigations of police departments by a series of executive orders. Holder’s “investigations” produced considerable ideological advances over the resistant law enforcement faction, but these were almost entirely out of the public eye.
  16. Ideally, the husband would be employed. Such an assertion is controversial under the feminist ideological paradigms of the EMF, but there is nothing more catastrophic to the birth rate than the near universal employment of fertile women. It must be understood that married women who bear children and do not work represent the most necessary sub-faction in all American politics (not only because they have children but also because their absence from an over-employed white-collar workforce will raise wages for remaining employees), and every measure should be taken to encourage the expansion of such a population, including direct subsidization.
  17. This entire cluster of social issues has been treated ad nauseam by the “RedPill” internet movement and other manifestations of the “manosphere.” Much of the discourse centers around personal improvements for young men and only peripherally on social reform, and mostly fails to amount to a coherent political philosophy.
  18. A number of pro-natalist promoters, among them Elon Musk, have touted the emergence of new reproductive technologies and practices like artificial wombs, surrogacy and “work daycare,” largely in an effort to convince career-oriented women to bear children (Musk himself has conceived children by surrogacy). From many religious perspectives, only natural birth methods are morally permissible. We will only say that any method which violates the sanctity of the bond between the child and its natural parent is not to be promoted, though the severity of the discouragement fluctuates based on circumstances. Thus, a surrogate pregnancy of traditional parents unable to bear children in any other way is not ideal, but should not be prohibited. But the handing over of surrogate children (especially boys) to homosexuals is an abomination; “non-traditional” households represent such statistical spikes in child abuse, neglect, and sexual exploitation that only depraved societies would even countenance allowing them to “adopt” children. 
  19. It is fair to pose the question of where the money will come from for these policies given the dire state of the federal budget. We do not have space to probe this question in detail but we offer two basic arguments to justify our position: 1) There are vast reserves of funding that can be reallocated from leftist institutions and initiatives by a right-wing administration. Foremost, the elite universities, which have been perhaps the most destructive forces in American society of the last 40 years, possess endowments that ought to be appropriated and redistributed; 2) there is no viable factional coalition for a platform of fiscal conservatism. The decline in living standards of the conservative voter is impossible to ignore, and anyone who thinks a right-wing platform can emphasize “fiscal responsibility” at the expense of raising up its supporters by tangible means is entirely oblivious of the times.     *
Monday, 28 August 2023 10:57

The Mission of the St. Croix Review

The Mission of The St. Croix Review

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is an Associate Editor of The St. Croix Review. He is taking a break from his series on his comparison of the Roman Republic with our present American society. His series will continue in the October/November issue of The St. Croix Review.

Our mission can be stated in a very simple way: we aim to stop the ongoing destruction of America. To do this requires aggressively pursuing three main objectives: 1) reestablishing the family as the center of American life; 2) restoring economic prosperity to an independent middle class; and 3) reviving a culture of tradition. To begin the long and difficult road to American Restoration, we have to confront the truth that America is in terminal decline. The future of an America dominated by globalist interests, criminal elites, and the horrific social consequences of progressive ideologies, looks very bleak. Former principles of life like the integrity of the family, a sense of shared patriotism, and traditional morality are evaporating as the foundations of American society. As these principles decline, so does the stability, prosperity, and viability of the American nation. We’re on the cusp of a dark age — not only for America but for the entire Western world. What I intend to offer is a platform of principles and policies for American Restoration. We at the Review believe that what I present here should form the foundation for a political platform of the future, and represents the only one that has a real chance to restore America to national greatness.

To begin, it is necessary to observe that the American conservative movement of the last 40 years has failed. Leftist ideologies have infiltrated nearly every institution and segment of American politics and culture, including private corporations, federal bureaucratic agencies, state bureaucratic agencies, the military, public education, and the medical industry. Republican presidential administrations have wasted the support of the electorate in the pursuit of establishment financial interests and profligate wars. There are four basic reasons for the failure of the American conservative movement of the last 40 years:

  1. An unwillingness to deploy available power due to a hopeless fidelity to a “small government” political philosophy.
  2. A dismissal of cultural issues as unimportant compared to economic policies.
  3. Corruption of the desires of the conservative voting base by elite special interests.
  4. Lack of participation among conservative voters in local politics and primaries.

Each of these problems stem from the fallacies inherent in the philosophy of conservatism. Conservatism by nature nurtures complacency, because it implies that all that’s necessary for a sustaining society is a passive maintenance of the abiding conditions. In other words, it deters the aggressive use of power. In less urgent times such a mindset might have its place. But faced with fanatic ideological movements bent on reshaping and undermining all previous aspects of the nation and its culture, the lassez-faire attitudes of conservatism must die away. What we need instead is a forceful movement of Restorationism. Such a movement won’t hesitate to use available powers to return the nation to its former greatness. It won’t make the mistakes made by the conservative movement of the last 40 years. This movement begins with the understanding that there is little left to merely conserve, and that its most important objective is to claw its way into real determinative power.

So, what does the Restoration movement believe, and how does the movement differ from conservatism? One of the most important distinctions relates to the role of government: the purpose of acquiring government power is not only to prevent its misuse by destructive ideologues, but also to eliminate the influence of those ideologues. Unlike conservatism, the Restoration movement won’t be kneecapped by any discomforts in using available power to fight the pernicious influences of Leftist ideologies. A second crucial distinction of the movement defines the proper relationship between the government and its citizens: the covenant of a representative government with its citizens is that those who act in ways that are beneficial for the nation deserve the aid and support of the nation’s government and protection against those who do not. All of leftism is concerned with promoting the interests of those who are detrimental to society at the expense of those who make society prosper. Race hustlers, sexual degenerates, criminals, the mentally ill, and the chronically miserable are the groups of people who benefit from the policies of the Left. Instead of incentivizing healthy behaviors to counteract leftist influences, conservatism of recent decades has pandered to destructive people who will never seriously support it. The government (at all levels) has real duties to aid and actively benefit citizens who promote the interests of the society as a whole by positive personal conduct; this is all the more true if those citizens have been undermined by previous government policy that sought to marginalize them.

There are 10 philosophical principles of the Restoration movement that represent a summation of the movement’s approach to politics and its understanding of human and social nature. We are indebted to the Chairman of the Board of Religion and Society, the foundation that publishes The St. Croix Review, for conceiving these points. Swisher’s 10 points are as follows:

Principle 1. Men may be created equal in rights, as asserted by the Declaration of Independence, but they are not equal physically, intellectually, or even morally, and any attempt to make them so by the power of the state is inevitably tyrannous.

The implication of this principle is that the only possible equality in this world is equality under the law. Any attempt to enforce equality of outcomes is tyrannous and destructive, and the state has no business forcibly equalizing the conditions of life for disparate behaviors. Particularly insidious is the leftist idea of equity: this is the belief that outcomes must be the same across socially differentiated groups, and if they aren’t, it’s because of oppression. This idea must be totally repudiated. Success in the world is a matter of individual aptitude and natural ability. To interfere with these core competencies is to reduce the viability of a nation across all endeavors, both economic and social. If disparities remain, this is because of natural conditions, not because of social structures.

Principle 2. Liberty is in conflict with enforced equality.

The second principle follows from the first principle. Even if some won’t admit it, everyone knows that there’s a more or less permanent hierarchy of social behaviors. Some behaviors lead to success and stability in life and others lead to ostracization, incarceration, and poverty. In a state of liberty, some will succeed while others will fail. There is no equality in Nature and there can be no equality within a state without the suppression of merit and the elevation of ineptitude.

Principle 3. The institution of private property is essential to liberty.

Political thinkers have long recognized that widespread ownership of private property is the chief means to ensuring a stable and productive citizenry. The ownership of private property gives citizens a stake in the state as a whole and secures societal cooperation in mutual self-interest. It’s the state’s role to ensure that those who act in positive ways for society are given ample opportunity and assistance to own and retain private property.

Principle 4. Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith (—Tocqueville).

This line of Tocqueville’s is an essential assumption of the Restoration movement. No person or system within Nature is without flaws. The paradox of political life is that it’s necessary to pursue the ideal conditions even while conceding them as impossible. To do this genuinely is to have faith that a perfect moral arbiter exists, and that His kingdom is accessible to us in other worlds. General belief in a moral God is necessary for civil society to prosper.

Principle 5. A propositional state cannot create a culture — but neither can genetics or geographic location alone. Culture is an organic development.

Common culture derives from both shared principles and shared struggles. Shared principles unite citizens together in the mind, and shared history unites them in the spirit. A culture of liberty emerges from the pursuit of freedom in the experience of history. Conversely, a common culture is impossible for those who reject the principles of liberty and don’t acknowledge the nation’s history as their own. Such a society can neither remain functional nor united.

Principle 6. Cultures are not equal; by their fruits ye shall know them.

Multiculturalism and plurality for its own sake must be rejected. Some world cultures produce liberty and prosperity. Others do not. Under the abiding ideological regime, Western culture is the only world culture that isn’t allowed to insist on its integrity and value. At its best, Western culture has proved itself superior to all other world cultures in generating general prosperity and maintaining liberty. This is why Western values must be protected and defended at all costs. It’s crucial that America remain a Western culture and society. No foreigner has a who is either unwilling or unable to comply with Western standards of civilization has a right to inhabit America.

Principle 7. Experience is usually a better guide than reason. Tradition is the democracy of the dead ( —Chesterton).

This line is taken from G. K. Chesterton. The endless desire to refute the accumulated wisdom of thousands of generations for how to live a prosperous and fulfilling life is one of the great curses of the modern world. God, Family, and Nation have been the cornerstones in the life of prosperous and happy citizens throughout history. Those who wish to bring down these essential cornerstones are almost always operating from a spirit of resentment, and no successful state has ever lasted long that wasn’t founded on this trinity.

Principle 8. We live in a fallen world, and are compelled to make the best of it that we can, while recognizing that it will not, in this life, ever be perfect.

No matter how it’s constructed, no state or society will ever be able to overcome the fact of human fallibility. Politics can’t create a paradise, and the Restoration movement can never fall prey to idealistic thinking at odds with the limited possibilities of our world. Faith in the perfection of the next world steadies the expectations for our present one, and keeps in check our misguided hopes for a purely worldly fulfillment.

Principle 9. Prudential government is by nature conservative, gentle, and sparing; the lesson of history is that it does as little harm as possible. Ideologies are by nature rigid, and spare no one who gets in their way. However described, ideologies are opposed to conservatism.

Remember that the covenant of a representative government with its citizens is this: Those who act in ways that are beneficial for the nation deserve the aid and support of the nation’s government. In stable times, this generally means that government should get out of the way and leave the citizens to their own pursuits. This was the assumption of the conservative movement of the last 40 years. But in turbulent times prudential government has a decisive role to play in safeguarding the welfare of the citizens who most contribute to societal prosperity. We live in such a time that requires decisive government action to secure the welfare of good citizens and forestall the destruction of the nation.

Principle 10. There is very little left in today’s status quo of which we can feel very fond. We will get nowhere by being preservative — that is a losing battle, and indeed is mostly lost already. Let us strive to be restorative conservatives.

This represents the key contention of the Restoration movement and the key point of divergence with the tepid conservatism of the recent past. The Restoration of America begins when we recognize that the nation must be consecrated on restored foundations. The processes that have lapsed or been corrupted can’t be trusted to return the nation to its former greatness. In the clutches of unscrupulous machinators, the Constitution itself has lapsed and it is justifiable to restore its original intentions by aggressive and unprecedented means.

These 10 principles represent the underlying ideas of the Restoration movement. In some respects they are similar to the ideas that have animated American conservatism for many decades. But there are a number of policies that emerge from these principles that aren’t equivalent to the ideas of American conservatism, and that represent new (and necessary) alterations in political thinking. I intend to emphasize these differences because they’ll serve to stamp out the weakness that has characterized American conservatism of the past four decades. The following list represents seven strategies for the execution of the Restoration platform. Each of these points is notable because it diverges from recent conservatism, either through a greater forcefulness or, more drastically, through a change of principles. Each of these strategies can and should be adopted by current candidates for political offices.

Strategy 1: Frame the culture war as a battle between civilization and barbarism.

There is no higher duty of a society than to protect the civilized from the uncivilized. This is a far greater duty than any attempts to “reintegrate” persons in society who have (often repeatedly) demonstrated a fundamental unfitness for higher civilization. The Restoration movement has no tolerance for leniency to barbaric acts. We make no apologies for our desire to considerably augment the prison population and stiffen sentences. There are so many tragic crimes in America that could have been prevented if only the criminals had been put away permanently instead of being released. The rates of recidivism provide evidence enough that the prison system isn’t a system of reintegration into society (as it’s often advertised); rather it should be thought of as the primary means by which the uncivilized are sequestered from the civilized. Under the principles of Restoration, sympathy is given to the victims of violent crime and never to the perpetrators.

Strategy 2: Restore and preserve a prosperous middle class by all means necessary.

An independent, propertied middle class is the lifeblood of any society of liberty. This is because those who own property will always have a more personal and intimate interest in the general welfare of a state than those who own nothing. This was recognized by Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. The greatest scandal of American conservatism is that it has allowed the demolition of the American middle class over the last 40 years. Conservatives made a Faustian bargain with the corporations and other elite interests at the expense of the middle class. They aggressively promoted the economic interests of the very wealthy and ignored the economic decline of the heartland middle class: Small-business owners and blue-collar workers. The wealthy continue to engorge themselves, as more and more honest and hardworking Americans slip from middle class prosperity into poverty. To restore America is to restore the American middle class. The Restoration movement should aim at universal home ownership for law-abiding, stable, working families. To achieve this might require unprecedented policy suggestions. If necessary, even the seizure and redistribution of funds from corrupt non-productive institutions (such as university endowments) is permissible to achieve this objective.

Strategy 3: Reject racial gaslighting.

The increasing promotion of ethnic hatred of whites by the Left is unacceptable; and the rhetoric can’t be allowed to continue unchecked. After the Civil Rights movement, the country made an apparent agreement to move forward with a colorblind vision of race relations. But after 60 years of affirmative action and civil rights laws we still don’t see equitable societal outcomes as expected by the Left. And so, we see the Left increasingly turn to a politics of racial gaslighting. Under politically correct speech codes, whites are the only racial or ethnic group that is allowed to be slandered. This goes on because many whites are eager to heap blame on their own race out of a sense of guilt or of self-loathing. History amply demonstrates that it’s dangerous to stand by while one race or ethnic group is repeatedly scapegoated. Given our multiracial society, it is never permissible to allow certain speech codes for one group and not others. The discrimination against whites and, increasingly, Asians has arisen because these groups have demonstrated higher levels of optimized social behaviors. This kind of merit-based discrimination is a cancer that must be spoken about without euphemisms to be aggressively combated.

Strategy 4: Fortify local politics.

It is easy to blame special interests, donors, and weak candidates for the total failure of American conservatism in the last 40 years. But the truth is that conservative voters bear a portion of the blame. Participation in primaries for national legislative nominations averages around 20 percent in red districts. The percentages are even worse for participation in state and municipal nominations. Conservatives participate in school boards and city government at much lower rates than leftists, even in areas with large pluralities of traditional voters. The excessive focus on the big picture has allowed leftist encroachment in many solidly red areas. Some have spoken of a kind of messianic complex endemic to the conservative electorate, as though they expect liberation to come from one single figure. This is a dangerous naivety. The Restorationists recognize that traditional voters must participate in droves at the local level to prevent the leftist cancer from infecting the entire country. Conservatives must control local school boards, law enforcement offices, and city councils. Most importantly traditional voters must participate in Republican primaries and prevent hack establishment candidates and Trojan Horse Republicans from being nominated.

Strategy 5: Destroy leftist institutions by cutting off funding.

Leftist domination of the culture can seem formidable. But much of this strength is due to the benefits they receive from public money. Oblivious conservative politicians have never questioned the funneling of billions into institutions and programs that promote leftist propaganda and radicalize citizens. This can change by direct government intervention. Restorationists must have no qualms in deploying government threats of defunding to force institutions to stop disseminating leftism. Universities, corporations, and public media that continue discriminatory admissions and hiring processes, or disseminate predatory leftist propaganda, must be stripped of all tax benefits and special aid. All public and private institutions must be punished financially by conservative administrations for engaging in ideological discrimination or promotion of leftist causes.

Strategy 6: Revolutionize the social welfare system.

Conservatives of the last 40 years have generally had little good to say about the American social welfare system. This is because the policies of the system have served to incentivize destructive societal behaviors and have often led to aid going to criminal and deviant persons and activities. But it’s a grave mistake to suggest that the welfare system should be abolished. The American welfare state must be maintained for the purpose of resurrecting the middle class. Instead of allotting welfare on the basis of degeneracy and dysfunction, welfare should be awarded on the basis of optimal societal behaviors. Family stability, child rearing, and steady employment must all be incentivized by welfare policy. A number of European nations have already adopted policies to promote population growth that give tax exemptions to families that bear a certain number of children. The Restoration movement believes that social welfare is a tool that should incentivize healthy societal conduct. Sustained marriage and the conception of children both should be financially rewarded by welfare policy.

Strategy 7: Construct parallel structures and institutions.

The reality of leftist institutional capture has necessitated a rejection of participation in mainstream institutions and cultural activities by traditional Americans. Where this can’t be done entirely, it must be done gradually. To send a child to public school is to willingly give him or her up to indoctrination in predatory propaganda and exposure to sexual perversion. The Restoration platform insists on beginning the arduous task of erecting parallel institutions that deprive the leftists of their ability to corrupt more citizens. We encourage traditional Americans to avoid giving business to corporations that contribute to leftist causes as far as they can. We encourage them to avoid delivering their children over to the criminal cesspool of public education and psychiatric counseling. We encourage them to be vigilant over social media use where so many impressionable young people fall prey to malicious propaganda. We can’t retain any sunny delusions that we live in a united nation anymore. We are divided, and if we are to have any chance of preserving a traditional way of life, we must begin to aggressively assert our values and principles if they’re to have any hope of survival.

In this essay I’ve tried to present a snapshot of a future Restoration platform that will go beyond the means and ambitions of the vacillating conservative movement of the previous decades. The road will be long and difficult, but the first step is admitting the inadequacy of the status quo and embracing what is necessary for revival. The St. Croix Review is at the forefront of a new brand of combative Restoration; our goal as a publication is to bring this philosophy into the mainstream and begin the work to permanently resurrect American greatness. We believe history calls us to this battle, and we ask you to stand with us and help us in the fostering of liberty and prosperity for our time. Thank you, and may God bless you.     *

The Fall of the Roman Republic: A Narrative and Analytical Comparison with the Contemporary Conditions of the United States of America — (Part 5 of a Series)

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is Associate Editor of The St. Croix Review

III. Analysis of the Roman and American Republics


In the previous installments of this essay we presented a framework for the analysis of factional divisions within a political society, and defined the conditions necessary for a possible alteration of a reigning elite minority faction. Recall that this term (which will be abbreviated EMF) refers to the exclusive faction of persons who retain determinative cultural and political power within a state. The EMF of the late Roman republic included most of the senators and the dissolute aristocracy; the EMF of the present American republic is represented by the leftwing coastal “establishment” that includes politicians, activists, high-ranking businessmen, and cultural figures. The strength of an EMF depends on the perceived immutability of its power justification. All EMFs claim some basis for their authorities and the degree to which they persuade or compel citizens within a state to accept their sanction is the test of their immutability. In republican states, the basic immutable principles are the contractual obligations of constitutional government and the right of citizens to freely determine their rulers by participation in elections. Violations of the integrity of these conditions by the senate of the late Roman republic induced Roman citizens to reject the republican principles as illegitimate, and led to the overthrow of the EMF in favor of a military dictatorship. The breakdown of republican immutability in the Roman republic was instigated not merely by incidences of tyrannical overreach (though these became increasingly common in the last decades of the republic) but by the gradual recognition that the aristocratic EMF would venture arbitrary authorities in perpetuity (under the guise of “republicanism”) to preclude the possibility of diminutions to its power. The crucial revelation that determined the course of the Roman state was that the corrosion of the republican government could not be remedied by republican means. The purpose of this installment is to assess whether this is the proper forecast for the American republic. The plan for this portion of the essay is as follows: firstly, we conclude the comparison of the Roman and American factional compositions from Part IV. We then offer an analysis of the possibility for success of a right-wing populist movement in American politics within the framework and the line of inquiry presented in the foregoing discussion. The analysis is intended not only to offer a predictive model for the future development of American politics but also to present a strategic anticipation of the impediments to a successful right-wing populist movement.

Analysis of the Factional Composition of the Roman and American Republics (continued)

In the previous installment we noted a crucial discrepancy between the Roman and American republics in the allocation of suffrage. The Roman republic retained for its whole history a system of contingent suffrage, whereby the right to vote was awarded on the basis of an individual citizen’s utility to societal function and his ability to potentially enforce his privilege by force. The vote was never regarded by the Romans as an inherent right as it is in modern republics. The American republic (and its global imitators) persists on the principle of an essentially universal suffrage in which nearly all adult citizens are given the right to vote. This difference is the largest factor in explaining the relative ease with which the populist movement of the late Roman republic dissolved the majoritarian coalition of the aristocratic EMF. In a system of contingent suffrage, voting is inevitably more rational and directly associated with practical considerations of voter self-interest. But in a system of universal suffrage large segments of voters may be uninformed, unintelligent, or so removed from any practical grasp of the consequences of policy that they are motivated by apparently irrational considerations. Such a large population of non-rational participants creates opportunities for an EMF that intends to retain power by other means than competency. In the present American republic, the leftist EMF retains the loyalties of large segments of the non-rational electorate by means of emotional propaganda and the authority of social consensus (i.e., political correctness) regardless of the observably destructive consequences of their policies.1 The Gracchan populist movement was able to create a majoritarian opposition to the aristocratic EMF by clearly presenting the rational considerations in play for the various Roman middle-class factions. But such a straightforward method is not possible in the American republic where so many factional motivations are not identifiably rational. Economic self-interest was effectively the only real driver of political allegiance in the Roman republic. But for American factions this is only one consideration among many other cultural and social motives. We might refer to the ideological motivations of American leftists (i.e., a sense of historic guilt, the desire for an equitable justice system, and the proliferation of multiculturalism) as “soft” motives because they emanate not from a dispassionate examination of the practical effects on society but rather serve as a kind of “virtue currency” that allows the voter to project high social status within the elite factional in-group. The real sincerity of “soft” motives is difficult to assess because it is not clear how much, if any, diminution in living standard would induce a given voter to abandon them in favor of more rational considerations. It is evident that many affluent leftists are quite willing to accept seemingly irrational developments like higher tax burden, high crime rates, and (in the case of white voters) professional and academic discrimination, in exchange for the social benefits of openly advocating the causes of the EMF.

The effectiveness of leftist propaganda has obscured the central fact that the real beneficiaries of leftist policies are those at the “poles” of the economic and social hierarchy: that is, the very poor and the criminally deviant (who receive welfare and lenient treatment) and the members of the ideological elite class (who are able to redirect resentment at imaginary “oppressors” and reap the greatest share of the benefits). This is consistent with the history of Marxist regimes, nearly all of which came to power by inciting the “lower” classes to forcibly seize and eradicate the wealth and livelihood of the independent “middle” classes. Marxist interpretations of the late Roman republic have blundered enormously (perhaps by intentional obfuscation) because they fail to recognize that the Roman electorate did not include a lower-class element. The uprising against the senatorial faction was the combined work of Rome’s smallholders, the equites, and eventually the landholders among the Italian “allies.” Taken together these groups represent the Roman “middle” class. Ideally the course for an effective resistance movement in the United States would follow the same pattern of “consolidation of the middle” but the trajectory is muddled by the presence of the aforementioned “social and cultural” considerations. It is clear that the construction of a possible majoritarian consensus opposed to the American EMF cannot be exclusively economic in justification. It must take on the cultural elements that have long animated the “forgotten” voters of the right-wing base. The objective for the right-wing populist movement in America must be to purge the support of the EMF among the “middle classes” as far as possible and maintain a coalition of those who have much to lose by economic deterioration, and little advantage to gain from allegiance to the social ideologies of the EMF. The margins, however, are far slimmer than in the Roman republic. The American urban lower classes are enthusiastic supporters of the American EMF, and their voting power is substantial. The EMF has made up for its lack of competency by awarding loyal factions with substantial allocations of public money. This cannot be done indefinitely, and it remains to be seen which of the factions (if any) will ebb away from establishment allegiance when the economic conditions become sufficiently prohibitive.

The Possibility of a Right-Wing Populist Ascendancy in American Politics and the Creation of a New Political Elite

In the general overview of the conditions for an alteration in EMFs in Part IV we presented a list of questions that are predictive of the likelihood of success for an opposition movement that seeks to topple the reigning conditions imposed by an elite minority faction. We present them here and proceed to apply each in turn to the future politics of the American republic. The five questions are as follows:

Is the majoritarian coalition under the EMF insurmountable?

What are the highest immutable principles that hold the coalition together?

Which of the subsidiary factions are most amenable to persuasion?

What general conditions might compel the factional coalition to disintegrate?

Can the populist movement provoke the EMF to venture blatant instances of arbitrary power?

Question 1: Is the Majoritarian Coalition Under the Established EMF Insurmountable?

Though the answer to this question in the year 2023 is no, a number of sobering trends indicate that it may soon be yes. Since 1988 the Republican candidate for the presidency has won the popular vote just once in eight election cycles.2 Some commentators are already beginning to speculate that the Trump victory of 2016 represented an aberration, a kind of “last gasp” of the old American electorate. It is much too early to assess whether such an assertion is true, but the plausibility of the thesis would be greatly enhanced should the Republican candidate lose the election of 2024, and especially so if the loss should come against a cadaverous incumbent. Many Trump supporters have alleged widespread voting fraud to explain the loss of 2020, but the reality of the American political situation is that every demographic trend is moving in favor of the Democrat party of established power. In generational trends, the reliably conservative voters of the “Greatest Generation” are dying off, while the aggregate leanings of both “Millennials” (the generation emerging into middle age) and “Generation Z” (the generation entering the voting ranks) are reliably leftist. The situation with Millennials is particularly concerning because they are not demonstrating “the rightward drift” of previous generations entering middle age. The aggregate politics of immigrant voters (legal or otherwise) is decisively leftist since most can claim some degree of “oppressed minority” status and frequently become dependent on the government for welfare.3 It is unclear how much of Democrat “diversity” support is due to legitimate ideological affinities. To cite an example of an apparent discrepancy: conservative commentators are fond of pointing out the “traditional beliefs” of catholic Hispanics, though this has rarely led to appreciable Republican support among that demographic at the national level. Perhaps the Republican rhetoric on immigration (which notwithstanding is not as decisive as it ought to be) outweighs any affinities in values. But in truth the Republican party of the last 40 years has been so impotent and inadequate in improving the lives of its supporters that we cannot rule out the possibility that a far more assertive conservative movement would surmount the apparently unassailable advantages of the established power among traditionally-inclined minority voters.

Question 2: What Are the Highest Immutable Principles that Hold the Coalition of the Reigning EMF Together?

Though it is accurate to suggest that contemporary leftist ideological dogmas are essentially Marxist in orientation, the serpentine development of many of the immutable principles of leftism can be traced back to ideas originating in the Enlightenment. No major philosopher of the European Enlightenment would condone the degeneracy and collective neuroticism to which modern Western societies have sunk, but the unanticipated implications of their ideas are inextricably linked to modern societal outcomes. Essentially the Enlightenment project was the erasure of hierarchy as far as it could be done, and the deification of individual freedom and autonomy. The inaugural metaphysical principle of classical liberalism is the idea that the human mind begins in a tabula rasa condition and that it is infinitely malleable with no natural impediments. All Enlightenment thinkers from Locke to Kant to Jefferson emphasized what was common to all humans at the expense of what distinguished them. Enlightenment idealism led directly to the even more damaging “social progressivism” of the 19th century that insisted all human behavior was socially conditioned and could be remedied by improved social policies. All of these intellectual trends developed into principles of modern leftism: Criminals are societal victims and not moral agents; there are no natural differences in intelligence, physical abilities, and psychological trajectories among different ethnic groups; an individual’s declared identity must be respected by society as that person’s “truth”; all persons should have equal political rights; “oppression” has moral merit. The excess egalitarianism of modern leftism necessitates incessant denials of readily observable facts such as biological sex, crime rates among socially differentiated groups, objective standards of intelligence, and incompatible cultural standards. The tepidness of American conservatism of the last four decades is largely explainable by the fact that it shares many of the presumptions of classical liberalism without recognizing that the full implications culminate in leftism. The truth is that the progressive EMF will always have the advantage so long as the conservative opposition clings to the false idealism of “enlightened” liberalism. A proper right-wing opposition movement must insist on the immutability of hierarchy, morality, and competence, in defiance of the illusory idealism promoted by the EMF.

Question 3: Which of the Subsidiary Factions of the Established Coalition Are Most Amenable to Persuasion?

In Part III of this essay we spoke of the perils of enlarging a factional coalition to include factions that undermine the basic objectives and principles of a political movement. This caution must be constantly weighed against the manifest need of the movement to expand the scope of its factional adherence. The delicate task for an American right-wing populist movement is to enlarge the coalition as far as possible without compromising the immutable principles underlying the movement’s purpose. In examining the current subsidiary factions of both the Democrat establishment coalition and the “centrist” cluster of so-called swing voters, independents and moderates, a number of interesting aspects emerge. The essential rural/urban divide remains the dominant narrative of American political polarity, but a more probing examination of subsidiary factors reveals that this divide may be a symptom and not a cause of the polarity. We hardly have the scope to offer a thoroughgoing analysis of the myriad factional divisions, but we can demonstrate the manner of inquiry by examining two mega-factions among the American electorate: women and “non-white” voters.4 It has long been a paradox obscured by custom that women, as a plurality in modern democratic states, should so consistently favor the endangering social policies of leftist ideologies over the striving for moral and social order offered by the conservative alternatives. Various theories have been suggested to explain the leftward arc of women’s suffrage over time, but the truth of the matter in American politics is easily discernible from the isolation of two basic variables: race and marital status. Consider the following statistics from the midterm election of 2022, all of which follow trends that have persisted for decades:

                                          Percent Democrat vote           Percent Republican vote

Unmarried men                45                                            53

Unmarried women           68                                            31

Married men                     39                                            59

Married women                42                                            56

The outstanding takeaway from this chart is the whopping difference in factional allegiance between unmarried and married women. Married men move only 6 points to Republican preference compared to unmarried men, but married women move a staggering 25 points from Democrat to Republican preference. One might be tempted to regard these demographics as static populations (i.e., the women who are single remain single across decades) but the truth is that the aggregate trends are consistent not only across all age groups but also for discrepancies in previous marital status (i.e., divorced women move leftwards and women who remarry move rightwards). The presence of children is a correlative factor but not so stark as the simple determinant of marital status. The obvious conclusion is that the social condition of “being married” is the largest predictor of a rightward factional conversion for women. Here again the general demographic tendencies favor the leftist EMF, as marriage rates have crashed in the last two decades. This is almost certainly by design, as the establishment power is hardly oblivious to the fact that unmarried women frequently become dependent on the state and its benefits.5 Despite their fidelity to the establishment ideologies, unmarried women remain among the most dissatisfied and depressed social demographics with astronomical rates of mental health diagnoses and neurological prescriptions. The leftward tilt of women in the electorate would be substantially reduced if more of them were married because so many married women are highly amenable to factional alteration. It must be a central ambition of a conservative populist movement to create the proper social incentives to reverse the declining marriage trends if it is to have any hope of assembling an enduring majoritarian coalition.

If the mega-faction of “women” demonstrates oscillating factional allegiances subject to altering social conditions the situation of “minority voters” is altogether different. Minority voters demonstrate overwhelming allegiance to the established power regardless of any isolating variables. The long-standing Republican strategic obsession with penetrating the ranks of minority voters has never materialized into appreciable support. This despite the endless pandering and concessions offered by the Republicans for exclusively minority interests and issues.6 The truth is that many minority voters retain perspectives that are at odds with the principles of a genuinely conservative movement. Republicans often smugly remark that blacks are overwhelmingly the victims of black crime as though this observation might produce an epiphany for black voters and cause them to abandon their traditional Democrat support. It does not because the racial consciousness of American blacks is so pervasive (due largely to incessant propaganda) that the majority will identify with fellow blacks against the perceived “white society” regardless of individual conduct. A viable right-wing populist coalition must make the sobering admission that blatant courting of overt minority interests compromises the integrity of the movement, and that specified racial rhetoric of any kind is inherently a hallmark tactic of the progressive EMF.

Question 4: What General Conditions Might Compel the Factional Coalition to Disintegrate?

Historians of the United States have identified various “realignments” over the course of American electoral history that have induced seismic shifts in the factional allegiance of voting demographics. The 20th century had two major realignments: the first was provoked by the economic hardship of the Great Depression and saw black and white working voters abandon the increasingly corporate party of Lincoln in favor of the New Deal relief policies of the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. This created a decisive majoritarian coalition for the Democrats that allowed them to win seven of nine presidential elections from 1932 to 1968. The second realignment was provoked by the social and cultural disruptions of the Civil Rights movement and the turbulent politics of the 1960s, and saw the majority of southern voters reject the Democrat party for the first time in American history in favor of the Republicans. The Republican factional coalition of corporate interests and social conservatives dominated the electorate from 1968 to 1992 with Republican candidates winning five of six presidential elections in the period.7 Both of these realignments illustrate the disorienting influence of unforeseen and climactic events on the maintenance of a political status quo. The current EMF plays a dangerous game to maintain its majoritarian support by constructing an economy that borrows against the future to maximize its scope in the present. The leftist economic policies are breeding grounds for future recessions because they disincentivize savings and foster unprecedented inefficiencies. The prospect of economic fallout from progressive economic policies has accelerated the faction’s urgency to embed leftist cultural propaganda into as many citizens as possible. Fundamentally the EMF must convince enough subsidiary factions that reductions in living standards are preferable to shifting allegiances to the “fascistic” American right. But it is not at all clear which factional demographics will stay loyal to the propaganda, and which might revolt in the instance of economic decline. The prospect of leftist policy failure remains the greatest hope for the emergence of a right-wing populist movement, but it still is fraught with uncertainties. Only in conditions far worse than those of the present will the true persuasive power of the leftist propaganda efforts become fully apparent.

Question 5: Can the Populist Movement Provoke the EMF to Venture Blatant Instances of Arbitrary Power?

Perhaps the most decisive factor in determining the course of the late Roman republic was the escalating measure of arbitrary power ventured by the senatorial EMF against the populist movement and its leaders. We shall have more to say about “arbitrary power” in our discussion of the fourth cause of the republic’s collapse, but for now it is enough to note that any sufficiently blatant show of arbitrary power necessarily destroys the equilibrium of republican immutability. The Roman senatorial faction attempted to justify its oppression and murder of the Gracchi as necessary reactions to treason, but this was unconvincing set against the relative propriety of the brother tribunes. Accusations against the aggressive tactics of the tribune Saturninus were more persuasive, as were condemnations of the legitimately unprecedented enfranchisement policies of Drusus. The true blunder of the Roman EMF was the elevation and endorsement of Sulla whose defiance of constitutional norms and blatant power plays destroyed forever the dwindling notion that the Roman aristocracy stood for selfless republicanism and not their own privileges. The American EMF is excessively fond of proclaiming itself as the “protector of democracy” and portraying the conservative opposition as intent on terminating democratic government. Such assertions are hardly credible given the corruption and patronage of the Democrat establishment, the political persecution of undesirable conservative groups, and the dubious voting practices promoted by party machinators. But the use of arbitrary power is more significant for the perception it spawns than the mere fact that it has occurred, and the EMF need not fear retribution if the general perception of the conduct is favorable. Thus, the EMF is able to carry on with the deplorable treatment of the January 6 protestors, many of whom were denied basic rights, like legal representation and speedy trials, because the public does not generally perceive the unfairness as objectionable. But the established power cannot help itself from sliding interminably leftward, and Democrats are now openly suggesting policies of forcible gun confiscation, and custody seizure of the children of ideologically uncooperative parents. Such acts, should they come, cannot be disguised as “upholding democracy.” They are blatant displays of tyrannical power, and conservatives should encourage the Democrats to pursue them, for only by the demonstration of such conduct will they incite the necessary enthusiasm for an aggressive opposition movement.

(This essay will be continued in the next issue)


1There are myriad examples of the deleterious practical consequences of leftist policy implementation, but none more dramatic than the decline of American cities. The cognitive dissonance evident in affluent Democrat voters who flee to the suburbs (and sometimes from blue states entirely) to avoid the appalling conditions of progressive cities, and yet continue to support candidates and platforms that exacerbate those conditions is a well-observed phenomenon among conservative commentators.

2The single instance was in 2004 when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry with 50.7 percent of the popular vote to Kerry’s 48.3 percent. The largest popular vote margin for a Democrat victory in the time span was achieved by Barack Obama in 2008 who defeated John McCain by 7 points: 52.9 percent to 45.7 percent.

3The most dismaying aspect of this trend is that even the “upper middle class” immigrant groups vote overwhelmingly Democrat. This fact is a damning testament to the persuasive power of leftist racial narratives, for these groups generally get nothing from Democrat policies besides increased tax burden, worsening schools and dangerous streets, though it is true that some demographics might occasionally benefit from favorable discriminatory practices (though east Asians are increasingly classed with whites and subject to unfavorable discrimination).

4It is highly instructive to consider the outcomes of American elections if only “X” demographic voted. In the presidential election of 2020 if only women voted Biden would have defeated Trump 467 to 71 in the electoral college. Unsurprisingly if only “non-white” women voted the tally would have been 538 to 0 for Biden. However, if only white women voted Trump would have defeated Biden 327 to 211. The same statistics for men are as follows: only men, Trump 350 to Biden 158; only non-white men, 538 Biden to Trump 0; only white men, Trump 493 to Biden 45.

5This includes not only social welfare and public administrative jobs (the majority of which are held by women) but also access to abortion, contraceptives, and favorable discriminatory practices in the legal system.

6Trump’s disastrous First Step Act was an example piece of legislation that was promoted by black groups, supported by Democrats, and signed into law, and led to no discernible acquisition of black support for Republicans.

7There has been a push among some conservative commentators to suggest that the parties did not “switch” in the 1960s, and that the Democrats have essentially remained consistent in their political orientation from the time of slavery to the present. While the matter is somewhat nuanced, any suggestion of a pure continuity in ideological outlook is fanciful revisionism. The white southern population has always been the most socially conservative segment of American society, and if they were once amenable to the “progressive” economics put forth by early 20th century Democrats like William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson, it should only serve to illustrate how bizarre the recent factional alliance of elite corporate interests and social conservatives really is.     *

The Fall of the Roman Republic:

A Narrative and Analytical

Comparison with the Contemporary

Conditions of the United States of

America — (Part 4 of a Series)

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is an associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

III. Analysis of the Roman and American Republics


In the previous installment of this essay, we discussed the first cause of the collapse of the Roman republic: the pollution of the legislative function. We described the principle of a natural legislative obsolescence brought on by a superabundance of administration and declared that the failure of the Roman tribunate to generate enduring reform was due to the erosion of its legislative power. We applied the same phenomenon to our consideration of the contemporary American Congress and found it to be a tepid and unlikely conduit for the remedial demands of an American right-wing populist movement. We judged that the first initiative of such a movement was to generate a factional clarification of the American right-wing, and thereby purge the platform of its inhibiting and contradictory elements. Each of these conclusions will be relevant as we proceed into a discussion of the second cause of the collapse of the Roman republic: the apathy and criminality of its political elite. The plan for Part IV mirrors the procedure established in Part III. In the first section, we examine the idea of a political elite as a general phenomenon of political theory. We proceed in the second section to apply the general considerations to the respective situations of the Roman and American republics. Finally, we deploy our conclusions to forecast probable outcomes for the future of the American political situation, and offer further theses for the possible salvaging of the American way of life.

Cause II: The Apathy and Criminality of the Political Elite

Elite Minority Factions and the General Nature of Subsidiary Factions

It is in the nature of all political systems to produce an elite. By this term I refer to an exclusive class of persons that exercises determinative power over the dominant political and cultural orientation of a state and retains a high standard of living in a society by virtue of this capability. It is possible for a person to attain a high wealth status in a state and yet not be a member of the political elite due to dissenting politics, but it is generally an implausible rarity for those who wield authentic determinative power to persist at a low standard of living.1 The difference of governmental systems may determine the degree of separation from the mass of ordinary citizens, but not the essentiality of an exclusive political elite. Thus, while in a pure democracy all citizens nominally exercise an equivalent measure of political power, there will inevitably emerge those with a greater proximity to the mechanisms of electoral process, both as viable candidates and as machinators, and who therefore maintain a de facto determinative power far beyond that of a single vote. For the unique contours of our discussion, I choose to deploy the term elite minority faction (EMF) to describe the exclusive class of citizens who retain determinative cultural and political power. While an EMF may represent a coalition of independent factional interests and work to promote them, the abiding motivation for themselves is determinative power. Because of this unique motivation we are justified in treating them as embodying an independent factional motive. In the history of states, elite minority factions might be analyzed and distinguished in four ways: 1) the basis on which their elite status is consecrated and justified; 2) the governmental system that they have produced, or that has produced them; 3) the fluidity of their composition; and 4) the methods by which they maintain their domination.

Elite status in any political society can have at its basis only four types of justification: hereditary, ethno-nationalist, meritocratic, or ideological. These are not mutually exclusive, but we shall consider each as a superseding justification. An ethnic or nationalistic elite has been the most common throughout human political history, and virtually all pre-Enlightenment political societies were oriented on the basis of common national origin. Nationalistic bias should be regarded (as it is by Marxists, much to their agitation) as an extension of family bias. The various hereditary monarchies of the world have always justified claims to power on the basis of the prestige of a bloodline, and aristocratic status has generally been determined by the purity of an individual’s ethnic, national, and familial pedigree. So widespread has been the compartmentalizing of societies on ethnic considerations that it is tempting to identify such societies as being in some sense “natural” to the human political condition.2 The stringency of nationalistic EMFs is most pronounced in instances of the subjugation of a largely homogeneous ethnic group by an alien ethnic minority; the entire history of European colonialism was characterized by the privileged power of a small European EMF governing a large ethnic majority in the interests of the colonizing state. The basic ethnic associations of human cultural motivations remain formidable, despite the dominant ideological paradigms of our times that would wish to deny them. The morbid failures of post-colonial Africa have often been attributed to the lack of ethnic self-determination for the large variety of African ethnic minorities. Recent European conflicts like the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and the present-day Ukraine war are driven entirely by national considerations. Whether these examples, and a myriad of others, demonstrate the impossibility of long maintenance for states divided on national or ethnic lines is a debatable and largely taboo topic for the orthodoxy of the established power consensus in the West.

Attempts to establish a political elite within a privileged ethnic caste or a homogenous ethno-state, or under a nominally “color-blind” or multicultural society, must base themselves on either objective merit or ideology. By merit, I intend to convey a “capacity for competency” as far divorced from subjective ideological evaluations as possible. In the domain of statecraft, it should be taken to mean “a disinterested and objective capacity to consider the optimal interests of the state and the sustained prosperity and safety of its citizens.” A meritocratic elite has always been more an abstract ideal than an achievable proposition, for the biases of human nature and the inherently dogmatic disposition of the human mind predispose all governmental systems to fall well short of optimized clarity. Nonetheless, certain historical states have come far closer to the meritocratic ideal than others, and it remains an open question for political philosophy how such conditions might be maintained.3

The last basis for the establishment of a political elite, and the one with which we have most to do in the present time, is the ideological. By ideological, I refer to any principle, conception, or heuristic, which has been raised to the status of universal — that is dogmatic — truth. The proliferation of ideological EMFs in the history of modern states can be traced to the larger trend in the modern West of bourgeois emancipation, and to the Enlightenment idea of the determinative and autonomous self. The essential revolution in political thought offered by the modern world is that power should be delegated on the basis of correct thinking, and no longer merely to those whom Nature has favored by circumstances.4 All ideologies share in common the notion that a demonstrated fidelity to the principles of the cause renders a man (or woman) worthier of power than the more immutable characteristics of origin and capability. Any ideology that arises from power is by nature revolutionary, since its adherents must regard themselves as meriting power by virtue of the correctness of their beliefs. After the attainment of consensus power, a reigning ideology must constantly reiterate the correctness and universal truth of its principles to justify the continuance of the assumed authorities of its adherents. Such efforts are doubly necessary if the ruling ideologues demonstrate visible incompetence, for then they must train the populace to fight against the witnesses of their eyes.

These then are the possible bases on which an elite minority faction might justify itself: ethno-nationalist, hereditary, meritocratic, and ideological. We may readily observe that different governmental systems will preclude the possibility of one or another of these bases. A hereditary monarchy or aristocracy can never be meritocratic unless we attempt to assert the demonstrable impossibility that competency is indefinitely heritable. Such a form of government cannot be ideologically based, either, since the political perspectives of the successive inheritors of power are subject to variance. A military dictatorship displays the opposite conditions. A dictator who comes to power by force may attempt to establish a hereditary basis to justify passing power to his progeny but this cannot be the justification that brings him to power. He must justify his assumption of authority on a meritocratic or ideological basis. Note that this is true even in the instance of forcible conquest and subjugation, for the ability to deploy force is a demonstration of persuasiveness to some sizable composition of enforcers. In a representative government power, is theoretically acquired on the basis of the “consent and support of the governed.” But “government by consent” is an ideological position contingent on the principle that citizens should have the right to determine the composition of their governments. We need not take seriously the risible claim that democratic support is a proper surrogate of merit. All republican governments are ideological in nature, because power in them is justified on the basis of highly mutable conditions (i.e. no man is “born” with the electoral support of the masses, nor is he guaranteed to possess it indefinitely). All republican systems must maintain the ideological perspective of the essential immutability of the general will, but the proper composition of the general may vary depending on ideological orientation. In post-Enlightenment political theory, man is declared to be endowed naturally with the right to political participation, and no temporal law can change the immutable fact of his right to free choice in the matter of his rulers. Such an understanding is a cornerstone of liberalism, and forms the ideological underpinning of the present American republic and its models across the world. But in ancient republics (where suffrage was far more restricted) the immutable characteristic was not inherent in a man’s mere existence, but rather in an assessment of his utility to the society. We may take the Roman republic as an example. The plebeians of the Roman republic were not enfranchised on the basis of inherent rights of being, but rather because without their cooperation, the patricians could not sustain the numbers to defend themselves or maintain a national economy. The use of patrician force was not possible without the plebeians, because the plebeians were too valuable and numerous to be enslaved. Thus, a social contract was necessary in which political rights were acquiesced to the plebeians in exchange for their participation in a mutual society. The basis of power in ancient republics remained ideological because it was dependent on a veneration of the general will, but it cleaved to a meritocratic ideal, far more than in modern republics, because composition of the general will, was not inherent but subject to criteria.

The possible means of entry into the ranks of an elite minority faction is the third distinction we will consider. We have spoken already of the concept of immutability. The test of the immutability of a power basis is the degree to which an individual can freely control his relation to it. The most immutable conditions are those of parentage, national, and ethnic origin. An individual has no means of altering these conditions for himself; if he is lacking in necessary pedigree, he can never have it as a basis for power in a governmental system that has consecrated it. But, while a subject can never become a rightful ruler in a system of hereditary power, he or she might still enter the ranks of the EMF by competency, charisma, or sycophancy.5 Competency (or merit) is less immutable than origins because an individual has some freedom to determine the measure of his industriousness, though he may not have the freedom to go beyond the natural limits of his intellect. The most mutable basis for power is that which depends on mere allegiance. Pledging oneself to an ideological cause is entirely at the free discretion of choice. Naturally, an ideology which attains power consensus in a society will have so many “allegiants” that it will be impossible for them all to be among the ranks of the necessarily exclusive EMF. Other considerations such as seniority, utility, and marketability will determine which allegiants are able to rise to the determinative status of the EMF.6

The maintenance of any power basis rests entirely on the degree to which its possessors are able to convince the populace of its claims to immutability. Such an assertion has many composite considerations. A subject might disapprove of the policies of a certain monarch while still conceding that the monarch has a right to rule. So, too, a citizen of a republic may dissent from the platform of an election winner, while accepting the legitimacy of the constitutionally sanctioned electoral result. In both instances political disagreements are tolerated in the interest of allegiance to the higher immutable principle of the bloodline or the constitution. In any examination of historical states, it is necessary to ask: What is the highest principle of immutability? That is, what is the acknowledged authority that renders virtually all factions in the state a cohesive whole? We have said that all republican states are, by definition, established on the basis of certain ideological presumptions. Thus, in order for any republic to be maintained, a large plurality of factions must accept the immutability of those presumptions which underpin the idealism of representative government. If they do not, then, there is dissension over the immutability of the republican principle. But this equilibrium, in which all factions are bound to a common agreement of immutability, goes against the power incentives of factions who claim the highest status of immutability for all of their claims. For an example: If one’s faction acknowledges the absolute right of abortion, then it follows that any prohibition represents not just a partisan disagreement, but a violation of the republican principle itself, regardless of whether the ban was generated by constitutional process. The consequence of this phenomenon is the inevitable radicalization of the opposition coalition. The desires of the ruling EMF and its composite factions to consolidate power by imposing immutability on all its claims, serve to erase the common immutabilities held by the plurality of the opposition factions. Without any common principle of immutability, the state has ruptured and the factions must either sever their union, or enter open conflict for the control of the orientation of the state.

We have mentioned that the abiding motivation of an elite minority faction is sustaining power. We emphasize this not to imply a fundamental ideological insincerity among those who wield power, but rather to insist that this is a concern which generally supersedes all absolute principles.7 In order for an EMF to sustain power, it must assemble and maintain a proper coalition of subsidiary factions that will support its claims to legitimacy. In republican systems, this “proper coalition” must be majoritarian by the principle of “consent of the governed.” All factional coalitions should be assessed in two primary ways: by scope and intensity. In the history of many Marxist insurgencies, the rabid intensity of a small faction often proved sufficient to attain determinative power over the entire state. But in democratic states, in which the republican principle is deeply embedded, such fringe adventurism is rarely successful. The scope needed for factional consensus in majoritarian systems more often serves to blunt the intensity of successful political movements. American democracy (and others with a winner-take-all electoral system) is plenteous in “consensus” figures who balance the factional divisions within one or another of the opposing national parties. EMFs of differing governmental systems will have different methods for maintaining the loyalties of their subsidiary factions. At the extremist instance, a military dictator might only require the fanatic loyalty of the single, narrow faction of soldiers to sustain his power, because this faction is all he requires to enforce his will over the majority populace. In Marxist dictatorships, the loyalty of the party membership faction may likewise be sufficient to subjugate the non-member majority. But in republican systems, the fanaticism of a minority faction is rarely sufficient to achieve abiding power. It is necessary to assemble a coalition of compliant factions whose motives do not interfere (or do not appear to interfere) with the ideological motives of the directing EMF. A republican insurgency movement that seeks to contest a reigning EMF and its established power must answer the following questions: is the majoritarian coalition under the existing EMF insurmountable? What is the highest principle of immutability that holds the coalition together? Which of the compliant factions are reachable by persuasion? What conditions might compel the factional coalition to disintegrate? Can the reigning EMF be defeated within the boundaries of the present ideological presumptions underlying the state? We shall proceed to apply each of these considerations to the Roman and American republics.

To sum up our contentions in the foregoing discussion: 1) all political systems produce a power elite that determines the political and cultural orientation of a state; 2) the minority of persons who make up this elite represent an independent, driving faction whose motive is sustained determinative power; 3) an elite minority faction must justify its assumption of power on nationalistic, ethnic, hereditary, meritocratic, or ideological bases; 4) the power basis for all EMFs in modern republican systems is the ideological presumptions of government by consent and inhering rights; 5) all EMFs are motivated to justify their claims on the basis of immutability in the interest of sustaining power, that is, to present their claims as fundamental and necessary to the ethical imperatives and objective conditions of the world; 6) EMF claims to immutability serve to entrench the loyalties of the subsidiary factions and to polarize the dissenting factions within a state; 7) an opposition coalition in a republican system must assess whether it can topple the reigning EMF within the boundaries of republican ideological presumptions (that is, assemble an electoral majority by persuasion, and so force the EMF to exercise arbitrary power to maintain its authority) or it must repudiate republican ideological presumptions to achieve power; 8) the lasting strength of the new EMF of a successful insurgency movement is dependent on the degree to which it can consecrate the immutability of its own basis for power.

Analysis of the Factional Composition of the Roman and American Republics

Despite the probations of its constitution, the Roman republican state remained highly hierarchical throughout its history. Most of the magistrate officers of any given year descended from a small number of aristocratic families, and even those magistrates who were plebeians generally hailed from highly wealthy families that lived in Rome. The ranks of the senate were inevitably dominated by patricians, and the narrow aristocratic elite always maintained an outsized and generally decisive influence on the political determinations of the state. But for much of Roman republican history the patrician domination of government had widespread plebeian approval. The Roman aristocrats cultivated a cult of the “selfless statesman” who would venture all danger for the protection of the state and its citizens. The Roman aristocracy claimed consistently to take on power as a duty and a burden, and for much of the Roman expansionary period this was not a facetious contention. In stark contrast to later Roman warfare, consuls and praetors of the middle republic were expected to personally lead the legionaries in battle. This expectation led to numerous battle deaths of sitting magistrates, especially during the first two Punic Wars (264-202 BC). For many generations of the republic, the power of the Roman aristocratic elite minority faction was merited by the immutability not only of familial heritages, but also by inherited nobility and sense of duty to the state. But the period of Roman prosperity, enhanced by the subjugation of the Balkans and of the Iberian peninsula, and of the final vanquishing of Carthage in the middle decades of the 2nd century BC, saw a deterioration in the caliber of the Roman aristocracy. Without the threat of lethal enemies, the aristocrats turned profligate and hedonistic, and began abusing their influences as they oppressed the Roman rural plebeians.

The aristocrats were able to venture on such predatory policies within constitutional bounds (at least until the advent of the Gracchan movement) because they retained the support of a sufficient number of compliant factions, and the political opposition remained mired in confusion and corruption. The factional composition of the Roman state, circa 133 BC, can be summarized in the following table of the approximate economic apportionment of the male Roman population:

  1. “Aristocratic” Patricians, more than 2 percent
  2. “Lower” Patricians, 5 percent
  3. Equites (cavalry), 8 percent
  4. Rural Smallholders, 15 percent
  5. Urban Artisans and Tradesmen, less than 20 percent
  6. Landless Rural, less than 20 percent
  7. Slaves, 25 percent

We will note the following observations about the Roman republic. Only citizens could vote, and the exercise of this right was exclusively confined to the city of Rome. Slaves were not citizens and therefore had no representation. Before the resolution of the Social War (92-88 BC), the “landless rural” consisted almost entirely of non-citizens, or else of citizens for whom the travel to the city of Rome was prohibitively costly. Because of these factors, the Roman electorate had effectively no “lower class” representation at all. The political platform of Gaius Gracchus did attempt to include the claims of landless Italian allies, but it is notable that the patrician factions were able to use this inclusion against him by stoking concern among the higher classes, the equites in particular. A large plurality of the “urban artisans and tradesmen” were sympathetic, for most of the republican period, to the patrician EMF for commercial reasons, as the traditional Roman aristocracy represented their customer base. But they turned largely toward the populist opposition faction when figures such as Marius, Pompey, and Caesar started accumulating and spending money in the city. The equites were generally impeded from advancing into the ranks of the patricians, and thus had enormous resentment toward the aristocrats. But they were wary of the rural factions and could sway away from the populists, if overly alarmed at the demagogic excesses of the tribunes (as they did during the tribunate of Saturninus). We see from our assessments that so long as the patrician EMF could secure half of the “urban” vote, and perhaps a portion of the equites, they could generally win elections outright, due to the lower participation of the rural smallholders. During much of the 2nd century BC, such a majoritarian coalition was sufficient to sustain determinative power for the aristocratic EMF.

To perform a similar analysis for the contemporary factional composition of the present American republic, it is necessary to introduce another determinative factor into the calculus. The Roman factions listed in the above table are assessed on two distinctions: economic wealth and urban/rural occupancy. In general, there was little disagreement among the Romans over explicitly cultural issues separate from the marginalization and inclination of political and economic policies. Even the opposition of the Italian allies was based on demands for political integration on the grounds that they had demonstrated a sufficient degree of cultural integration into the language, customs, values, and religious doctrines of the Roman state. It is telling that all the partisans of the late republican civil wars (Marius vs. Sulla, Caesar vs. Pompey, Conspirators vs. Triumvirate, Antony vs. Octavian) sought to denigrate their opponents by castigating them as proponents of an alien culture.8 In contemporary American politics, cultural issues are at least as large a driver of individual political orientation as economic issues. This factor makes it more difficult to cleanly delineate the aggregate factional interests on purely economic divisions. The following table demonstrates a plausible and approximate apportionment of the American population based only on general economic distinctions:

1.   Cultural and Political “Elites,” 2 percent

2.   Affluent Suburban, 10 percent

3.   Urban/Suburban Professionals with College Degrees, 30 percent

4.   “Blue-collar” workers, 25 percent

5.   Unskilled Employed, less than 10 percent

6.   Rural Impoverished, 10 percent

7.   Urban Impoverished, 10 percent

This table gives us a less certain but still valuable delineation of factional political allegiance. The elite minority faction of the present American political situation represented in the table by the first category has been euphemized in many ways: “the Swamp,” “the System,” “the DC elite,” “the coastal elite,” “the Cathedral,” “the managerial state,” “the deep state,” sometimes simply “the establishment,” or “the elite.” Whatever one wishes to call it, its general ideological orientation is not in doubt. The American EMF is committed to the depreciation of traditional forms of American life by fundamental alterations to culture and economy. Like the Roman factional situation, the clearest general distinction between those loyal to the established EMF and those opposed to it is between the urban and rural citizenry. The most solidly conservative voters are the “blue-collar” workers and the “rural impoverished,” while the most solidly Democrat voters are the EMF, the urban professionals, and the “urban impoverished.” The two divided categories are the “affluent suburban” and the miscellaneous category that I have chosen to term unskilled, or low-level, employed. Though the American factions mirror the Roman in the rural/urban divide, it is crucial for the forthcoming discussion to examine if the reasons for the distinction are equivalent. The Roman small landholding class resisted the aristocratic EMF in order to remain in the middle class and preserve their ownership status. This is in many ways similar to the motivations of “blue-collar” workers who make up the core base of voters opposed to the aims of the American EMF. But the large category that I have chosen to generalize as “Urban/Suburban professionals” is in a very different case than the putative upper middle Roman equivalent in the equites.9 The efforts of Gaius Gracchus showed the equites highly amenable to a moderated populist movement, and though the equites evinced some consternation at the advocacy of the “landless rural” and the “Italian allies” by Saturninus, Drusus and Marius, they remained a solid part of the populist coalition until the imperial ascendancy. But the “urban/suburban” category shows signs of entrenched support for the American established power despite the fact they are suffering economic deterioration brought on by decades of inflationary policy and irresponsible governance. How should this be?

The answer lies in the problem of universal suffrage. We have mentioned already that participation in the Roman electorate was not determined by claims of inherent rights but by assessments of individual utility. The “right” to vote was accompanied by the “duties” of taxation and military service. The Roman republic maintained a system of contingent suffrage whereby citizens were forced to make sacrifices in order to participate in the republican process. The present American republic (along with all its imitators) maintains a system of near universal suffrage. Since the right to vote is regarded by our reigning ideology as an inherent property of being, it can only be lost but never earned. The right to vote is presumptive, so it is more helpful to list those few conditions that would explicitly prevent someone from exercising the right: i.e, under the age of 18, lack of citizenship, and criminal record.10 In a system of universal suffrage in which voting is no longer leveraged by affiliated demands of the state, individual voters naturally tend not to discern considerations of the general interest (if they are even capable of perceiving them), either in favor of pure self-interest (which is not necessarily debilitating), or of emotive qualifications (frequently generated in them by propaganda). In contingent suffrage systems, voting is essentially a surrogate for forestalled force, i.e., if the plebeians were not given the right to vote, they would rebel or abandon the state. The vote of the plebeians only had authority because it was backed by the possibility of rebellion. Under universal suffrage systems, however, individuals are free to endorse policies for which they themselves have no intention or ability to advance. Thus, a group of voters might choose to support a candidate who favors lenient sentencing for criminals. If the crime rate should rise because of the policies of such a candidate, the voters would naturally assume that a police force or some other enforcement would be responsible for addressing the increase in crime. But if the police should simply refuse to comply with enforcement, the candidate and his supporters would have to find a means to compel them. If they could not then compel the police for lack of force, the state would cease to function and the voting “power” of the electorate would have been nullified. Systems of universal suffrage can only discern the forceful basis of voting power to the degree that the electorate is not able to enforce their will through the exercise of voting. The problem becomes most acute in those individuals who either do not care about maintaining civil society (severely unintelligent or psychopathic voters), or — of more concern — in those individuals who are susceptible to emotional pleas, but who are rarely responsible for enforcing the maintenance of civil society. To the perfectly rational or self-interested voter, there may be instances in which a diminution of civil society generally will result in a gain for him personally.11 But these instances represent the normal factional trade-offs inherent in public resource allocation. More serious are the instances in which fundamentally irrational voters are persuaded by grievance appeals to support policies that neither benefit them (except as moral validation) or society in general. These types of grievance appeals are often ventured by dysfunctional EMFs seeking to retain power, but without the means to secure the immutability of their power basis. An EMF which has staked its survival on the resonance of its emotionally manipulative propaganda will have greatest success in a republican system of universal suffrage. It is obvious that the present American EMF is of this kind. The question confronting a right-wing opposition movement is: Can the American EMF be defeated with the preservation of universal suffrage?

(This essay will be continued in the next issue)


  1. In our own time, Elon Musk is an obvious example of the first condition. Despite his wealth, he is not a member of the political and cultural elite because his politics dissents from the established norms. The only exception to the second condition would be in the instance of a genuinely monkish figure who voluntarily takes on a life of poverty on principle, yet still wields the power of political consensus.
  2. In our own time, of course, such an assertion contradicts the pervading Western ideological commitment to the virtues of “multicultural” societies. But even within multicultural states, individual association is largely determinable by ethnic affinity. Witness, for instance, the general failure of assimilation of Middle Eastern immigrants in Western Europe or the persistent voluntary segregation of American blacks from whites and vice versa, despite the long-standing removal of legal impositions.
  3. We have mentioned in a previous installment the Era of the Five Good Emperors, 96-180 AD of the Roman empire, whose selection was based not on heredity, but merit. The pattern, alas, could not be sustained. The last of the five, Marcus Aurelius, had the foolishness (after a life spent in wisdom) to select as his successor his megalomaniacal son Commodus.
  4. I aim to avoid sophistical entanglement as far as possible. The claim “only the bloodline of Charlemagne should rule” is an ideological claim insofar as it ascribes a subjective value to the immutable characteristic of bloodline; but it is less ideological than the claim “private property should be abolished” or “the right of peaceful assembly must be respected.” This is because it pegs political power to what is immutable (national origin, parentage) and not to what can be continuously altered (ownership and activity). It is a postmodern trope that everything is reducible to ideology. A postmodernist would regard not only ethno-nationalism as an ideology, but also meritocracy itself, since it relies on disputable claims of objective truth. Without entering into the whirling catacombs of postmodern discourse, I will only say that the distinction of immutability, if it has not objective truth, is nonetheless the native heuristic of human biological and social function, and I am therefore justified in distinguishing ethno-nationalism and meritocracy from ideology because of their greater immutability. One is free to change one’s political or religious allegiance as the wind blows, but one is not free to change one’s origin, nor is it in one’s power to accede to a competency beyond the natural impositions of intellect and aptitude.
  5. Perhaps the most curious and outstanding example of this is the achievement of the 17-year old illiterate peasant girl, Joan of Arc, in convincing the French Dauphin that she was a divine agent and that he should follow her guidance in all political and military matters. Other historical examples of highly improbable monarchical influences are the Byzantine Empress Theodora (elevated from prostitute to royal spouse by the emperor Justinian), An Lushan (a morbidly obese general of Tang dynasty China who responded to the inexplicable favors of the Emperor Xuanzong by having an affair with his wife, and then by instigating a fantastically bloody revolt against him), Christopher Columbus, and Grigori Rasputin.
  6. Certain enterprising persons with a good deal of practical sense are capable of ascending to power in highly contrasting political environments. Some examples of men who retained a degree of political or military power over a drastic alteration in the reigning elite minority factions throughout the course of a career, are the ancient Athenian bon vivant Alcibiades, the French diplomat Talleyrand, the Confederate general James Longstreet, and the Russian commander Alexei Brusilov. Such persons as these maintain relevance, but are bitterly castigated as traitorous and unprincipled for their altered allegiances.
  7. Two illustrations from the Soviet Union will demonstrate that this motive supersedes even the most severe ideologues: Lenin’s notorious New Economic Policy, which allowed the continuation of free markets, was decidedly retrogressive from the standpoint of Marxist dialectics. Yet, Lenin recognized that he did not have the political security to overcome the inevitable (and, according to Marxism, necessary) travails of forced collectivization. His successor Stalin rose to power on a reputation for rigid ideological purity. But after many years of preaching the “end of nationalities” in favor of international worker solidarity, Stalin nonetheless reversed himself upon the German invasion and appealed to “the sons and daughters of the motherland” to save their native Russia.
  8. Sulla convincingly accused Marius of having developed attachments to barbarian customs over the course of his campaigns away from Rome. The excursions of Caesar and Antony into Egypt caused their opponents to charge them with the unmanliness and excessive sensuousness that were the common associations of the Orient, while the high-brow Brutus lost common support for the un-martial and elitist associations of Greek culture.
  9. It should be observed that though the equites make up only 8 percent of the Roman table and the “urban/suburban professionals” make up 30 percent of the American table, if we adjust for each category as a percentage of the electorate, then the apportionment of equites rises near 30 percent. Neither the slaves nor the landless rural were included in the electorate, and on average perhaps only half of the rural smallholders consistently attended the elections in Rome in the decades before the Gracchan movement.
  10. Increasingly, we are seeing efforts in leftist states to lower the voting age to 16 and to allow illegal immigrants to vote. Such absurdities would have appalled Franklin Roosevelt, much less than Washington or Cincinnatus.
  11. Examples of this are student support for student loan forgiveness and black support for reparation payments. Both represent policies that are probably detrimental to the aggregate benefit of society as a whole but which the benefitted individuals would be hard-pressed to oppose.     *

The Fall of the Roman Republic: A Narrative and Analytical Comparison with the Contemporary Conditions of the United States of America — (Part 1 of a Series)

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is an associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

I. Introduction

Historical representative republics may be defined broadly as of two types: abortive and abiding. Abortive republics were those which persisted for less than a generation and generally displayed characteristic instabilities. These types of republics are well-represented throughout history due to the observable truth that republics are most vulnerable in the infant stages of their developments. The quick failure of republican governments may be the result of a national inexperience in representative government (i.e. the Russian Provisional Government 1917), an over-endowment of the legislative authority against the executive (the French Fourth Republic 1946-1959), a refusal to respect basic rights such as private property (the Spanish Second Republic 1931-1939), an inability of the legislature to pass fundamental formatory legislation (the French First Republic 1792-1795), or direct foreign intervention and conquest (the Florentine Savonarolan Republic 1597 and the Paris Commune 1871). Many abortive republics faced a myriad of dilemmas requiring immediate resolution (and perhaps even the exercise of emergency authorities), and the fragile legislative functions proved incapable of rectifying a continuation of crises. The United States very nearly was such an abortive republic as the nascent government of the Articles of Confederation proved in only six years (1781-1787) to be wholly inadequate to the necessities of federalizing the 13 colonies into a single nation. Abiding republics have naturally been far less numerous in the long span of the history of republican government. There are elements of fortuity in the success of a republic, but certain characteristic features can be noted among those with impressive longevities. Foremost among these is an appropriate separation of powers. A deficient executive function often leads to a state of political stagnation while a deficient legislative function leads to tyranny. In long-standing republics, these functions (and the others) are in a harmonious balance. Long-standing republics also display a high degree of adaptability. It must be possible for a nation to make necessary alterations to its procedures and customs when these prove defunct or insufficient, and all successful republics have had firm yet flexible amendment processes to ensure the continuation of a republican standard. A third commonality among long-lasting republics is the high degrees of honor and competence among the early leaders. This may be more a matter of fortune than contrivance, and yet the early incidence of strong leadership nonetheless seems to be a requirement for the durability of a republic. All successful republics have had the blessings of formidable leaders in their formative phases.1

The eventual collapses of abiding republics are far more complex than the more straightforward collapses of abortive republics, and this is especially true if the dissolution of the state is due to internal causes. There is only one historical precedent for the collapse of a large, representative republic at the apex of political hegemony that transformed into a non-democratic totalitarianism. This is the republic of ancient Rome, and it is the only real historical republic that furnishes a proper comparison with the present-day situation of the American republic. The suspicion that the American political culture of liberty and representative government is eroding away is well-founded, and the possibility that our nation might slip into a form of government which is no longer democratic in orientation represents the great crisis of the coming decades. But in order to forestall or combat such an outcome, we must understand the course such developments are likely to take. The fall of the Roman republic represents a paradigmatic canvas for such an understanding. It is an ancient truism that history rhymes because it is forgotten. All ages are naturally so caught up in their own times that they often retain only a frail comprehension of the historical conditions that have long ago mirrored their own. Our own age is no exception, and it is crucial for our conception of the future to seek out those historical situations that parallel our present circumstances. To understand why the Roman republic fell and what instruction it confers to our own time is to arm ourselves against expectation and bolster our chances to preserve for ourselves the manner of government which has been foremost among all the constructions of the human intellect.

The plan of the following essay is to present a comprehensive comparison of the conditions of the late Roman republic (146-27 BC) with the present conditions of our American republic. The essay begins with a presentation of the root causes of the failure of the Roman republic. It proceeds to present a summary of the structure of the Roman republican government and a narrative of the history of the end of the republic. This narrative is not intensely detailed, but it is comprehensive and meticulous, and I believe, can promote an understanding of the central theses. The final part of the essay is a deep examination of the root causes and their parallels with the United States. The American republic (if it is to collapse) is in the early stages of crisis, and there is no guarantee that the eventualities which overtook the Roman republic will be similar to the ones that will overtake our own. But the political conditions of our republic bear striking resemblances to the political conditions in Rome which induced the end of Roman representative government. If sober-minded historians should think it presumptuous to make overt comparisons across millennia and disparate cultures, I will only say that the proper purpose of history is to give enlightened direction to the present. The discrepancies and divergences between two historical epochs are vast and obvious, and to insist on these is often to undermine the essential commonality of human nature, which no cultural distance, technological advance or gap in standard of living can supersede. Even a cursory survey of the history will testify that ancient Rome stalks the United States of America with ghostly parallels. As the two most powerful prevailing states in the history of the West, each fostered an unprecedented prosperity in the worlds of their hegemony. The Roman republic faced a grave political crisis brought on by its high standing and devolved into a military dictatorship. There is no reason to think that the patterns which led Rome to this fate are not in some sense universal to the nature of human political interaction and highly applicable to the analysis of our own times.2

Causes of the Fall of the Roman Republic

The most direct explanation for the fall of the republic was the pollution of its legislative function. The Roman legislative procedures (and how they differ from the American) are described at length below. For now, it is sufficient to note that the entire principle of republican government depends on the ability of a political faction to seek succor in appropriate representatives. The legislative function is polluted in the incidence that the representatives are barred from the exercise of their powers to address a majoritarian grievance. In the American system there are a number of rights (enshrined in the Bill of Rights) that are guaranteed to all individuals and cannot be legislated away by a majority faction. In practice however, the “letter” of the Bill of Rights is subject to wide and differing interpretation, and the guaranteed protections under the Bill of Rights depend on the changing verdicts of the Supreme Court. We can see the phenomenon with the 14th Amendment in particular, whereby a vagueness in the language can be deployed for almost any claim whatsoever. Thus “reasonable” limits on rampant individual expressions of “rights” are always imposed. And these “reasonable” limits generally accord with majoritarian conceptions of decency and tolerance. This is all to say that even in a state of guaranteed protections of rights, a large majority will still have its way at least in part. The Romans of the republic had no such conception of “universal individual rights” but they did retain a notion of essential human dignity for those who were citizens of the state.3 A grievance among a majority of citizens was sufficient under the Roman constitution to ensure legislative action. When these legitimate processes became subject to oligarchic interference, the Roman legislative function became corrupted and the republican mechanisms were no longer operable. The fall of the republic was due in large measure to such corruption.

The second cause of the fall of the republic was the apathy and criminality of the political elite. From its founding as a monarchy in 753 BC, Rome had always been a highly hierarchical society. Prestige in Rome was associated with familial lineage, and the wealthiest families of Rome claimed descent from gods. For a large part of the republican period (509-27 BC), the Roman aristocracy honored their lineages by taking on public duties and sometimes venturing grave personal danger for the good of the state. In the later republic, the Roman elite grew apathetic to the proper maintenance of the state. Many of the aristocrats became profligates and hedonists who abused their privileges against the interests of the Roman middle class. It is in the nature of society, at any time throughout history, to produce an “elite.” The legitimacy of an elite is dependent on whether their interests are cumulative for the nation and selfless for the entirety of the populace. If their interests are deficient in this regard then they are not worthy of aristocratic distinction. If they go even further and are actively oppressive towards those socially beneath them, then they deserve to be deposed from a condition of high status. The Roman elite of the late republic was an engine for corruption and greed, and the abuses they heaped on the broader Roman citizenry greatly contributed to the political crises that ended the republic.

The third cause of the fall of the republic was the failure to address the economic grievances of the necessary faction of the soldiership. By necessary faction, I mean a group or demographic whose members engage in essential or necessary operations of the state. Necessary factions are oppressed at the peril of the state and their political grievances cannot be slighted. Political oppression generally may go on uninterrupted if the oppressed class or faction is marginal to the maintenance of the state. We see this demonstrated in history by the frequent oppressions of ethnic minorities who do not have the numbers to be pivotal for a state economy or national interests. But a state endangers itself and fosters political dissension if it oppresses (either directly or by a refusal to address grievances) a group that fulfills necessary functions for the state. The Roman soldiership was such a group, and in refusing to countenance the remedial demands of the common soldiers who fought their wars, the Roman oligarchs doomed themselves.

The fourth cause of the fall, and the one most determinative of the form of government which resulted, was due to the ripple effect caused by the exercise of arbitrary power. By arbitrary power I refer to any exercise of authority which violates constitutional or legal procedures or to the exercise of unprescribed powers by officers and institutions contrary to the sanction of a constitution. A faction which ventures arbitrary powers always invites its opponents to do the same and, in its escalation, determines that the ultimate victory goes to the faction with the greatest level of force. Thus, the dilemma of an exercise of arbitrary power is that it demands a counter in kind. The equilibrium of republican government requires that all factions abide by the republican principle and respect the determinations of the republican mechanisms. It is generally the faction with the securest authority that first engages in an exercise of arbitrary power, naively believing that it is secure enough to manage the consequence. The Roman aristocracy represented such an “elite minority faction” and attempted to abrogate the republican mechanisms. In doing so it incited the “majority faction” of the Roman citizenry to deny the validity of the republic entirely.

The Structure of Roman Republican Government

The Romans of the republic referred to their own government, and by extension the state as a whole, by the term Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Roman Senate and People), abbreviated on coins and other state issuance as SPQR. The Roman constitution sanctioned a number of magistrate positions, the most important of which were the quaestor — initially the first office for a prospective politician and the duties of which related to the distribution of finances; the aedile — responsible for the infrastructural upkeep of the city of Rome; the praetor — generally the leading judicial officer or in some cases a military commander in the provinces; the consul — the lead executive figure and also an initiator of legislation; and, finally, the censor — often the capstone to a distinguished political or military career, a position which had a myriad of special responsibilities that frequently overlapped and exceeded the duties of the other magistrates. Each of these offices were tenured for only a single year, after which the officeholder was qualified to serve in the Roman senate. The number of persons exercising each office varied, but for most of the republican period there were two consuls elected each year. Censors were not elected every year, but only in circumstances when a distinguished political figure could garner enough support. Originally, each of the magistrate offices was restricted to the patrician class — the slender minority of citizens who comprised the aristocratic dynasties of the city of Rome — but gradually members of the plebeian class were allowed to hold each office. It even became customary for the consuls of each year to represent the two classes — one patrician, one plebeian. After serving the annual tenure in the offices of praetor or consul, the officeholder would frequently serve abroad as a pro-praetor or pro-consul. These positions exercised the same executive functions over the provinces that the previous positions had exercised in the city of Rome, and were highly sought after because they generally allowed for free rein in the pursuit of policy ambitions untethered from the political considerations of the city. A number of the most consequential Romans achieved their greatest legacies in the role of pro-consul. Each of the primary magistrate offices was outlined explicitly in the original Roman constitution of 509 BC, but one of the most powerful positions of the republic was not part of this formative cursus honorum (course of honors) at all.

The Roman tribunate was established in the early days of the republic as a consequence of plebeian unrest. The plebeians refused to accept the patrician domination of the republic and even ventured secession in the fragile early days of representative government. Without the plebeians, the patricians were impotent against hostile neighbors, so they agreed to a settlement. While the constitutional offices would remain in patrician hands, the plebeians would be permitted to elect two tribunes from their own ranks to serve as a check to patrician power. Patricians were forbidden from holding this office. The tribunes were empowered to veto any legislation brought forth by the magistrates and could propose legislation of their own (though initially this had to be approved by the magistrates). They could, in extreme circumstances, even arrest and charge magistrates with crimes while they themselves were theoretically restricted from prosecution.4 But the tribunate was also limited in many ways. A tribune was barred from holding the office for two years in succession and so lost all the privileges after only a single year. Any tribune overly aggressive against patrician interests was liable to be persecuted after his term in office had expired, especially if he was unable to retain a solid base of support when out of office. As the republic grew larger, universal plebeian suffrage was no longer practicable, and so the tribunes were elected by the concilium plebis, a body that operated out of the city of Rome and was thus susceptible to the corrupt influence of the patricians. Nominally the champion of the plebeians, tribunes were frequently mere lackeys of the patrician class whose primary function was to propagandize the efficacy of patrician policies to the plebs. By the time of the late republic (146 - 27 BC), the abuses of the patricians were such that the plebeians were rarely fooled by such machinations, and instead elected tribunes with radical platforms of reform. Confronted by implacable and incorruptible tribunes, the Roman bureaucratic regime turned to more forceful measures of quelling plebeian discontent. In the highly fraught political climate of the late republic, to hold the office of tribune was to court a violent end.

Despite our associations, the Roman senate was a consultative and not a legislative body. Though it could not pass legislation on its own authority, the senate was the most powerful single institution of the Roman republic because of its close associations with the serving magistrates. Its ranks were composed of former magistrates, most of whom were elite members of the aristocratic dynasties. It was possible, especially in the later republic, to become a distinguished senator as a novus homo (new man) unaffiliated with the dynastic families (as was Cicero) but this remained relatively rare. This general composition meant that the senate came to represent the arch-reactionary element of Roman society, far more resistant to the reform of policies and bureaucracies than the citizen body at large, to say nothing of the perspectives of the vast population of non-citizens. In the best days of the Roman senate, the majority of senators demonstrated the high-minded devotion to public duty and aristocratic selflessness that we associate with the American Founders. But by the time of the late republic, the Roman senate was a motley crew of grifters, decadents, exploiters, dissolute hedonists, well-meaning Stoics, wannabe autocrats and political intriguers not unlike the careerists, bureaucrats, staffers, and talking heads that make up our own political ecosystem. The perspective that characterizes the Roman senate in the last hundred years of the republic is its total contempt for the political demands (and needs) of those factions socially beneath its membership. The history of the senate in the late republic is that of a totally unscrupulous privileged class stopping at nothing (including bribes, falsification of elections, sham trials, and outright murder of political opponents) to prevent reductions to its power or reforms of the state. The hubris of this body and its ultimate failure to comprehend the nation beyond the confines of its narrow elitism represent the primary cause for the fall of the republic.

II. Narrative of the Descent of the Roman Republic

The Crisis of the Republic

The saga of the hundred-year collapse of the Roman republic begins with the final triumph over Rome’s great political rival, Carthage, in 146 BC in the last of the three Punic wars. For four generations the Romans had battled the Carthaginians for hegemony of the Mediterranean, and had experienced all the highs and lows of a titanic struggle of near equals. The Second Punic War had nearly seen the obliteration of the Roman state at the hands of the famed Carthaginian general Hannibal, but the fortitude and patriotic obstinacy of the Romans ultimately surmounted catastrophic losses on the way to victory over Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. By the time of the launching of the Third Punic War in 149, BC Rome and Carthage were no longer political equals. In the five decades between the wars Rome had subdued all the major states of the Mediterranean, either through outright conquest or the imposition of vassalage. Carthage, devastated by its defeat in the Second Punic War, had only managed to restore a moderate fraction of its former prestige. Pressed by the venerable and formidable Cato the Censor (237-149 BC) who famously concluded every speech with the phrase Carthago delenda est (Carthage must be destroyed), the Romans decided to end the prospect of Carthaginian resurgence once and for all. Despite difficult odds, the Carthaginian forces fought valiantly in the field and warded the Romans off longer than was expected. Eventually the sheer numerical superiority of the Romans proved decisive and they laid siege to the capital in North Africa. When it was captured, the Romans massacred or enslaved the entire populace, burned the city to ashes and salted the scorched earth so that no city could ever rise there again. They incorporated the area into the republic as the province of Numidia and it gradually came to fill the economic role of chief supplier of grain to the city of Rome.

The Third Punic War was only one in a long line of wars ventured by the Romans of the mid-second century BC for the purposes of aggrandizement. Around the time of the destruction of Carthage, the Romans were also active in the subjugation of the Iberian peninsula (nominally annexed to Rome in the Second Punic War, though political control of the area, called the province of Hispania, was low, and the lower Balkans, including all of modern-day Greece. Where they did not yet take outright control (as in the Eastern Mediterranean states of Pontus, Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid empire) the Romans dictated terms and exacted tribute.5 This dominance was made possible by the development of a vast military bureaucracy incentivized to permanent conquest through increasing subsidies of the state and its growing expenses. The most lucrative assignments for Roman aristocrats were as pro-magistrates of outpost provinces. In these capacities, the officers were awarded legions and were free to pursue conquest at their own discretion. If they conquered territory, they frequently allotted these lands to themselves and their associates. All of this military activity naturally led to a demand for more soldiers. Under existing Roman laws, free, land-holding citizens were liable to be conscripted for a certain term for military service. Many of these laws were instituted in the dark days of the Second Punic War when drastic depletions in manpower rendered them imminently necessary, but by the time of the mid-second century BC, these laws were causing rampant strife for the Roman middle class landowners. In order to survive over ever longer periods of conscription, many soldiers were forced to sell or mortgage their lands to predatory aristocratic lenders.6 These aristocrats were wealthy enough to purchase slaves (many of whom were generated by Roman wars and sold to aristocrats by magistrates) who were exempt from military service so that they could till the land. Many of these estates grew to obscene sizes as the aristocrats accumulated greater purchasing power. Soon enough, the dwindling middle-class farmers were being crowded out of the market by the lower food prices offered by the aristocratic farms. The aristocracy even began encroaching on the ager publicus (public land) that was owned by the state and traditionally leased to small farmers for the purpose of development.7 Incidentally, a law existed on the books that outlawed such activity by prohibiting any Roman from owning more than 500 acres of ager publicus, but this law went unenforced. The rapid expansion of Roman territory in the mid-second century also produced rampant inflation as the state kept reissuing coins with diluted quantities of gold and silver to maximize expenditures and take advantage of its newly acquired reserve status for the Mediterranean transnational economy.8 It was only a matter of time before the overburdened class of common citizens, who fought the wars, produced the food and maintained the economy, sought a political remedy to an increasingly intolerable situation.

The Gracchi

The only real prospect for a consequential intervention lay in the tribunate. Though the tribunes were representatives of the plebeians, they often derived in this period from the upper class of plebeians who tended to consort more with the patricians than the small landowners. Thus, many of them were hardly sympathetic with the needs of the majority of those they putatively represented. The tribunes were not elected by direct universal plebeian suffrage but rather by the concilium plebis. This council, which convened in Rome, was frequently dominated by the interests of the “aristocratic” plebeians and prone to select tribunes who were palatable to the patrician class. Only an aggressive and persistent grassroots movement could produce a true champion of the plebeians in the tribunate, but even then the tribune required a strong sense of fortitude as any opposition to the senate could result in great personal risk. Such an individual finally emerged in the figure of Tiberius Gracchus (163-133 BC). Tiberius certainly had aristocratic pedigree: his grandfather on his mother Cornelia’s side was Scipio Africanus, the hero of Zama and victor over Hannibal in the Second Punic War. His father was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, who distinguished himself by conquering and annexing the island of Sardinia as pro-consul.9 Over the course of his early military service, the younger Tiberius witnessed firsthand the corruption and greed of the magistrates and the abuse they heaped on the small landholders compelled to serve in their ranks. When Tiberius stood for tribune in the elections of 133 BC, he ran on the most significant platform in generations. He proposed returning all the land of the ager publicus back into state hands for the purpose of distribution to landless veterans, and he sought the restoration of the Licinian Law, which stated that no Roman could own more than 500 acres of the ager publicus. To the patricians in the Senate, these proposals represented a radical encroachment on their property claims even though Tiberius had refrained from extending the confiscations to the “private” lands the patricians had seized from smaller landholders, and Tiberius had even offered state compensation for the confiscated lands. Tiberius won his election, but was rather shocked to find that his fellow tribune Marcus Octavius vetoed his land legislation in a stark demonstration of the corrupting influence of the oligarchs on the tribunate. The stubborn and increasingly ideological Tiberius refused to back down and raised the stakes by withdrawing his offer of compensation for the confiscated land. He also summoned a legally questionable commission that ousted his fellow tribune Octavius from office before his term expired. This action exposed him to certain prosecution after his year in office, but it enabled him to pass the land legislation. In order to forestall the retribution of the senate, Tiberius ran for reelection, an unprecedented maneuver for a tribune at that time. However, circumstances were against him. The majority of his coalition were the small landowners, most of whom were unable to attend the elections of the concilium plebis in the city of Rome. Tiberius lost and, facing the wrath of the Roman senate, he attempted to assemble a crowd of supporters that would provide protection in his flight from the city. The senate declared a riot, and ordered the standing consul to confront the crowd. In an ensuing scuffle Tiberius and over 100 of his supporters were killed. The senate ordered his body to be thrown into the Tiber in the manner of executed criminals. For the first time in over 200 years of republican government, a domestic political dispute had been resolved by direct violence. In the years to come, such proceedings would come to represent a new normalcy.

Facing a potential uprising of the small landholders, the oligarchs finally conceded to the legislation of Tiberius Gracchus. But they were vengeful where they could afford to be and launched a purge of Gracchan supporters in the city of Rome, many of whom were murdered in the streets without benefit of trial. Among those the senate could not touch, however, was Tiberius’ younger brother Gaius (153-121 BC) who had been completing his military service in the provinces throughout the tribunate of Tiberius. Gaius fully intended to avenge his brother and commit himself to the cause for which Tiberius died, but he was willing to admit that Tiberius had made some self-wounding political blunders. Recognizing that the landholding coalition of Tiberius was too narrow and politically unreliable to form a durable faction, Gaius decided to court the equites, prosperous plebeians who were wealthy enough to buy horses for their required military service, and therefore they comprised the cavalry of the Roman army. The equites had only emerged as a powerful political faction during the second century, when cavalry became an integral part of Roman provincial campaigns. Alarmed by the greed and predation of the patricians, the equites were nonetheless suspicious of the landholding coalition of Tiberius and the consequences of the more extreme rhetoric voiced by his supporters. But whereas Tiberius had been fiery and hyperbolic in his public addresses in an effort to inflame the passions of his coalition, Gaius was more calculating and reasoned, and the equites found in him a sensible advocate for reform. To broaden the coalition further, Gaius also won the graces of the non-citizen Italian populations of the peninsula, known collectively as the “allies.” These peoples (who were, in the next generation, to present a mortal threat to the republic, see below) were conscripted into the Roman army in exchange for land and other favors, but as non-citizens they were denied the right to vote and also deprived of numerous government amenities. Gaius stopped short of offering citizenship to the allies, but he did promise that he would take into account their political grievances (foremost among them being patrician encroachments on their lands). Gaius won the tribunate in 124 BC despite the best efforts of the senate to prevent his eligibility. His legislative achievements were all concerned with curbing the powers of the senate: his first success was the passage of a law retroactively punishing those involved in the death of Tiberius and his supporters, citing the fact that they had died without benefit of a constitutionally guaranteed trial; next, in order to reward the backing of the equites, Gaius saw through the passage of a law barring senators from serving as jurists in cases of bribery and extortion, essentially leaving the judicial functions in crimes of corruption entirely in the hands of the equites. To the senators, accustomed to biased verdicts from peers, this was a severe blow. Finally, Gaius sought to interfere with the senate domination of the consulship by passing a law mandating that the consul up for election clarify his intended agenda (on penalty of perjury) prior to the voting. This law sought to curb the collusion of the consuls with the senate by making the consul legally liable for a failure to follow through on political promises. Each of these measures was bitterly opposed by the senators.

Though it was regarded as a breach of custom (though not a breach of the constitution) for a tribune to stand for immediate reelection, Gaius was nonetheless awarded a second term as tribune. Facing overwhelming popular opposition, the senatorial faction decided to change tactics by targeting the most vulnerable segment of the Gracchan coalition: they began to demagogue the dangers of granting privileges to the allies. Much of this rhetoric was in bad faith. The small landholders had much more in common with the plight of the allies who filled the ranks of the legions with them than with the patricians. Nonetheless, the senators were able to instill a great deal of fear that the elevation of the allies would lead to a loss of political power for the citizens. When Gaius began insisting that the allies be granted a partial citizenship by settling in colonies in the provinces, the senators pounced and called the move a covert attempt to raise the allies to an equal level with Roman citizens. Recognizing that his political career was in jeopardy and that without an office he would be vulnerable to arrest, Gaius followed his brother in arming his supporters in the city of Rome to protect him. Not surprisingly, this escalation quickly led to violent confrontations, and the senate authorized the senatus consultum ultimum — the law which allowed the consuls, with the blessing of the senate, to take whatever action so that the state would “come to no harm.” Ostensibly, it was an authorization for dictatorial force. The sitting consuls summoned Gaius to face charges, and when he refused they declared him an outlaw. Unable to flee from Rome, Gaius offered to negotiate, but the consuls refused. After a brief skirmish, Gaius retreated to the Temple of Diana on the city summit and, recognizing the hopelessness of his cause, fell on a sword propped up by one of his servants. In the wake of his death the senate launched a purge of his supporters in the city of Rome, executing hundreds without trial.

The failures and successes of the Gracchi exposed with stark clarity the depths of the divide within Roman society and the lengths to which the patricians would go to maintain their privileges. The violent deaths of both Gracchi brothers, sanctioned by the veneer of law, dealt a profound shock to a republican system accustomed to peaceable transitions of power and acceptance of constitutional processes. For die-hard supporters of the Gracchi, the events demonstrated that the republican mechanisms were broken and that only an insistence on the arbitrary power of a populist dictator could end the abuses of the patricians. This realization was accompanied by the sobering admission of a fundamental weakness of the office of tribune. For while a tribune could muster popular support and force through legislative initiatives, he remained permanently wedged out of administrative authority, most crucially with regard to the military. While much of the soldiership was sympathetic to the platform of the Gracchi, they would not as a plurality venture mutiny for them. So long as the functions of executive power lay in the hands of the patricians and their senatorial allies, any legislative reform passed by the tribunate would be fleeting, and there could be legal pretext for persecution of undesirable tribunes. It was evident that a permanent champion of the disaffected elements of Roman society would need to take a more comprehensive course to political power than merely the securing of the tribunate.10

(This essay will be continued in the next issue).


  1. Some examples, with their accompanying republics, are Solon of the Athenian Republic (594-338 BC), Lucius Junius Brutus and Publius Valerius Publicola of the Roman Republic (509-27 BC), William of Orange of the Dutch Republic (1588-1795), George Washington and the other Founders of the American Republic (1789-present), and Charles de Gaulle of the French Fifth Republic (1958-present).
  2. We should note that in the popular understanding, “the fall of Rome” is nearly always meant to describe the later fall of the Roman Empire, the imperial state established by the first emperor Augustus, which succeeded the Roman republic. There are some interesting comparisons to be made between the conditions of the United States and those which contributed to the fall of the empire. However, the fall of the empire was primarily an economic and demographic collapse and not a political one. The fall of the Roman republic was exclusively a failure of an abiding political system and not the story of the economic disintegration of a state. Many of our commentators are fond of warning of the imminent and permanent erosion of the American economy but such an assertion is premature. America remains a hegemon and will not be dislodged from the forefront of the world’s economies for many generations, even assuming the most incompetent management imaginable. In any case, the United States will see a resolution to its political crises well before it faces permanent economic regression. This is not to say that the political considerations will not drastically affect the standard of living for millions of Americans. The United States will remain highly wealthy for some bracket of citizens, and the political resolutions will partly determine whether this wealth is concentrated in a narrow political elite or whether it is disseminated across the middle and lower classes. For the purposes of this essay, unless otherwise explicitly stated, uses of phrases such as “fall” or “collapse” will refer to the Roman republic and not the empire.
  3. The Roman criteria for citizenship varied widely over the history of the republic. Initially, at the founding of the republic in 509 BC, only members of the aristocracy could be citizens. This was enlarged in 490 BC to include all land-holding free males of the city of Rome. Later, all free male residents of Rome, regardless of land or property ownership, were citizens. This was enlarged further to include free males living outside the city. Citizenship allowed an individual the right to vote in Roman elections, but the votes had to take place in the city of Rome.
  4. There is a dramatic depiction of this drastic action in Shakespeare's Coriolanus.
  5. For the Biblically curious, there is a fascinating look into the style of Roman diplomacy of this period in the apocryphal 1st Book of Maccabees. In 1 Maccabees 8 we are told that the Jewish leader of the rebel kingdom of the Maccabees, Judas Maccabeeus, sought Roman recognition for his state and a pact of mutual aid against the Seleucids and that the Romans courteously responded that they would rebuke the Seleucids for their abuses but would not give any firm guarantees of recognition.
  6. In some instances, piggish aristocrats, living profligately in Rome, simply “acquired” the estates of landholders on military leave through judicial bribes and manipulation.
  7. A policy similar to the American Homestead Act of 1862.
  8. It should be noted the Roman republic never descended to pure fiat as the United States and other modern nations have done.
  9. The death of Sempronius is legendary: after having come upon two snakes in the nursery of his two sons Tiberius and Gaius, Sempronius summoned soothsayers who told him that it was an omen of evil and that if both snakes escaped or were killed, disaster would befall the whole family. However, if Sempronius killed only one, his children would be spared at the cost of a parent. If the female snake was killed, his wife Cornelia would die while if the male was killed, he would die. Sempronius killed the male snake and died shortly thereafter.
  10. In an intriguing historical analogue, the Gracchi brothers of the Roman republic have been likened to the Kennedy brothers John and Robert of the American republic. All four individuals died violent deaths, the Gracchi and (likely) John and (perhaps) Robert at the hands of the reigning establishment. They derived from affluent families, and yet each built political careers on sympathy for the disaffected. Both Tiberius and John aroused populist enthusiasm in their lifetimes that became deified after their deaths, while Gaius and Robert were each hailed as the successor or culminator of the promises of the elder brother. While these parallels are fascinating, they should not be taken too far. The Gracchi were far more consequential for the Roman republic, both in terms of legislative achievements and in permanent alteration of the political landscape, than were the Kennedy brothers for the American. John F. Kennedy served as president at the height of American involvement in the Cold War at a time of relative national unity while the Gracchi served as tribunes during the most partisan period in the history of the Roman republic up to that point. The bullet that deprived Robert Kennedy of his life and the presidency also deprived him of a historical influence distinct from his brother, a statement which cannot be made of Gaius Gracchus. Nonetheless, the correspondence demonstrates something of the mirror-like inevitabilities in the flux of political history.     *
Monday, 15 August 2022 12:57

The Problem of Libertarianism

The Problem of Libertarianism

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is an associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

Every young conservative is entitled to, and ought to be allowed, his or her “libertarian phase.” It is inevitable in any case that many will be drawn to it. Idealism is the privilege of the young, and libertarianism has long represented the most compelling idealism to youthful conservatives. The principle at the heart of libertarianism — that every freedom is permissible (or even acceptable) that does not impede another’s liberty — is (in theory) an admirable creed of anti-despotism. It demonstrates a healthy skepticism as to the validity of one’s judgments, and is optimistic and affirming of life in ways that alternative nihilistic creeds of the Left are not. In right-minded people, a flirtation with libertarianism will fortify the mind against dubious appeals of emotional propaganda and make for more discerning citizens. However, this is contingent on the hope that it will remain merely a flirtation, a “youthful dalliance” in the development of an authentic conservative. This is by no means certain to happen. In our time, conservatives who attend colleges especially are besieged by the fruits of Leftist ideologies. They witness the plethora of “identities,” and are forced to interact with students who have wholeheartedly embraced Leftist causes. Many of them are attracted to libertarianism because it allows them to posture as “tolerant” without giving up some of the “core” principles of conservatives such as low taxes, fewer regulations, and small government. But libertarianism is hardly synonymous with conservatism, and it is inaccurate to say that it is necessarily a pipeline to conservatism. From at least the time of Reagan, the conservative movement has been infected by a powerful undercurrent of libertarian sentiment and the sub-belief has contributed to the immobilization of conservative influence at determinative stages of the culture war. The essential problem with libertarianism is that it is too far divorced from the reality of human nature and its social necessities. Like any political idealism, libertarianism seeks to impose a system on society that is more concerned with its own ideological purity than it is with the real nature of practical life. It is thus a delusion, and unlike the delusion of Marxism, will never take hold of a large enough segment of society to ever be truly implemented. No state in history has ever been libertarian. In better times than ours, libertarianism might represent a benign but ineffective intellectual diversion. But we face unprecedented threats from a horrifically bloated, partisan, and despotic administrative state that can only be destroyed by the deft and aggressive deployment of political power. The principles of libertarianism have no place in times that call for such decisive action.

Before we consider the corrosive impact of libertarianism on the efficacy of conservatism, it is important to define explicitly what libertarianism is. An exact definition of libertarianism is somewhat difficult because it tends to represent a cluster of political attitudes rather than a set of deliberate dogmas. The contemporary libertarian political theorist Roderick T. Long defines libertarianism as follows:

“Any political position that advocates a radical redistribution of power from the coercive state to voluntary associations of free individuals.”

The phrase “redistribution of power” is a conscious and contrasting allusion to the Marxist “redistribution of wealth.” Long’s definition is a great deal more personalized than the standard definition offered by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Libertarianism is a family of views in political philosophy. Libertarians strongly value individual freedom and see this as justifying strong protections for individual freedom. Thus, libertarians insist that justice poses stringent limits to coercion. While people can be justifiably forced to do certain things (most obviously, to refrain from violating the rights of others) they cannot be coerced to serve the overall good of society, or even their own personal good.

The libertarianism of our own time most commonly takes the form of an abdication of all assertions of values besides that of the right to be free from state coercion. Identification with libertarianism skews heavily towards those under the age of 40, and advances in technology have contributed to a widening of the scope and ambitions of its adherents. Most prominently the advent of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has seemed to offer credence to the possibility of a monetary standard independent of any government control.1 Much of this chatter is idealistic and illusory. The rise in libertarian beliefs in the 21st century has gone alongside an unprecedented expansion of government and corporate power across the globe. Much of that government power in the United States is now working towards devaluing the lives of ordinary citizens. It is quaint to engage in debates on what the government “ought” to be doing at the expense of confronting what it “is” doing. Libertarians, obsessed as they often are with precise theoretical frameworks, are oblivious to political realities, and frequently fall for the machinations of a conniving and unscrupulous Left.

The degrading effects of libertarian apathy are nowhere more in evidence than in the realm of cultural issues. The cultural domination of the Left in the last 40 years has emerged entirely because of their willingness to use power and values as a moral cudgel coupled with a total conservative unwillingness to use these methods in turn. In recent decades many social conservatives were ridiculed as kooks for warning of a “slippery slope” implicit in allowing such things as women in the military, gay marriage, surrogate parenthood, and the encouragement of “diversity” in public spaces. But nothing has been more strongly vindicated. We now have mutilation of children in the name of gender ideology, ideological takeover of the military and other formerly patriotic institutions, Critical Race Theory in the schools, and all manner of cultural monstrosities that would have appalled anyone in 1980. This cultural collapse has largely resulted from conservatives ceding cultural ground to the Left in favor of emphasizing so-called “concrete” issues like tax cuts and deregulation. This selection of emphasis is highly libertarian, and is amply illustrative of its follies. The prosperity of a state cannot be separated from the binding force of its culture. Who can say which fell first: The Roman empire or Roman culture? The roots of a nation’s culture must grow from what it values, and these values must be communal.

Values do not persist in a vacuum. Some kind of system of values will always persist because it is essential to the conduct of a fulfilled life, and any system must be held to be “objectively” true, that is, necessary for others. The few in whose nature it is to pursue an Emersonian self-reliance and independence may be able to take on the libertarian perspective of “to each their own” without internal contradiction, but it is incumbent on them to recognize that this is insupportable for the broad swath of humanity. Humans are social creatures with an innate need to see their personal values reflected in their communities. A community as large as a nation will inevitably have its differences and contradictions but it must be true that the value of reverence for one’s country is common to all groups within that nation. If this is not true, then the culture has entered a stage of collapse. Notice that the ideologies of the Left are riddled with value judgments, derived from a moral vision of retribution and the primacy of victimhood and resentment. These values are totally at odds with traditional values, and by declining to insist on them forcefully, conservatives have sacrificed the culture to the Left. Systems of morality, just like political power, will never be absent because they are both inevitabilities stemming from human social nature. Conservatives (under the influence of libertarianism) refused to insist on their morality as binding and true, and now the alternative moralities of nihilism, hedonism, and resentment fostered by the Left have acceded to the cultural standard.

It is interesting to compare libertarianism with Marxism since both ideologies evince a destructive ignorance of human nature. Marxism is lethal to mankind while libertarianism is not, but it is not too harsh to remark that libertarianism is in many ways the ideal foil of Marxism, since it offers no real resistance to an ideology bent on domination of political power. Marxism (though from the beginning it was mostly bad faith and resentment) may at one time have included some well-meaning adherents, but the crucial failure in the ideology to understand the inherently competitive nature of mankind led to the inundation of its ranks by the traffickers of hatred, and the criminally maniacal. Libertarianism, delinquent in its understanding of the communal in our nature, often attracts selfish misanthropes or those with an essentially unflattering view of human potential. The central delusion of Marxism is that man-made systems of order can remain equitable — they cannot be because Nature is inequitable. The central delusion of libertarianism is that systems of order can be repressed — they cannot be repressed because of the human perturbation at any intimation of societal chaos, including a chaos of values. It is true that all governments and systems of order are fallible — because humans are fallible — but to declare, as libertarianism does, that standards for the deployment of government power are not dependent on circumstances is merely to remain impotent in the face of any less pious ideology. The only deterrent of power is power. To disdain power is not to make it disappear but only to guarantee that those entirely without the scruples of principles acquire it. Principle must fall at times before necessity. When the survival of the nation is at stake, it is necessary for a strong assertion of values and aggressive policies to drive internal enemies from power. In our present situation it is clear that only a strong president can make any headway at curbing the rampant abuses of power of the federal bureaucracies. Thus, a true conservative (as against a libertarian) would support a president who would stop at nothing to reduce them. An interesting recent example of the disparities between conservatives was demonstrated in the reactions to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis repealing by executive order the tax privileges for Disney that had been embedded into Florida law. Those conservatives with vestiges of libertarian inclinations cautioned that the move represented a potentially dangerous precedent of government interference into a “private” company’s “rights.” But the more authentic conservatives recognized that the move was an appropriate punishment for an entertainment behemoth using its influence to corrupt children and propagandize them away from traditional values. Such methods (and beyond) will be necessary for the battles ahead.

We have spoken about the essentially practical faults of libertarianism. A philosophical system that strives for an ideal while retaining pragmatism may have utility if it stays within the boundaries marked by human nature. But libertarianism does not, in fact, represent such an ideal. A mistrust of “government” muddles the truth of the matter, which is that citizens should mistrust “bad government” and cherish “good government,” which may not necessarily mean “small.” It is worth remembering that the American Constitution represented an enlargement of government in its time, not a curtailment. Government has real functions beyond the minimalist allowances acquiesced by the libertarians. It is the proper duty of any representative government to uplift the people that most contribute to a nation’s prosperity, and to protect them from the predations of those who would denigrate them. When the institutions of a government have become enemies to those they should govern, it is the imperative of elected representatives to assert power against them and return an appropriate autonomy to the people. Power corrupts, but it corrupts to degrees. Who among us would not trust a leader of the greatness of Washington with absolute authority to remedy our present situation in any manner he saw fit? Such persons do exist, and we must have faith in the ultimate wisdom of the people to find out those with the will to power to salvage the integrity and prosperity of the nation.


  1. An analysis of cryptocurrencies is well beyond the scope of this essay. I mention them only because of their strong associations with libertarianism. Many enthusiasts confidently declare that Bitcoin can never be destroyed and that its adoption will lead to the end of state-issued currencies and the implementation of a “free” standard. The riposte to this is that though no government collusion can destroy Bitcoin, it can make it prohibitively hazardous, quite aside from inflicting severe legal restrictions on ownership and targeting it with propaganda. Global governments hardly need to prevent every person from owning it; they need only keep it so volatile through market manipulation that widespread adoption is out of the question. Note that governments can incur losses that no individual or business can incur. In any game of stakes, those who can afford to lose the most have all the advantages, and governments could assume enormous losses for the sake of catastrophizing all lesser holders. If (or when) the temporal powers of the globe decide to declare war on Bitcoin, they can (and will) marginalize it into irrelevance.    *
Wednesday, 20 April 2022 19:06

Trump and DeSantis: A Comparison

Trump and DeSantis: A Comparison

Derek Suszko

Derek Suszko is an associate editor for The St. Croix Review.

It is natural, in times of great partisanship, for developments in politics to be very rapid. If we consider what a novelty Donald Trump represented in 2016 and now, merely six years later, how much we take his conservative “populism” for granted, we ought to be astonished; but the observation is justified by considering the alarming descent of the Left into a politics of total national degradation. Trump, who seemed so novel and radical a solution to the dilemma of a middle America besieged by coastal ideologues in 2016, now appears almost quaint, and though he dominates the Republican Party, it is fair to question whether a future Trump administration will go far enough in its commitment to the quickly evolving conservative agenda. Conservatives by their nature do not like to disrupt “the state of things” too abruptly, even when that “state” is incremental political and cultural domination by the Left. But it is apparent that only an aggressively assertive and disruptive agenda, with bold demands and decisive methods, will be capable of stemming and reversing the tide of the leftist takeover of government, culture, and freedom. Trump remains the bastion of the Republican Party, but it is entirely fair to ask if he is the most capable individual to implement such an agenda of the future.

Of all the alternatives to Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stands alone in having successfully assimilated the new brand of conservative populism while preserving (and even enhancing) his essential individualism. This cannot be said for those national figures Trump diminished (Rubio, Cruz) or for those he advanced to prominence (Pence, Haley, Pompeo). All five of these figures have rumored presidential aspirations, but at the present moment each of them appears decidedly regressive in the necessary evolution of conservatism in comparison to Trump. Some of them are fatally linked to the DC establishment, and if they are not (as in the case of Cruz) they give off too much the savor of calculation. Only DeSantis has demonstrated a potential advance upon Trump, and, as of this writing, he represents the only truly desirable alternative. No doubt it has been an immense boon to DeSantis to be governor of an electorally crucial state. But much of DeSantis’ gain in reputation has been due not merely to circumstances but to his own knack for publicity and his willingness to venture boldness in policy and narrative when so many Republicans are content to be docile or parrot talking points. Perhaps having learned from the Left, DeSantis creates talking points for the purposes of policy advancement. He is shrewd enough to recognize the energy and outrage that animates conservative voters, who have too long been in the thrall of half-hearted politicians giving token acknowledgment of cultural and economic grievances while doing nothing to pragmatically address them.

It remains very early in considerations of 2024, and politics is a fickle arena. One false step can crater a promising career, and any politician, no matter how charismatic, can be wafted far and wide by changing circumstances. Trump will almost certainly run, and it is likely that DeSantis will resist the urge to challenge him, recognizing that a failure to defeat him could spell doom for all his future prospects. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on conservatives to carefully and dispassionately weigh the available options, and to confront as objectively as possible the question: Who is most capable of achieving a triumph for the conservative agenda? If a Trump nomination is inevitable, it does not follow that he should feel no pressure from the urgent demands of his voters, or that he should be comfortable in the conceit of certain power. I present this comparison of Trump with his strongest intra-party rival not to endorse one or the other but to objectively weigh the demonstrated merits of each in various domains, and to offer a summary vision of expectations for the conservative voter.


Politics is grand theater, and Trump is the consummate political actor in all American history. So much of Trump’s success, both in business and politics, was contingent on his ability to perform his part to perfection. Like all great actors, Trump is entirely without self-consciousness, a quality which charms even as it intimidates. His rallies are masterclasses in palpable spontaneity, as evidenced by my favorite Trump aside, made on October 18, 2018, at a rally in Montana:

“The choice could not be more clear. Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs. It’s true. It’s true. By the way, this is the most beautiful sky. Well, it’s big sky. I guess there’s a reason for everything, right? No it’s just — I got out and I’m looking. . . . Someday one of you will explain exactly why, but that is a beautiful, beautiful, big sky. But Nancy Pelosi, crying Chuck Schumer, and the radical Democrats, they want to raise your taxes, they want to impose socialism on our incredible nation. . . .”

That apparent sincerity is unmatchable, and no politician should be foolish enough to attempt an imitation of Trumpian stream-of-consciousness in addresses to the public. They must find their resonance elsewhere. DeSantis has learned a great deal from Trump’s bully pulpit techniques but has been careful to ensure that he retains his own unique brand of presentation based in firmness and precision. While DeSantis has copied the many hand gestures employed by Trump, the words are quite different. He always remains focused and clinical, and avoids the subjective assertions of which Trump is so fond. Trump remains the great original in this area and undoubtedly outshines all competition, but DeSantis could hold a stage with Trump better than anyone.

Advantage: Trump


The special allure of celebrity will belong exclusively to Trump in any race, but such a quality is never sufficient of itself in acquiring and retaining the hearts of voters. Reagan had this quality also, but more important was his emotional directness, his ability to sever the barriers between himself and his audience through a shared sense of feeling. Trump only displays this empathetic understanding indirectly, and one rarely senses that Trump is speaking with immersive sympathy. Celebrity is colorful but inevitably bears the hint of frivolity, and even after six years at the center of American political life, Trump cannot always shake free from an air of levity, even when he is discussing deeply serious matters. If DeSantis seems more distant, he also seems more probing, and this produces its own kind of magnetism: one that is firm and passionate but, most importantly precise. In times of crisis, people do not follow flamboyancy and spectacle but pragmatic and focused resolve. They seek competence and vision over entertainment, and DeSantis, even in his most passionate moments, always projects total assurance. If DeSantis can carry these essential qualities to the national spotlight, he stands a chance of muting the special advantages of Trump’s stardom.

Advantage: Both


Historically, the issue of education has been a political winner for the Left. This was often due to the Left’s success in its intentionally naïve framing of the issue as being a question of “funding kids and teachers” by increasing expenditures in public schools. The breathtaking corruption and incompetence displayed by public teachers’ unions were well hidden by the Left, and they were often able to reduce considerations of levies to a virtue signaling exercise in “supporting” teachers. But the prospects for this issue are changing for conservatives, who have finally recognized the insidious nature of the Left’s desire to infect the young with ideological bile as early as possible. DeSantis has been at the forefront of this realignment, most crucially in the signing of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill (derisively termed by the Left the “Don’t Say Gay” bill), which aims at a school’s funding should the staff be found spreading gender ideology to younger elementary-aged students. As always with conservative policies, the ability to present a clear counter-narrative to the Left is pivotal, and in focusing on parental rights DeSantis has uncovered the defining angle on this issue. No matter how much they deny it, the Left is after children. They seek malleable minds that are susceptible to predatory propaganda, and there is no better forum for them than in the public schools, where they can seek to influence children outside the guiding eyes of parents. In the long term, the American public education system ought to be entirely dismantled and reformed on new lines, but for the present the ideal conservative platform should focus on encouraging those who can afford to remove their children from the system to do so, and to protect those who cannot. DeSantis is the greatest conservative voice on this issue.

Advantage: DeSantis

Pandemic Policy

It is irrefutable that were it not for the pandemic, Trump would have won re-election. The pandemic obliterated Trump’s greatest political asset in the strong economy, and deprived him of his ability to hold rallies. But Trump still might have salvaged the situation had he taken a more forceful control of the narrative. Many circumstances conspired against him. In the early stages, when information on the true risks was scant, Trump was forced to rely on the “expert” bureaucrats in the CDC, a group that uniformly despised him and had no interest in doing him any political favors. As the pandemic continued, and the partisan divide on pandemic policy became apparent, Trump declined to create a firestorm by removing Antony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, though he had the authority to do so. Trump put his political fortunes in the hands of the developers of the vaccine, which was developed in an astonishingly rapid timeframe, a success that for reasons almost certainly political, was not announced until after the election. To this day, nothing during his tenure gnaws Trump so much as the general failure on the part of both his base and his opponents to credit him for this achievement. But Trump must be careful on this point. It is a political reality that a sizable number of Trump voters distrust the vaccine and remain unvaccinated, and this distrust has only exacerbated in the aftermath of numerous vaccine mandates at the state and municipal levels. The central contention on this issue has moved from being one of vaccine availability to one of bodily autonomy and free choice, and Trump has sounded out of touch in his post-presidential comments on the vaccine. DeSantis has emerged from the pandemic far stronger from a conservative perspective, and in retrospect was the only real national figure to have kept his head in the chaotic early days of panic and fear. Recognizing earlier than most that the highest-risk populations were the elderly and that others were low risk, DeSantis organized policy implementation to favor the appropriate populations and was always careful to recommend vaccination for those at risk and to defend the right of free choice for those who declined it. He was among the first governors to combat the mask mandates in schools and workplaces, and though he was defeated in state court on his executive order surrounding mask mandates, his rhetoric exposing the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of pandemic policy contributed to blunting its influence at the national level. On this issue, DeSantis has demonstrated a stronger understanding of the positions of the Republican electorate.

Advantage: DeSantis

Health Care

While conservatives have made encouraging inroads on the narrative hegemony of the Left on issues of education and voting, health care remains the Achilles heel of the platform, largely because conservatives have failed to formulate any comprehensive counter-proposal to the leftist pursuit of state encroachment in the health care industry. Mere repeal is not a compelling option, and it is no wonder that after the failure to reverse Obamacare in 2017 (by McCain’s single vote) the Republican Congress made no more attempts to do so. Health care was a fertile bastion for the Democrats in the midterm elections of 2018, and they will continue to be formidable in any election cycle in which they can convince independent voters that Republicans are after their coverages. But the bloated health care bureaucracy and the system it has wrought remains a severe instance of policy failure and a reckoning will come, especially since the prevalence of medical debt and the ghastly costs passed onto the federal budget is a prime breeding ground for the next major recession. Any conservative policy offering on this issue must center on lowering costs without interfering with existing coverage and breaking up the medical cartel that sets prices at levels far beyond market determinations.

Advantage: Neither

Election Integrity

Another issue in which the Republicans have seized the initiative is that of voting, and Trump is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing it to prominence. A good many Republicans would like the issue to go away, thinking that it sets dangerous precedents, but the truth is that there are major problems with national elections because of the machinations of Democrat operatives, by which I do not necessarily mean to imply the outright forging of votes. The prelude to the 2020 election saw the passage of mail-in-voting laws in states with Democrat governors designed intentionally to generate fraud and voting discrepancies. These policies (which will be repeated in 2022 and 2024) were coupled with disinformation campaigns in establishment media to protect the candidate Biden and the suppression of accurate reporting in the days leading up to the election. The Democrats are also playing the long game of altering the electorate by encouraging the settlement of migrants in red states and even moving to red states themselves and advancing the very policies that destroyed the states they came from. Whether they are engaging in fraud at the counting level (and they likely are) is negligible next to these more serious efforts. Trump is merely accurate when he describes the election as illegitimate, and it should be the expectation that future elections will be the same. This should not, as it proved in the Georgia run-off elections of 2020, deter conservatives from participating in elections. Rather, it should encourage them to adopt election integrity as a fundamental component of the platform, and to aggressively combat all leftist attempts to generate voting fraud by challenges in the courts and bills in the legislatures. Thus far, Trump has been the only major Republican to be outspoken on this issue. Many have been unacceptably lukewarm. DeSantis cleverly navigated the potentially fraught political terrain in the immediate aftermath of the election certification, and it was fortuitous for him that his state results were not in doubt, else he might have found himself in the unenviable position of poor Brian Kemp to the immediate north, who was forced to publicly avouch Trump’s defeat. Trump has been, and will continue to be, tenacious on this issue. It remains to be seen whether DeSantis, or any other prominent conservatives, will follow suit.

Advantage: Trump

Foreign Policy & Immigration

Trump has been fond of lamenting in recent months that he has not received the appropriate credit for the speed of the vaccine rollout. With even greater justification, he might claim that he has failed to receive appropriate credit for his foresights in foreign policy, for nowhere has Trump been so vindicated than in the arena of foreign affairs. Ridiculed as a crackpot by the Europeans throughout his administration, Trump nonetheless offered a witheringly accurate and refreshing assessment of the hypocrisies and contradictions in play in European presumptions about NATO. Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, nations like Germany find themselves in the awkward position of simultaneously sanctioning Russia and being reliant on the purchase of its oil. Never has Trump’s insistence on American oil independence and support for the Keystone pipeline appeared as prescient as now, when gas prices have exploded all across the country. Trump is hardly an intellectual, but he often has an uncanny intuition of basic facts denied and obfuscated by “experts,” and his sense of outrage at the fact of other nations “taking advantage of us” was one of the most endearing of his recurring contentions. It is possible on the other hand to pronounce the Trump administration a failure on the issue of immigration since it failed to pass comprehensive immigration legislation during the two years when it was possible. This was due both to lockstep Democrat opposition and a sizable Republican refusal to compromise on “pathways to citizenship.” But Trump retains his pulse on the issue, correctly and shrewdly associating the immigration problem with the theft of jobs and stagnant wages, and it is certain that a second Trump administration would represent a great deterrence to the mass illegal migration which has been rampant under Biden. At present, he is the only firm authority for conservative voters on both this issue and many aspects of foreign policy.

Big Advantage: Trump

Base Support

Many commentators, opposing and friendly, on the Trump phenomenon were baffled by an apparent contradiction: how could it be that a billionaire urbanite, whose whole life was spent in the glamor of celebrity culture, would prove irresistible to millions of rural, working-class voters? How could an overtly ungodly man gain the reverence of evangelicals? The answer lies not only in the essential fascination of contradiction but also in Trump’s role as the living embodiment of the myth of the self-made American. Brash, irreverent, yet also immensely patriotic, Trump can appear almost quintessential. That intrinsic sense of Americanism is what unites Trump with his supporters. Yet Trump’s apparently uncanny connection with his base is not unassailable, and he must guard against any tendencies to diminish it. Trump adores adulation, but curiously, this sometimes seems to extend to a craving for affirmative acknowledgment from political enemies. Trump is always on the lookout for praise from unlikely sources, and was quite joyous some months ago when Jen Psaki credited him on vaccine messaging. He also had this exchange with Maria Bartiromo in an interview on December 20, 2021:

Bartiromo: “Should you have fired Fauci?”

Trump: “So a lot of people ask me that question, and I don’t, right? ‘Cause if you do fire him you’re gonna have a firestorm on the Left again.”

This is a most disappointing response. Why does Trump care about the opinions of political enemies who hate him? If Republicans are unwilling to create firestorms on the Left, then they are as good as worthless. Trump’s base is a powerful force in national politics, yet too much of this kind of talk will erode its devotion even from the man who galvanized it. Trump cannot take them and their political demands for granted.

Advantage: Trump


It is hardly unjustified to consider age in assessments of presidential suitability. The present administration is led by an empty figurehead who has lost necessary cognitive capacity due to old age. Were Trump to win re-election, he would be 78 on Inauguration Day, matching the record mark just set by Biden. While Trump shows infinitely more energy and gumption in his mid-70s than Biden, it is fair to doubt that he will be capable of maintaining the tenacity requisite for a Republican president in promoting the agenda or that he will be able to approach policy considerations in a detail-oriented and rigorous way. The coronavirus scare at the end of his administration was a demonstration that Trump’s health may not be as impeccable as he claims. DeSantis, meanwhile, is 43 and hardly lacking in experience, having served in the House before his tenure as governor. His dynamism is obvious, and his charisma is enhanced by his youth. DeSantis gives the GOP the kind of figure that the Democrats churn out in droves: one who projects an image of the future and not of the past.

Big Advantage: DeSantis

Bureaucracy Busting

Trump’s lauded slogan of “Drain the Swamp” can be credited with being the most concise assertion of the necessity of disrupting the power of bureaucracies for the achievement of any conservative policy goals, but in the end he did very little draining. Notable achievements such as cleaning up the Veterans Administration aside, Trump was generally content to polemicize against the corruption and ideological degradation of the federal government without offering overtly disruptive action to combat it. He relied on too many appointees who were fundamentally uneasy with him. Any future conservative administration must be willing to do two things to counter the bureaucracies: 1) assert, up to and through judicial challenges, the absolute right of the President to remove “inferior officers” for any cause, and to contend the unconstitutionality of any Congressional laws restricting such a function and 2) a willingness to attack the departments in the realm of funding if they are uncooperative with conservative policies, corrupt, or advancing Leftist propaganda internally. The first point concerns the will, the second the method. DeSantis has demonstrated in his tenure as governor an eagerness to play the disruptor, removing longstanding bureaucrats for politically motivated sabotage of policy implementation and threatening various leftist-infested bureaucracies with reductions of budget allocation. But the federal government is an unconstrained animal like no other, and reining it in will require a rhetorical adeptness to assuage enough of the public combined with a persistent temerity. At least at the state level DeSantis has proven such a commitment.

Advantage: DeSantis

It should be clear that no conservative movement can any longer afford out of principle to abjure the powers which are available to it for the achievement of political objectives. Whoever represents the Republican Party in the next election and in elections to come must possess an almost pathological forcefulness in the pursuit of destroying the power of the Left. The Left dominates the government and the culture, but much of the country is energized against the madness and excess it has fostered. It requires art and rigorous determination to transform voter enthusiasm into enduring policy, and therefore it is crucial for the conservative leader, whether Trump, DeSantis, or someone unforeseen, to maximize this energy while maintaining an ever-vigilant eye on the proper methods for the fulfillment of pragmatic designs.    *

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