Holiday Reading – Julius Caesar in The White House

Yes why not? If Caesar was alive today he would easily have got himself elected to what is still the most powerful position in the world. Life today is actually very much like during the Roman Empire. Crassus personifies big business and banks and Cicero, Julius Caesar and Catilina today’s politicians. And as far as dictators go,  Sulla did what that category are doing today already 2,000 years ago.

Gaius Julius Caesar would have felt at home on Capitol Hill and in the White House. He, or Cicero for that matter, would easily have managed to get himself elected president.

The headline “Financial reform compromise rebuffed in Senate” could easily be applied to the Roman Empire. Not least since that’s where the original Senate was located. The difference is that today you read news in the media and in those days Roman citizens talked about news on the Forum.

Roman elections, taxation & justice

Just as in some countries today the elite ruled at the expense of the common man.The main tools for power were already then elections, taxation and courts of law. Making profit was crucial to Roman businessmen. Crassus almost had hundreds of slaves executed just to serve his business interests. He had houses burnt down to buy them for nothing to increase his wealth.

Oportunisism still works

Power corrupts and Cicero, just like any opportunistic politician throughout time, completely changed his policies to get elected (does it sound familiar?). And no doubt a fabulous orator like him would also have been able to convince any electorate today to vote for him.

Envy and opinion can alter history

Shakespeare’s play has wrongly made many people believe Caesar was a tyrant, which is far from the truth. He usually refrained from executing his enemies which was his downfall. Would history have looked different if he hadn’t spared Brutus’ life? And the irony is that Brutus may very well have been his illegitimate son. Can’t help thinking of some royal families where assasination today still seems to be the way to the throne. The Julian dynasty emperors after Caesar however became increasingly more tyrannical, which is not unusual in similar families today.

Human nature doesn’t change

So haven’t we learned from what went wrong with the Roman Empire? Why doesn’t humanity evolve, learn from history and move on? Because it is not big business, the banks or politicians that are at fault. It is human nature. Once a generation has learnt from its mistakes another generation takes over that have yet to learn.

Human nature doesn’t change. Many people, even though they would rather die than admit it, would do anything for money, power and glory. Not to mention fame and just simply feeling important.

Vested interests rule the world

Many of us would like to see a fair world. But the world has never been fair and it’s unlikely that it ever will be. About 15 years ago I told a friend of mine who used to be minister of foreign affairs in Mexico that I would like to see all people in the world eat three meals a day and have basic schooling. He told me, “Catarina, it will never happen because vested interests will not allow it”. In other words powerful countries and people will look after its own interests.

But since empires come and go who does what to whom evens out throughout history. In the future the Chinese and Indians will do to the West what the West has been doing to them.

Makes you wonder what makes today different from the past, doesn’t it? Why should people who genuinely want to make a difference succeed today where caring people in the past failed? Will the fact that the whole world is so interconnected make a difference?

Maybe the most important lesson from history is survival? Marcus Mummius, a Roman army commander, put it very well over two thousand years ago: “ When you are hurt (in battle) the worst you can do is stop fighting. If you do the pain takes over and you are finished. I have seen many soldiers die of wounds that shouldn’t have been fatal just because they stopped fighting and gave in to the pain. No you just scream and throw yourself right back into the fight. That way you will neither feel the pain nor bleed to death since the blood will rush to your brain and the arm that holds your sword  to enable you to succeed”.

(photo: genjo m Flickr)

68 thoughts on “Holiday Reading – Julius Caesar in The White House

  1. A very good analogy, Catarina – comparing modern-day politics with the Romans… And for socialism (not practised in Roman times, of course), George Orwell's classic, 'Animal Farm,' explains the way things really work…

    As you say – the problem is human nature. Those who want things to be fair to all will never be able to win as they would have to compromise their own values to rise to sufficient positions of power to do anything about it. The nature of power is that you have to be goal-orientated and pretty ruthless to get to the top. As they say, "Nice guys finish last."

    1. Glad you like my analogy Guy! You know, Catilina was more or less into socialism even though the word didn't exist in those days. But he never succeeded because of Cicero's intrigues to stay in power.

  2. I will give you a different spin. It is not so much the power of nations like the US that are creating massive problems as much as it is the media. Today’s media constantly projects negative stories about death, violence, fraud and corruption. We lose sight of the good things that people do. Were there to be more of a recognition of the importance of doing good, perhaps it could become more habit forming.

    While I am not a naive about human nature, I do believe that there are many people who can be persuaded towards doing what is fair. We would not live in a world where we have a right to all that is fair. However, we could create a spirit, drive and momentum that would certainly be of interest.

    Sadly, in the end it will likely be a case of history repeating itself. Until then, I am with you in the fight to make a difference.

    1. David there are lot's of people who genuinely want to do good things. However, self interest prevails. Look at what happens in any country after an earth quake or something like that. Self interest takes over completely.

      1. Many charities are run by people who pocket far too much of the money that the charity raises. However, not all charities are run that way. Not all people are motivated by self interests that are negative.

        People can get to the point where they recognize that there is an end result that can be acceptable to all. There was a theory called nuclear chicken that theorized that there two major powers have the choice to either arm or disarm. If either side disarms when the other side arms, the would lose. If both sides arm both sides lose. If both sides disarm they can have the greatest gain. This theory can be used in other aspects. The key is to educate people.

        The beauty of your blog is that you are doing exactly that. Keep it up!

  3. So wait a minute. Is the reason everybody doesn't get 3 daily meals because of people in general being greedy, or because the USA doesn't allow it? 'Cause there are plenty of greedy folks in Russia too, you know!

    Catalina btw did have a plebeian power base and he was in favor of cancelling debt. But a socialist? Lol.

    1. Vested interests, as I wrote Barry.

      As for Catalina the historians disagree on if he was a good or bad guy. Hero or villain? The problem is that most of what is preserved about him is written by his enemies. Some historians however readily accept what the negative story for instance Cicero told by Cicero, even though it's spin. Nobody knows for sure what Catilina really stood for so unless we can wake up the dead we will never know.

  4. Catarina, I have read with interest your columns over last few months and am glad to learn about new perspectives and information I was less familiar with. I am most of the time in agreement with your views, maybe with few exceptions… this time. Speaking about human nature and the tendency of some people to repeat histories, I choose to avoid comparisons, since they are the roots of most human misery and unhapiness, and are, most often, unfair. Although he was considered to be one of the three monsters (along with Caesar and Pompeius, [Marcus] Crassus was not one of them. He served as a counterweight for Caesar and Pompeius. It is true that honor was not one of his strengths, but he did not betray and was one of the three "governors".

    1. Liviu what I wrote about Crassus was simply that he personifies what businesses and banks are doing today. He was on the verge of executing slaves just before he wanted to take on Spartacus, though. But he didn't in the end. We should remember that executing a slave was the owners right in those days.

      Hope you are right about human nature. It would make me very happy.

  5. I agree, good analogy Catarina. You never fail to impress.

    I only hope your analogy isn't too apt. Although I agree to a great extent that the lessons one generation learns tend to fade or be lost until the next learns them once again, there is also the fact of how history shapes current policy and governing structures to consider. Those are not as influenced by the individual as they are by current events and trends which forever engraves the changes into laws and legislation as well as political ideologies.

      1. Hi Catarina
        Thank you for such an interesting discussion and writing – I have thoroughly enjoyed the dissertations.

        Perhaps, to throw a pebble for a ripple or two, consider that the plebs could talk on the Forum, as you say, but they were the minority. Just like in the Roman times the masses really knew very little, other than what they were enforced to do, and they lived their lives in small places and did the manual work, just as the slaves did but they did have a touch more freedom, if we can call it freedom.

        Today, is it not the same?. If we look to the USA, as an example, and see what is really happening in that government and economy, it would appear again that the masses know very little and the wool is pulled over their eyes, so to speak, just as it was all those centuries ago.

        How many really appreciate the enormity of the situation that the USA is in today and how bleak the future looks. Also, lets glance sideways, to the Euro block and the strikes and the reasons for same, and also into Africa, where I reside, and again it is a huge lack of education and knowledge that allows these rather sad events to occur, and the general public do nothing. This is not to say they cannot do anything, as we see the strikes in Europe and albeit misguided, they did allow their governments to dig these vast pits from which they are struggling to get out of today. It is as you say, in that even the little man, the masses, were all OK and living fine lives and had no knowledge, or if they did they were comfortable and head in the sand attitude was the norm, and so we have the fall of some of the greatest empires in modern times happening under our noses. I agree with one of the commentators that the eastern block and China and India and the likes will now put the western nations to the sword, if I may use that turn of phrase, and so as life becomes nasty, so the strikes and mayhem, not that this will solve the problems and it is again the case of Nero fiddling whilst Rome burns.

        I wonder if ever the masses will learn to take an interest in their own well being, of course this goes against many comments of power and self interest, but so long as the population continues to live their own tiny secular lives so it will be the governments, or rather those in power positions, who will be the wealthy, as you have pointed out so eloquently, and the plebs of today will remain in poverty. It is only the degree or depth of poverty that is defined by where in the world you happen to abide.

        Indeed history will continue to repeat itself again and again, until all individuals see the greater picture and act together in these so called democracies to really again be able to gather in the Forum, but in numbers, this time, and direct their future through knowledge and wide open eyes, rather than the head in sand syndrome.

        It will be very interesting to watch what is about to happen as the Chinese etc., take the lead roll and the world reserve currency, with the eastern philosophy as to whether we go back to the barbarian type plunder, just in a modern manner, or will there truely be an improvement in this poor old earth of ours.

        Best regards

        Gary

        1. Great comment Gary. History will keep on repeating itself because the majority of human beings prefer not to take responsibility for their own life. They don't learn from history, let alone their own mistakes. It's much easier to blame the government or any person or entity apart from yourself. Hence people don't evolve and unfortunately that will most likely continue to happen forever.

          China and India were once empires that accounted for a third of world trade in the 1800s. Now they will be empires again.

          What's interesting is that we currently don't have any leader in the world that's on par with Caesar. Now with individuals, such as hackers and Julian Assange, being super empowered online, the world would benefit from having someone like Ceasar leading a superpower. Or in a key position in our world. Can you think of anyone who even remotely could carry Caesar's mantle? I unfortunately can't.

  6. Once again a really interesting and thoughtful post Catarina. There is a saying in business (can't remember the exact wording) that the first generation starts the business, the second grows it and the third generation destroys it.

    I like your analogy and I do think perhaps one reason why the same things happen again is because people say this time is different and ignore the lessons from the past, good or bad.

    1. Thanks Susan, I agree with you completely. "I'm different it's not going to happen to me"…probably what Hitler thought when he completely ignored what happened to Napoleon when he invaded Russia. Stalin who was very well read, not least when it comes to history, couldn't believe anyone would make that mistake again. The fact that Hitler didn't learn from the past actually changed history.

  7. We should learn from history, but we obviously don't because history repeats itself..
    Us, Humans, are inherently stupid and I tend to believe, out of desperation, that there must be intelligent life in the rest of the Universe, because I fail to find it on this planet.
    We are in denial and blame our problems on politicians and bankers.We see the straw in our neighbour's eyes and don't see the beam in our own eyes..We are in"DENIAL", in lala land, on drugs, in a coma!!

    1. Glad you agree with me that we should learn from history, Rosemary. Actually not only from history but from our own mistakes as well. Some of us do but unfortunately an abundance of people don't since it's easier to blame what goes wrong on someone else.

  8. The culprit of our demise is overpopulation! We need to go zero population, but we are held hostage by organized religions who think it is a blessing to procreate indiscriminately and that the Lord will provide for all these mouths to feed. Well I have news for you, he or she will not take care of us.
    We are destroying our home, the only one we know, by our folly, ignorance, stupidity and refusal to see things as they are..We refuse to face reality! In a very short time, this Blue Planet will look like the moon.. I have no hope for the masses, because they refuse to see the "Truth". It is a lot easier to ingest predigested ideas, just like the packaged food that a lot of people feed themselves with. The politicians and pastors, priests and others do all the thinking for us in the Name of an man invented invisible entity: God..The best marketing ploy ever invented. Simply brilliant ! We only use a small portion of the potential of our brains, because of religious and societal limitations. THAT MY FELLOW HUMANS IS THE PROBLEM.

    1. Interesting comment Rosemary. Do take into account that the masses have throughout history been the masses. The difference is that in during the Roman Empire many of them were slaves.

  9. I agree that the most important lesson from history is survival. We are very much familiar about death, violence, fraud and corruption in our country.Life seems to be unfair those only have the capacity in terms with money and power could gain justice let be equality distributed in every individual. Great post, about the differences among modern-day politics with the Romans Empire.

  10. When I was in my high school days, I enjoy studying about Julius Caesar because he is the best example in politics.

  11. There is an old saying about those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. Seems apropos here. Really interesting corollaries that you raise.

    Rob

  12. Your story proves that history repeats itself. It's like an accordion heaving in and heaving out. When the Republicans were in the power in the U.S. they over-reached and the voters kicked them out and the Democrats took over the Congress again and a Democratic president was elected. Then the body politic voted out the Democrats (in the House) and unless the Republicans do something stupid (a distinct possibility — this is politics, after all), they could also take over the Senate and White House in 2012. The more things change the more they stay the same.

    1. Agree with you Sherry. However, unfortunately it doesn't seem like human nature is evolving. Just look at all the greedy people taking advantage of the internet to make money at the expense of others.

  13. Interesting analogy Catarina. I’m not sure that the most important lesson from history is survival. I think the old adage that history repeats itself is a lesson we never seem to learn.

    1. Yes, it looks like that doesn't it Sherryl. Stalin was flabbergasted how Hitler could make the same mistake as Napoleon. So amazed he was taken completely by surprise. What would the world have looked like now if Hitler had learnt from history? Interesting thought, isn't it?

  14. I agree that some things will never change, but I think it has more to do with the fact that good men and women do nothing. Apathy is also a human trait. One that is running more rampant as our world becomes more advanced and digital. People think slavery is extinct but it's more alive than ever. I got to go cheer up now. Great post.

  15. Catarina, Your heartfelt posts reminds me of a quote I just recently came across:

    "As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person."
    ~ Paul Shane Spear

    1. My pleasure, Leora. Caesar was really generous, by the way. But that's not something that is mentioned in all history books. Not sure how you can be upbeat about greed, in all forms? Some of us give but far too many are just into taking, unfortunately.

  16. Very interesting post. The examination of human nature always fascinates me. It is so true that we shouldn't run and hide (quit fighting) even though we have had a setback. We should take what we've learned, persevere, and forge forward. Happy New Year to you, and all the best for 2014.
    My recent post one major goal for 2014

    1. Thank you, Greg. All the systems in place nowadays haven't changed human nature though, has it:. And Caesar and other politicians in Rome also were bound to their backers. When he started out his political career he sometimes had problems with money lenders. Did you know that Caesar wrote books as well? And he was a good writer. Far better than the majority of bloggers:-)

  17. Interesting comparison! In the US we can't seem to find center ground…when the Democrats are in they over-reach to the left to meet their agenda, get voted out and soon the Republicans are controlling things and over-reaching to the right to satisfy their agenda. The Roman Empire fell…and history also seems to suggest that all civilizations last approximately 200 years! Hopefully, that little fact isn't for-shadowing………….

    Happy New Year Catarina! Love these posts and looking forward to the next year of more of them.
    My recent post Where’s The Justice…Learning to “Be” in your 50s

    1. Glad you like the comparison, Jacqueline. Empires come and go and the US is no exception. When greed gets out of hand it's the beginning of the end. Happy New Year to you as well!

  18. I do love the quote at the end. I think this could be applied to my own life and I think I will print it out to keep inspiring me to move through the pain.
    As for the article, I am with you on wanting everyone to have 3 meals a day. I despair that it may be human nature that stops that from happening. Wouldn't you think that if we can create things in the past that were unimaginable, that we could do that to make the world a fairer place?
    My recent post Japan just tickled my fancy!

    1. Glad you love the quote at the end, Rebecca. The world will unfortunately never be a fair place because of human nature. Some people are generous but far to many are ruled by greed. It's lamantable but has always been like that and always will be.

  19. We do repeat history, don't we. I could very much relate to your premiss, and oh how sad that is. I believe we repeat our history because we forget or haven't yet learned to listen to the lessons of our forefathers. The younger generation often will devalue to what the older generation has to say and it continues that way in a never enduing cycle. 🙂
    My recent post Cupcake Cabernet Sauvignon: Wine

  20. Friends and I have often discussed this analogy. It started one year when on a history calendar, we could visually see the life of different empires and countries. The Roman Empire lasted 700 to 1,000 years and you point out some of the reasons in your article. Monetary reasons, economic collapse and a elite ruling class out of touch with reality. The USA is not even 250 years old and we are headed down the same path. Sometimes we just don't learn our lessons. Or should I say, sometimes the government corrupt and gangster like officials just don't learn their lessons while most citizens stay uniformed and uninvolved.

    Happy New Year Catarina.
    My recent post Top Ten 2013 worry moments: Why Worrying is Worthless

    1. Glad you agree with me, Pat. You are so right that the US is going down the same way. But you managed to do it more swiftly. When it comes to Rome don't forget that the Roman empire started after Caesar's death with emperor Augustus. Caesar didn't behave the way Augustus, Tiberius, Nero and so forth behaved. They were the decadent ones, not Caesar.

  21. I agree completely with the final quote there. I practice a martial art called wing chun, and I strive to develop my fighting ability both physically AND mentally. Even in someone kicks me in the groin, I HAVE to ignore it. If I give in to the pain, then the next thing you know I will be on the ground getting punched in the back of the head.

    But it extends to things far beyond just physical fights. For example, I'm a married man who has a son from a previous relationship. My son doesn't like his stepmom (big surprise, right?) so he goes home and tells his mother that his stepmom is mean to him. She calls me up saying she isn't going to let me take him anymore and she is going to court and so on and so forth. My wife says, "If he is going to lie and say I do things that I don't, then I can't be around him."

    So what am I going to do? Not take my son anymore? Divorce my wife so I can see him? Of course not! I'm going to fight to get things back to normal…or back to what PASSES for normal in my life.

  22. Great post Catarina and unfortunately, so very accurate. I think I will take hope from your last question, will the fact that the world is so interconnected make a difference? I do think it becomes increasingly difficult to allow people across the world to starve when they are also your workers. From a productivity perspective alone it encourages big business to pay attention, not to mention the consumer pressures. It's a bit like cutting off your nose in spite of your face. So perhaps at the end of the day our very self-interest will be our saving point. We can only hope.
    My recent post What Does the Future Hold For Communicators? A Look At The Jobs of Tomorrow

    1. Thank you, Debra. But human nature will never change, unfortunately. Wish it would but it's not realistic. Look at how ,many of the top percent of people are behaving today:-)

  23. Human nature is the same and yes, in some ways things stay the same. But not always. For all our short-comings I think most people today, live better than they did back in the time of Julius Caesar. While far too many people still go to bed hungry, there is more awareness of this and I believe, more done to make sure people do live better. Increased media awareness and the Internet mean we are more connected than ever before. Killing slaves to make a profit is not a reality anymore.

    I can only hope our future is brighter than what you suggest,

    1. Glad you agree with me that human nature doesn't change, Pat. You are right that progress has been made since then. But the negative aspects are still here, unfortunately. Just look at how Wall Street created the recent economic crisis.

  24. Very interesting post Catarina! You are very worldly and knowledgeable and I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts! I definitely see world power shifts occur much like the ocean waves. Where one wave crashes, another almost immediately takes it place!

    Thank you for sharing!!
    My recent post C'mon New Year!

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