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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 12-22-2006, 07:40 PM Thread Starter
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Real and Ideal

I cut this from a long article concerning political leadership, context doesn't matter, really. I thought this small portion deeply insightful.



Caesar was, by all accounts, a colossal figure: One of history’s finest generals, emerging victorious time and again, even when pitted against far greater armies. He was a gifted historian and writer, and a diligent, visionary statesman. His vision, however, was seriously at odds with the traditional ideals of the Republic. Ruling as a dictator after the Roman civil war, Caesar systematically weakened the Republic’s institutions, most notably the Senate, for which he showed unrestrained contempt. He offended political elites by courting public adoration through a series of populist initiatives, such as the free distribution of grain, gift giving, debt amnesty, and gladiator contests. Though he was never crowned as a king, he wielded absolute authority, and enjoyed the honorary title pater patriae–“father of the nation.”

Though Caesar had many enemies, his most consistent and determined adversary was Marcus Porcius Cato–also known as Cato the Younger, to distinguish him from his great-grandfather, Cato the Elder. During his career Cato occupied a number of leadership positions in Rome and was renowned for his humility, unimpeachable honesty, intolerance of corruption, and unyielding devotion to republican virtues. As Plutarch wrote of him, it was “not in the hope of gaining honor or riches, nor out of mere impulse, or by chance that he engaged himself in politics, but he undertook the service of the state as the proper business of an honest man, and therefore he thought himself obliged to be as constant to his public duty as the bee to the honeycomb.”

Caesar and Cato were destined to collide. At a very early stage, Cato sensed Caesar’s far-reaching ambition, and he undertook to thwart him at every turn. He was thoroughly dedicated to the sacred republican ideal: That true freedom does not mean having a just ruler, but having no single ruler at all. Cato’s absolute commitment to principle alienated him from many of his peers and cost him in terms of popularity–but he was determined to save Rome from Caesar. His efforts were in vain. After a long political crusade, which ultimately played out on the battlefield, Cato, realizing defeat, took his own life at Utica in 46 b.c.e. to avoid capture. As Plutarch reports, when Caesar learned of Cato’s suicide, he said, “Cato, I grudge you your death, as you have grudged me the preservation of your life.”

Cato’s campaign to stop Caesar was therefore much more than a conflict between two political opponents. It was a clash between two models of political leadership and the political values they represent. Cato’s emphasis on political liberty, the distribution of power, and the rule of law were irreconcilable with Caesar’s cult of charisma, populism, and authoritarianism. In the end, Caesar’s megalomaniacal flamboyance and autocratic leadership fanned so much hostility among his rivals that a group of Senators stabbed him to death. And yet, his assassination did not restore the Republic as the conspirators had hoped. Rome was on the threshold of a new era, the Age of the Caesars, a period that gave us corrupt despots like Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero, and saw the decline of the very virtues that had been the glory of the classical world.

Democracies sometimes find themselves faced with a tenuous political situation, in which they must choose between the paths of Cato and Caesar. The temptation of Caesarism, particularly during times of crisis, is enormous: The masses grow weary of endless deliberations and look to a strong, determined leader to carry them through the storm to safety. And indeed, in extreme cases, this may be the right choice. But it comes at a heavy price. A strong leader, whose forceful methods may be indispensable for dealing with imminent danger, can threaten democracy if he continues to employ them once the crisis has ended. And yet, a more profound threat to freedom may come from the citizens themselves, when a perception of national or personal insecurity leads them to long for a charismatic “shepherd,” and to this end they are willing to play the sheep.
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 12-22-2006, 11:03 PM
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Very relevent for today or anyday.
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 12-23-2006, 06:07 AM
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Unfortunately, there aren't any Cato's these days, just those who would take Caesar's place.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 12-23-2006, 07:23 AM
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Cato lives!

"Cato on foreign policy and civil liberties

In recent years, Cato's non-interventionist foreign policy views and strong support for civil liberties have frequently led them to criticize those in power, Republican and Democrat. Cato opposed President George H. W. Bush's decision to fight the first Gulf War, President Clinton's interventions in Haiti and Kosovo, and President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. They have been similarly critical of recent infringements on civil liberties. Cato scholars sharply criticized Janet Reno's 1993 raid of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. More recently, they have opposed the USA Patriot Act, the imprisonment of so-called unlawful combatants like José Padilla, and the Bush administration's aggressive assertions of unilateral executive authority."

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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 12-23-2006, 09:47 AM
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