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I am retired from government, law enforcement, politics and all other pointless endeavors. I eat when I am hungry and sleep when I am tired.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The founders of our republic looked to the Roman Republic for examples of how a republic could survive and prosper in what was then the modern world. Unlike we post moderns, they knew that human nature does not change. They made a keen study of how the Roman Republic eventually slid into anarchy and tyranny.  Therefore, it is profoundly gratifying to see how long those Roman inspired lessons held out against the impulse to mere democracy and institutional decay. As our republic declines,  let's examine those Roman institutions our founders chose not to incorporate into our political framework.  Doubtless they had their reasons.  

This is just a thought experiment, as such stern measures are too sensible to gain acceptance in our present state of decadence.  Looking at how a sister republic confronted the challenge of governance is a useful exercise, if only to see how far from perfection we have fallen.  To understand the Roman model is to know their mind and at one remove, the minds of our founders.   The Romans were far from perfect, but the republic they instituted and the empire that followed, lasted a thousand years.  Our republic will not see it's three hundredth birthday.  

The examples I give below are unique Roman public offices and their functions.  I bring them forward as exhibits of Roman practical wisdom.  The reader can judge for himself how useful they would be in our time.  Obviously, I think they make sense, although as stated above, we are too far-gone to adopt them.

Cursus Honorum These were a graduated series of offices men in public life were expected to fill before advancing to the next step up the ladder of power.  Some steps were not strictly necessary but were customary.   This system of insisting that people demonstrate competence in lesser roles before running for higher office is itself a massive improvement over our own system.  The idea that one could be intrusted power without a record of accomplishment filled the Romans with dread. A jumped up law professor could never have achieved power in Rome.  Even the great Cicero, who was a lawyer, had to fill other offices to advance.  And when he went too far, he was banished for a time.  

Aedile These were elected officials who were charged with the upkeep of the city, the grain dole, the regulation of public morals, management of the public games and the regulation of the markets.  If your sewer backed up or foreign tricksters cheated you at the market, you went to the Aedile.  He had the power to render justice and the responsibility to keep what we call infrastructure in good working order.  He could not plead ignorance and if he did not act, his career died at the end of his one-year term of office.  He also had to put on public games for the entertainment of all the citizens.  So the Aedile was no piker and unlike our bureaucracy, could not slip the harness of accountability.  The next time my readers approach their town council over potholes and such, remember the Aedile. 

Military Tribune These were elected from the youth of Senatorial class who wished to advance in the service of the Republic.  They served with the legions under senior officers and if talented, were given actual combat responsibilities. 

Rome was a martial society and the thought of permitting cowards or incompetents to attain high office, in which they would be expected to lead men in war, was an completely unacceptable. 

Successful completion of service as a Military Tribune proved the individual had nerve and could take as well as give orders under pressure.  Contrast this with all the poltroons and fussbudgets inhabiting our Congress.  

CENSOR The office of Censor was the pinnacle of the Roman honors system and was usually occupied by elder statesmen who had already attained the office of Consul.  Censors were men who had satisfied the highest tests of judgment and rectitude.   As with Consuls, there were two Censors at a time.  They served for five years.  They oversaw the important work of conducting the census.  They also had the responsibility of purging the Senate of unworthy members.  They could banish certain religious practices and take action to defend public morals.

The genius of the Censorship rested on Romans of the leadership class knowing that their private vices would be known if they were not curbed or carefully hidden.  Someone of distinction that knew you or your family might eventually become a Censor.  This meant that at least a show of decency was necessary to survive in the Senate. It also behooved people in that class to be on civil terms with others, as what one Censor did, could be undone in five years by his successor.  

It’s tempting to wish we had censors.  They would be ex-presidents.  It takes only a moment’s reflection to see that this would not do.  Bill Clinton passing on other’s morals would be a scandal in itself.  If we produced men of stature we could call on them as Censors, but we don’t, so that’s that.  If we had such men today as Censors we would be rid of all the legal and illegal interlopers in our midst.  Our celebrity smut culture would be driven  underground.  No Ted Kennedy or a Barney Frank would pollute our halls of power for long.

The Founders attempted to install the spirit if not the structure of the Roman system.  They insisting on three equal branches of government.  They never dreamt of a Senate chosen by the people at large.  They never foresaw a ruling elite of test takers and hipsters without practical merit or character.  We cannot have a republic without republican virtue.  Re-instituting ancient systems cannot work where the public lacks the character to man them.  This is a pity. 

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