The Collapse of the Republic
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
Created on Tuesday, December 20, 2016 09:48
The average human being has never been aware that he has been living by a permanent myth all his life and that this has been the case in previous generations and will be in generations to come, since the main local experiences, his emotional conflicts and efforts to survive completely dominate the landscape of his life and do not allow him to delve into deeper problems such as those having to do with the origin of life, the existence of higher beings and in general all kinds of metaphysical questions.
I make this observation because today’s world, without exception, is undergoing a profound change in its conception of reality, which is not obvious because the majority of human beings invest most of their time in the search for material success, control of their emotions and a very short-term vision of the future. All this occurs in a very limited context where we are in contact with human beings who are mainly family and friends, in a physical space that normally does not extend to other countries and with an over-valuation of our own capacity and intelligence.
The huge changes now taking place in all regions of the world seem to be invisible to the vast majority of human beings, so I will refer to a particular stage in the history of human society, when there was a great change in paradigms and myths in just one century, due to the action of a few people. I am referring to the Great Roman Empire in the 1st century BC, when the more than 500 year-old myth of republican political life inherited from Greece was discarded in the 40 years that the reign of Cesar Augustus lasted.
In the middle of the 2nd century BC there was a climate of great internal upheaval in Rome that culminated with the murder of the Gracchi. These were two brothers with progressive ideas who, in their capacity as Tribunes of the Plebs, called for "agrarian reform" whereby there would be free distribution of land among the poorest citizens of Rome, to the detriment of the powerful landowners. This is the reason why both brothers were killed.
With the violent death of the Gracchus brothers we come to the beginning of the first century BC which was the most terrible period in Roman history. In that century Rome was filled with blood from endless civil wars caused precisely by its immense power and vast territorial holdings. Republican institutions that had functioned for 500 years became inadequate to manage their possessions which stretched from Normandy to North Africa and from Visigothic Hispania to Byzantium.
The Romans had created laws to prevent one man from having absolute power, but the Roman generals had become very powerful and with the support of their legions and the resources of the provinces they governed they fought among themselves to gain absolute power. This is what was done by Marius and Sila, then by Caesar and Pompey and finally by Antonius and Octavius.
So at the end of this period of fighting, the figure of Julius Caesar emerged and he managed to concentrate all existing political power in his hands. But Rome was not yet ready for this change and Julius Caesar was assassinated by a large group of senators in 44 BC, leaving as his sole heir the young Gaius Octavius who later became Caesar Augustus, defeating Marcus Antonius who was Caesar’s natural successor. Although Gaius Octavius was only 18 years old and a distant relative of Julius Caesar, he proved to be the ideal person that Rome needed. Octavius ruled Rome with Marcus Antonius until the latter was deposed by the famous victory of Egypt over Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra in 31 BC, leaving Rome solely in his hands.
But Caesar Augustus never accepted this and little by little he built the Empire, saying that the modifications being made were to improve the functioning of the Republic. So during the 40 years of his reign he carefully spaced the reforms slowly and in stages, sometimes pretending that he was leaving public life to restore normality to the Republic. But the citizens and the senators themselves knew that without him they would return to civil war and so they begged him to renew his mandate. However he only accepted a temporary extension and took a long time to accept unlimited power from the Senate.
The Senate bestowed on him the religious title of Augustus in 27 BC and his name became the eighth month of the year. Because Augustus was well aware that the Romans detested monarchy he intelligently combined tradition and change by creating a new form of government in which the emperor would not be a king but the leader of the senators whose job was to look out for everybody’s interest.
The reign of Augustus began the most brilliant period in Roman culture with figures such as Virgil, Ovid and Titus Livius, whose works represent the period of purest classicism in art - a golden age that will be remembered by authors of all ages.
Addendum: Right now we have the beginning of the end of the myth of the federal republic of the United States, which has not lasted as long as that of the Roman Republic. But the person dealing with that great challenge is not a smart and impartial person like Caesar Augustus, but a character who is in love with himself and all those who, like him, believe that ethical values and relationships between people are only part of a never-ending reality show.