Part One of Two
by Richard M. Dolan
A Murder Mystery
Like the Agatha Christie twist in Murder on the Orient Express, there have been many killers of the American Republic.
There is of course the obvious culprit, finally and widely acknowledged these days. This is the Spirit (and reality) of Empire, which has provided a none-too-subtle knife in the back. Since the days of Rome, people have understood the incompatibility of republican institutions with the tools of conquest and empire. By the time of Caesar, for instance, Roman rule stretched throughout the Mediterranean, dominating peoples as diverse as those under American military hegemony today.
The problem back then was that the old Roman Senate, already with five centuries of history behind it, was designed for ruling Romans – in Rome. The Senate managed well enough during Rome’s conquest of Italy in the third century BC, and even during the pivotal Punic Wars with Carthage. But ruling faraway (and valuable) lands like Gaul and Egypt were not so simple. Caesar knew this as well as anyone. Solution: end of the Republic, and the creation of such offices as Dictator for Life. Then, after his assassination, Emperor. Indeed, we may wish to remember that Caesar’s successor, his nephew, the Emperor Augustus, stated that his own absolute rule was only temporary, and that he eventually intended to restore the republic.
Ultimately, republics cannot wear the armor of empire. That is because two central principles of republican philosophy – freedom and self-government – wither under its weight.
Empires mean war. Wars mean the stifling of dissent and constriction of free thought at home. This happens every time. Repeat: every time. It has happened in America today. Freedom of expression is a meaningless concept if everyone thinks the same. It is how dissenters are treated that enables us to measure how free a society is.