Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Lex Gabinia

Of all the incuriosities of the MSM, the strange passing of the Patriot Act, within days after 9/11 is one of the most undiscussed. Where did it come from? Whose desk had it been sitting on? Was it merely waiting for a so called "event" to allow it to be rushed through congress?

Is it and the recent torture bill of lost rights a modern day Lex Gabinia?

Several readers passed this piece on to me this week. It's worth a read.

It ran in the Times last weekend.

Pirates of the Mediterranean

Published: September 30, 2006

IN the autumn of 68 B.C. the world’s only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome’s port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But history is mutable. An event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance.

For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.

Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: no nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. They were, rather, the disaffected of the earth: “The ruined men of all nations,” in the words of the great 19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen, “a piratical state with a peculiar esprit de corps.”

Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. To quote Mommsen again: “The Latin husbandman, the traveler on the Appian highway, the genteel bathing visitor at the terrestrial paradise of Baiae were no longer secure of their property or their life for a single moment.”

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two men. Military commands were of limited duration and subject to regular renewal.

Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of “Civis Romanus sum” — “I am a Roman citizen” — was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year-old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law.

“Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone,” the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. “There were not many places in the Roman world that were not included within these limits.”


An intelligent, skeptical American would no doubt scoff at the thought that what has happened since 9/11 could presage the destruction of a centuries-old constitution; but then, I suppose, an intelligent, skeptical Roman in 68 B.C. might well have done the same.


It may be that the Roman republic was doomed in any case. But the disproportionate reaction to the raid on Ostia unquestionably hastened the process, weakening the restraints on military adventurism and corrupting the political process.

It was to be more than 1,800 years before anything remotely comparable to Rome’s democracy — imperfect though it was — rose again.

The Lex Gabinia was a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences: it fatally subverted the institution it was supposed to protect.

Let us hope that vote in the United States Senate does not have the same result."

Let us do more than hope.

Let us actively oppose the loss of our liberties

and our Freedoms.


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Blogger Gloria said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Gloria said...

Excellent, thank you - passed on in toto to friends. It's not hard to imagine where the present course is leading...only that so few voters care.

I've put Del Castillo's heart-rending "Perdóname" on my MySpace...a plea not only for myself but for my country.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm grateful that there are those who have a good enough grasp on history to be able to pull out these reminders and enough concern to publish them.

excellent post. I passed this one along.

12:36 PM  

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