2013 November 30 Saturday
Cato Of The Roman Republic Was A Fool

Cato was one of the leaders in the Roman Republic who maneuvered Julius Caesar into a position where his only choices were to either get convicted of a crime by the Senate (thereby losing all power, possibly his life, and with his best outcome a life in exile) or to overthrow the Republic. Caesar's decision was not surprising. His ability to execute on his decision was also not surprising. Caesar was an incredible dynamo, a great leader of men who inspired intense loyalty and devotion in those he led. Cato, by contrast, was a fool. He helped accelerate the death of the Republic.

Caesar not only overthrew the Republic but also governed better than the elected officials and Senators who he marginalized. The outcome was rule by emperors for centuries.

The Republic was corrupt with widespread bribery in court cases and in votes on laws and policy decisions. The Republic's voters were whipped into passions by demagogues. The elected officials and members of the Senate were corrupt, short-sighted, and lacked sufficient virtue.

Cato serves as an inspiration for the modern day Libertarians at the Cato Institute. They look up to a guy who overplayed his hand in a Rome where few deeply shared his principles and views. Cato's views found even less support among the native peoples in most of the conquered lands which the Romans ruled. Does this sound familiar?

Why are open borders Libertarians wrong on immigration? For reasons similar to why Cato was wrong about Caesar: a refusal to acknowledge that pursuit of unachievable ideals can result in worse outcomes.

Caesar, an amazingly accomplished Roman, a huge benefit to the Republic, did not deserve the ruin that Cato wanted to visit upon him. Some Romans (e.g. Caelius) saw that the strategy of Cato and his allies courted disaster for the Republic. But Cato apparently took it for granted that the Republic would survive, rather like modern day Libertarians at the Cato Institute think that an open borders immigration policy will not undermine support for freedom in the domestic population.

What Libertarians can't get their minds around: they are outliers. They are statistical outliers. They support an immigration policy that will make them even more statistical outliers. See figure 4.2 which shows why libertarians are demographic road kill. Immigrants are less libertarian than the native born. So the Cato Institute supports policies that turn libertarianism into road kill.

My fear for America is that as the attributes that serve as the foundations for American exceptionalism continue to fade in the general population America will become less exceptional and less free. The Leviathan will grow and the extent of its control over us will grow as well.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 November 30 06:58 PM 


Comments
ErisGuy said at December 1, 2013 8:24 AM:

"Caesar not only overthrew the Republic but also governed better than the elected officials and Senators who he marginalized”

Hmm. Did his successors? I bet any random efficient Roman Republican government beats Elagabalus, Caligula, Maximum, and Macrinus.

Doesn’t say much to say that in Caesar’s brief reign he governed better than the triumvirate (of which he was a part) governed. Obama has solved—one way or another—the politically invsolable problems of insurance in this country. That doesn’t mean he is governing well.

That Caesar’s rule led to "The outcome was rule by emperors for centuries.” — not governing well.

Here are some of his accomplishments from Wikipedia:

"He passed a sumptuary law that restricted the purchase of certain luxuries” — not governing better.

"he passed a law that rewarded families for having many children” — not governing better, at least according to feminists.

"he outlawed professional guilds,” not governing better, at least according to unionists or communists.

"was his reform of the calendar” — governing better, except for the part where he named it after himself.

"He also extended Latin rights throughout the Roman world” — not governing better; although I’ll bet Obama would like to make citizenship of the world and USA the same; alternatively this means immediately extending citizenship to everyone within the USA's borders. Who would oppose that?

"abolished the tax system and reverted to the earlier version that allowed cities to collect tribute however they wanted” — definitely governing better. Will the next Republican president abolish the IRS?

"he instituted a massive mobilization” — endless wars; not governing better unless the Bush/Clinton/Obama little wars is to one’s liking.

"he was appointed dictator for life” — not governing better, except in Obama’s and his followers’ dreams.

You have a strange contradiction: on one had you appear to wish the American Republic survive (as American exceptionalism, e.g., not succumbing to the EUSSR-type governments) and yet praise the tyrant (excuse me, dictator for life) who ended the Roman republic.

Which American will you praise for ending the American republic? Any speculation? Name names. I’m compiling a Brutus list.

Randall Parker said at December 1, 2013 11:55 AM:

ErisGuy,

You are being obtuse. Moral grandstanding is not the road to insight.

Luxuries: The level of inequality rose hugely in the later republic as wealthy land owners (many were conquering generals) forced out small land owners, consolidated their holdings, and imported large amounts of slave labor to work their massive estates. Their conspicuous consumption bred resentment and rebellion. Caesar was trying to reduce instability and waste. Seems wise to me.

A massive mobilization: they were common in the Republic and enabled the republic to field bigger armies and defeat all opponents.

Extended latin rights: decreased slavery. Slavery went down in the empire.

Wish the American Republic to survive: I also wish the average IQ level wouldn't keep going down or that industriousness and the work ethic wouldn't keep going down. But I separate my wishes and expectations. Exceptionalism is fading and I expect that to continue. It is already much less a republic. The Leviathan grows much less restrained every year. The Republic's death is slow and inexorable.

Dictator for life: The point of my post is that a silly libertarian helped maneuver events to lead to this outcome. At least Caesar was a much better dictator than the average. Shame he wasn't more careful about his personal safety. Quality of life in the empire would have become better sooner if he had.

Lyle said at December 1, 2013 11:59 AM:

Erisguy, if you're reading the Wikipedia entry to get your info, you obviously have no historical context for Ceaser's reforms.

> "he passed a law that rewarded families for having many children”
> — not governing better, at least according to feminists.

Rome's populace had been decimated by both civil wars (Marius and Sulla) and wars of conquest (Gaul, the Near East, etc.). The proceeds of the spoils from those conquests and their subsequent inflow of taxes were to be used to replenish Roman stock.

> "He also extended Latin rights throughout the Roman world” — not governing better;

Actually, it was exceptional governing. By allowing nearby states in Italy all of the rights of Rome, he removed the drive for the many of the conflicts in the area around Rome. It also helped replenish the Roman armies following the recent wars.

> "abolished the tax system and reverted to the earlier version that allowed
> cities to collect tribute however they wanted” — definitely governing better.

Tribute was still due. Who it was collected from and how that was managed was left to the local magistrates. I guess the federal government could leave the collecting of taxes to the local states, but would it really matter to you who collected your taxes?

> "he instituted a massive mobilization” — endless wars; not governing
> better unless the Bush/Clinton/Obama little wars is to one’s liking.

Comparing the recent "little wars" to Rome's wars is crazy. They are nothing alike. After Roman CONQUEST, Rome ruled the area. They set up their own government, put Romans in place, and made the local populace pay for the war via booty and taxes. They killed who they need to kill and ruled in as harsh a manner as was dictated by the local circumstances.

Endless war existed, but not like you think of it. It was war that enriched Rome both immediately and perpetually.

Finally, Caligula and some of the other emperors had personal foibles, but Caligula's building of the aqueducts and management of the preparations for the conquest of Britain showed his macro-rule was pretty solid. (Also, many of the depredations heaped upon Caligula occurred 80 years after his death. Most are considered fanciful.)

Randall Parker said at December 1, 2013 6:54 PM:

Agreed with Lyle about the historical context.

What is not appreciated today: cities and wandering tribes routinely did raids and invasions. Rome's fear of barbarians was based on experience. They (and the peoples they ruled) got raided and invaded. Look at the Helvetic tribes that Caesar went after. They were either fleeing from harassment from Germanic tribes or looking for places to plunder or both. It wasn't innocent tribes against Roman imperialists. It was a state of war between tribes. Look at the tribes in Gaul. Caesar was able to defeat them because they were so busy warring with each other that they had no larger government organization. Europe was a big zone of tribal warfare.

James Bowery said at December 2, 2013 3:37 PM:

The Austrian School of economics isn't about libertarianism. Its about centralization and internationalization of wealth. Its the private sector aspect of interests expressed in Marxism's centralization. In both cases its about centralizing wealth that can, at the appropriate moment, be absconded with across the border to do the centralization gig again in a "fresh" body politic -- appealing to whatever power structure there is with the absconded wealth.

The Austrian School's primary strategy to achieve this goal is to shift public sector infrastructure costs of maintaining property rights away from those enjoying property rights and onto those creating value in properties.

Libertarians need to think more deeply here. The state of nature is one in which a natural person has de facto rights to fight for his survival -- which includes not just his own personal survival but the right to sire and raise children to equally viable adulthood. When I use the word "fight" I mean it: Animals will fight for territorial access for the lives of themselves and their progeny. The Austrian and Lockean schools fail to recognize the situation which arises in nature when an animal is without the means of intergenerational sustenance, and the necessity of aggression in some of those situations. These schools of thought attempt to ignore this by proclaiming "property rights" as "natural" against "aggression". This foolishness at the heart of these schools of thought renders them forever vulnerable to collectivists. The way out is trivially obvious: Follow Lysander Spooner's definition of legitimate government as a mutual insurance company into which men voluntarily invest their natural rights in exchange for shares in and dividends from the company. The premiums paid for property rights take the place of taxes. The dividends take the place of social welfare. The violation of this simple and obvious paleolibertarian construct sacrifices the bedrock principle of liberty upon which civilization is founded for the high purpose of becoming politically impotent against collectivists.

MC said at December 2, 2013 5:52 PM:

George Washington would disagree with you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato,_a_Tragedy

Check it out said at December 3, 2013 4:19 PM:

Treating human beings differently, simply because they were born on the opposite side of a national boundary, is inherently unethical.

Such birthrights are only defensible if they serve useful and meaningful social purposes (such as inheritance rights, which encourage mothers and fathers to work and save for their children), but the "birthright of nationality" does not do so.

Check it out said at December 3, 2013 4:32 PM:

If, because of NAFTA, goods and services and corporations can cross international boundaries without restraint, then it does not make sense to impose such extreme restraints on the flow of people who work to make those goods and services.

James Bowery said at December 3, 2013 4:47 PM:

Check it out is spouting nonsense. A mutual insurance company that holds land has a contractual obligation to restrict access to the land. That's true even if the mutual insurance company is comprised of co-nationals.

ErisGuy said at December 4, 2013 5:32 PM:

I’d still like to see a list of names whom you think would make a good American Caesar. Living persons only please.

"Their conspicuous consumption bred resentment and rebellion” OK, you believe sumptuary laws are good. We’ll have to disagree on that one.

"they were common in the Republic” OK, continuing the late Republic’s useless wars was good. So Caesar’s governing the same as the Republic and both were good. We’ll have to disagree on that one.

"Extended latin rights: decreased slavery. Slavery went down in the empire.” Non sequitur, or rather fusing two points. OK, you think Latins and others should have been granted Roman citizenship and that anyone who walks across the US border should be instantly a citizen. We’ll have to disagree on that one.

"The point of my post is that a silly libertarian helped maneuver events to lead to this.” You’re right. Didn’t have to, but it did. Unless you believe in inevitability or fatalism, in which case we’ll have to disagree on that one. It may be the point, but it wasn’t the claim.

"I also wish the average IQ level wouldn't keep going down or that industriousness and the work ethic wouldn't keep going down.” I rather think this has something to do with granting citizenship to anyone who crosses the border. Perhaps America shouldn’t extend its citizenship to Mexico, Guatemala, and the rest of the world, which you compared to the extension of citizenship to the Latins.

You apparently envision yourself as a follower of an American Caesar. When Obama or one of his successors sets aside the Constitution and rules by decree, you may cheer him on.
I will be—and would have been in 44BC—Marcus Brutus.

"You are being obtuse. Moral grandstanding is not the road to insight.”

Yeah. How dare I cite evidence and show good judgment. Heinous.
You claimed Caesar governed better than his predecessors. I pointed out several ways in which this wasn’t so. You want to pass sumptuary laws, natalist legislation, and abolish unions (in the manner of Caesar). Go ahead. Don’t be surprised when others—not just myself, since I think two of three would be good—disagree with your wise policies.

" but would it really matter to you who collected your taxes”

Yes. It matters to me whether taxes are collected by my city, county and state, as opposed to say, the UN.

"you're reading the Wikipedia entry to get your info”

OK. Next time I’ll pluck one of my many volumes by Michael Grant from my bookshelf, then cite volume and page number. You’ll be unable to check my references.

"Actually, it was exceptional governing.” I don’t think everyone in Latin America is or ought be a US citizen. It would be exceptional if your wish was made real. Not exceptionally good, of course, but exceptional.

"Such birthrights are only defensible if they serve useful and meaningful social purposes”

That works for America, as the only nation to attempt to guarantee the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. That alone is a useful and meaningful social purpose. Glad to see you agree with me about everything.

Randall Parker said at December 4, 2013 8:37 PM:

ErisGuy,

You keep presenting a straw man of my position. This is your imagination talking with some moral posturing thrown in:

You apparently envision yourself

An American Caesar: What I tell the neoreactionary monarchists is that their argument to restore monarchy would have more appeal if they could come up with a good way to choose great monarchs. I wish we had a way since I think democracy is failing. But I do not see a way. I have made this point:

America is a problem that can not be solved.

Caesar came out of an extremely competitive Roman society that enabled leadership talent to demonstrate itself and develop itself. We don't have an environment where political and military leaders can develop. I admire his ability and many of his decisions given the circumstances. But I do not see a likelihood that someone can come to power here to rule in a better way than our increasingly bad democratic government. Hence my belief that America is doomed to decay.

The late republic's useless wars: Well, they could have let tribes remain close to their borders and get invaded by them periodically. They could have not done wars of conquest that both greatly enriched them and made big markets that enabled higher living standards in a larger and more complex society. You might call their wars immoral. But useless? Not to them. Quite useful to them in fact.

"The point of my post is that a silly libertarian helped maneuver events to lead to this.” You’re right. Didn’t have to, but it did. Unless you believe in inevitability or fatalism, in which case we’ll have to disagree on that one. It may be the point, but it wasn’t the claim.

I'm having a hard time parsing what you are trying to say here.

Brent said at December 9, 2013 8:44 AM:

Not accurate regarding the naming of the Cato Institute, where I worked as an intern many years ago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato's_Letters


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