Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Evolution of Tyranny

For those who would maintain that the Constitution of the United States is a flexible document that must evolve to meet the changing nature of the peoples' political and social appetites, the history of the Roman Republic is instructive.

What follows is, by design, a shallow, cursory look at the Roman republican experience, due in large part to the Colonel's mile-wide and inch-deep knowledge base and the limitations imposed by the few remaining cognitive cells lying fallow in the limpid pools of goo at the bottom of the deeper recesses of his brain-housing-group. Lucky for the three of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon, a cursory look at the Roman Republic's history is all that is required to quickly understand why a conservative adherence to our written constitution's strictures is so critical to maintenance of the rights and freedoms enshrined within it.

Twenty-five centuries ago, the people of the small region surrounding a nascent city-state on the banks of the Tiber River in what is now central Italy, revolted against their monarch and embarked on a five century experience with a more people-centric form of government. What is most fascinating to the Colonel, and most germane to his point, is that the Roman Republic operated for nearly 500 years, not from a written constitution, but according to loose oral tradition and precedent that continuously evolved to meet either the desires of the political ruling elite or the whims of the people to whom that ruling elite catered. Because of their inherent flexibility, the Roman Republic's guiding principles eventually allowed the political ruling class to accumulate so much power at the expense of the people that the people willingly accepted tyrants who satisfied their baser needs and wants at the expense of any self-governance. It was the Roman Republic's lack of a concrete constitution that led to its fall and to the re-institution of tyrannical monarchical rule.

That, and the dole, Rome's welfare system.

While Republican Rome's malleable constitution did maintain a semblance of checks and balances on the elements of Roman government, what was lacking was a supreme judiciary charged with preserving the constitutional rule of law via review of the constitutionality of the laws passed by the various competing ruling bodies whose power in Roman politics waxed and waned with the personal leadership strength of the heads of those bodies. In other words, there was no effective judicial review check on the legislative and executive branches of government. The result was a continuous cycle of command and countermand legislation to which the least attention was paid by those legislators who crafted it. Into such increasing chaos a Julius Caesar could ride with loyal legions at his back and seize power.

Little known to the vast majority of Americans is the fact that at the height of the Great Depression, during which an enormously charismatic and popular President accrued extra-constitutional powers to himself and his administration--and packed and perverted the Supreme Court with lackeys who would not find his clearly unconstitutional actions thus--a group of industrialists actually began to plot a military coup. They approached a retired Marine war hero (recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor)--Major General Smedley Butler--with promise of more-than-adequate funding and troops to march on Washington and seize control. Lucky for our nation, General Butler's loyalty to his oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States" was greater than his personal disgust with the unconstitutional antics of Roosevelt. Butler reported the plot to Congress.

Had Butler been more of a Caesar than a Cincinnatus, the constitutional rule of our nation may well have ended in 1934, as it did in Rome in 49 B. C.

The Colonel wishes that his fellow Americans understood just how lucky we are to have a strong, written Constitution (amended constitutionally), whose words mean today just what they meant when first penned.
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