Thursday, March 14, 2013

Beware the Ides of March?

Gaius Julius Caesar
The 60 or so Senators who murdered Caesar in the Theater of Pompey, where the Senate was meeting on the Ides of March (March 15) in 44 B.C., did not consider themselves assassins.

The recruitment of Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger to the plot was a bid by the plotters to symbolically link the crime with the ouster of Rome's last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, by Lucius Junius Brutus, Marcus Junius's ancestor. Brutus, Cassius and all the rest thought they were liberators. That's what they called themselves. They thought they were ridding Rome of a man who would be king and thereby restoring the Republic.

The Romans disagreed and Marcus Junius and his fellow Liberators came to a bad end.

But America's Founding Fathers were enamored of the Boni, the "Good Men" who opposed Caesar. As George Washington and his contemporaries learned the tale, Caesar really did have ambitions to destroy the Republic (he had, after all, installed himself as Dictator for Life). Cato the Younger, Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, the subject of Joseph Addison's play, Cato (a particular favorite of Washington's), was believed by many of our Founders to be the personification of all republican virtues. And Cato was dead before Caesar's assassination, killed in the last of the civil wars that led to Caesar assuming personal control of Rome and its dominions, so he was not tainted by participation in political murder.

A great irony of history is that Cato and, later, the Liberators, may have thought they were fighting to preserve the Republic, but they were arguably the most reactionary of men, unreasonably wedded to an unworkable system of municipal government, wholly inadequate to the task of governing Italy, much less the vast territories of Spain, Africa, Greece and Gaul and all the other areas that had been conquered by Roman legions. They couldn't figure out any way of holding the conquered territories except by force of arms; they certainly could not have imagined integrating the new territories in a Roman nation. Caesar's vision and vocabulary may have been inadequate to the task as well -- but his expansion of "Latin rights" throughout the Empire and his appointment of so many new Senators, for example, may indicate that he was more on the right path to forging a broader-based Roman nation than the myopic Boni.

We suppose this really doesn't matter now, anyway, except to historians.

What matters is that America's Founding Fathers accomplished what Caesar may have wanted, while still espousing the republican virtues of Cato: They figured out how to incorporate new territory into the United States of America so that all Americans can be equal -- the person born in Massachusetts or New York has no greater claim to 'American-ness' than one born in Alaska or Hawaii.

Some of the Usual Suspects also call Friday Brutus Day, but the originators this microminiholidayette were trying to make the point that, "No matter where you work, you must admit there's as much intrigue, plotting and back stabbing as was found in Ancient Rome or is found today inside the Beltway."

TGIF, indeed.

Usual Suspect Holiday Insights says Friday will also be Everything You Think is Wrong Day, but this is more in recognition of the sad fact that, some days, nothing seems to bounce your way -- as opposed to forcing you to reappraise everything you once held true. Who'd want to celebrate that?

Friday is also World Consumer Rights Day. Always remember: The customer is always right. Unless the bank or credit card company disagrees.

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