Edmund Burke once said, “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” We find ourselves at a crossroads in America. Is this the beginning of the end of the government set up by our Founders?
I've been reading a book called Preserving Democracy by Elgin L. Hushbeck, Jr., and it's been quite educational. The chapter about the rise and fall of the Roman Republic describes events that are alarmingly similar to those we see in our country today.
The Romans were pretty wise people. They set up a form of representative government with similarities to our own American republic. In the Roman Republic, citizens were governed by two consuls (which were elected annually by the people) and a senate. They developed a complex constitution that focused on separation of powers and checks and balances. Theoretically, since each elected consul could only hold office for one year, this would preclude any one individual from having too much power over their fellow citizens. There were ongoing struggles inside the Roman Republic between the patricians (aristocracy) and plebs (ordinary citizens) that resulted in an erosion of the power held by the aristocracy and an erosion of the checks and balances within the government that held the Roman Republic intact. Over time, the system could not be maintained as the rule of law was replaced by the rule of man, and the Republic crumbled as Julius Caesar assumed power. The intricacies of the government of the Roman Republic are too complex to fully describe here, so I would recommend doing some research online or reading Hushbeck's book to learn more.
So what happened in the Roman Republic that caused its collapse? What can we learn from their mistakes? Here are a few of the key factors that led to the demise of their form of representative government. We would be wise to learn the lessons of Roman Republic and return to the government laid out by our Founders in our Constitution.
The Ruling Elite and Birth of Populism
The aristocracy in Rome held most of the highest offices in the land. The senate was comprised of elites exclusively, and although the plebs had a voice in government, their power had been quite limited in reality. For the most part, order and peace were maintained for a long while in Rome, but slave labor used by the elites was driving plebs off the land and into the cities because they could not compete with the wealthy land owners for jobs. Unfortunately, even in the cities much of the work was being done by slaves leaving plebs with few jobs. In order to deal with the lack of jobs held by the plebs the rulers in the Roman Republic set about attempting to solve the problem by making numerous promises to them. The focus on the law was replaced by a focus on individual politicians. Populism was born as those voting began choosing leaders who would promise solutions to problems, even if those promises were not in accordance with tradition or law, and even if those promises would never be realized.
As the politicians worked to curry favor with those voting, the immorality among the citizens and government was on the rise. The sexual immorality that existed inside the Roman Empire is legendary, but it got its start during the Roman Republic. The slaughter of slaves for entertainment was common as the leaders entertained the masses to appease a growing number of citizens who were out of work and out of hope. Children were not valued in the culture of Rome and reports of abuse were common. Some Romans believed themselves divine while others worshiped Greek gods, but their forms of religion did not translate into personal morality or responsibility. Marriage was on the decline and cruel treatment of slaves was pervasive in Rome.
Rapid Expansion and Mob Rule
Military conquest was a hallmark of Roman society. As wars were waged, the Republic expanded in size and the defeated enemies were turned into slaves. As the Republic grew in size and population... the infighting within the government grew. Senators used partisan politics to keep power within the elite class, while the populists looked to the lower classes for support. This divided the people and classes into warring factions. For nearly 100 years, the climate was anything but civil. As time went on, the Roman citizens began to elect leaders who would put an end to many laws and traditions, in spite of the fact that this erosion would inevitably lead to the loss of their voice in government entirely in the Roman Empire. The politicians would not be truthful with the people because doing so would lead to certain defeat (sometimes death!). The mob was in control, if you could call it that.
What are the parallels?
The elite run this country. The number of people in power that are wealthy and very well educated far out-number ordinary citizens.
Immorality is on the rise. Over 54 million babies have been aborted in America since 1973. Marriage is on the decline as couples choose to cohabitate or post-pone marriage. Homosexuality is becoming more accepted and Biblical principles are rarely a guiding force in crafting public policy or in the personal behaviors of our citizens today.
Mob rule is showing up at Occupy Wall Street events as police are faced with an ever increasing number of violent protesters who destroy public and private property. Politicians promise voters the moon to get elected and then fail to deliver on those promises. Those casting the votes are kept in the dark about how the government is really operating, and more voters now support policies and programs that rob them of their tax dollars and their liberty. Additionally, the very programs that are intended to help the poor are creating an ever increasing underclass of people who are dependent on these government programs.
The rule of law is being replaced by rule of man as our president issues executive orders and unilaterally decides which laws will be enforced. Our Department of Justice is suing a record number of states because they are passing laws that do not conform to the ideology of the ruling party. This usurpation of power conflicts with the sovereignty of the states as laid out in our Constitution.
The Tea Party rose up in America in reaction to Obama's Affordable Care Act. The size, scope, and expense of this new government program (dubbed Obamacare) is unprecedented in American history. These grassroots conservatives began to realize the tyranny of the elite was robbing us of our most basic rights. Tea Party conservatives have begun educating themselves and teaching others about the workings within our government; they have begun the work to restore our nation to the principles laid out by our Founders in the Constitution.
The fact that these ordinary citizens are not rising up to request benefits from the government is unprecedented as well. Unlike the mob rule in Rome, these citizens are wanting less government assistance and more personal responsibility. Most of those involved in the Tea Party movement are common citizens without wealth or power. They realize that if we don't stem the tide of government spending, we may not have an America left for our children. The only solution to our problems in America is for the citizens of this country to turn back to God who gave us life and liberty ... and to do the job entrusted to us by our Founding Fathers. We must assume personal responsibility for our actions and for our nations problems. We must choose leaders and support policies that hold to Constitutional principles. We must insist our leaders value the sovereignty and liberty of the individual, even if that means losing some of the comforts of government assistance that have been put in place over the years.
The solution is not easy. Convincing people to give up benefits they enjoy will be a long struggle, but it is a battle we must win if we want to avoid the same fate as the Roman Republic.