by Steven Strauss
December 31, 2012
Is Our Republic Coming to An Unceremonious End?
History May Not Be on
Lawrence Lessig’s Republic
Lost documents the corrosive effect of money on our political
Lessig persuasively makes the case that we are
witnessing the loss of our republican form of government, as politicians
increasingly represent those who fund their campaigns, rather than our
Anthony Everitt’s Rise
of Rome is fascinating history and a great read. It tells
the story of ancient Rome, from its founding (circa 750 BC) to the fall of
the Roman Republic (circa 45 BC).
When read together, striking parallels emerge -
between our failings and the failings that destroyed the Roman Republic.
As with Rome just before the Republic’s fall,
America has seen:
Staggering Increase in the Cost of Elections, with Dubious Campaign
Our 2012 election reportedly cost $3
billion. All of it was raised from private sources - often creating
the appearance, or the reality, that our leaders are beholden to
special interest groups.
During the late Roman Republic,
elections became staggeringly expensive, with equally deplorable
results. Caesar reportedly
borrowed so heavily for one political campaign, he feared he would
be ruined, if not elected.
Politics as the Road to Personal Wealth
During the late Roman Republic period,
one of the main roads to wealth was holding public office, and
exploiting such positions to accumulate personal wealth.
As Lessig notes:
Given this financial arrangement,
Continuous War: A national state of security
arises, distracting attention from domestic challenges with
Similar to the late Roman Republic,
the US - for the past 100 years - has either been fighting a
war, recovering from a war, or preparing for a new war:
And, this list is far from complete.
Foreign Powers Lavish Money/Attention on the Republic’s Leaders
Foreign wars lead to growing influence,
by foreign powers and interests, on the Republic’s political leaders
- true for Rome and true for us. In the past century, foreign
embassies, agents and lobbyists have proliferated in our nation’s
As one specific example:
Profits Made Overseas Shape the Republic’s
As the fortunes of Rome’s
aristocracy increasingly derived from foreign lands, Roman
policy was shaped to facilitate these fortunes.
American billionaires and
corporations increasingly influence our elections. In many
cases, they are only nominally American - with interests not
aligned with those of the American public.
For example, Fox News is part of
international media group News Corp., with over $30 billion in
revenues worldwide. Is Fox News’ jingoism a product of News
Corp.’s non-U.S. interests?
Collapse of the Middle Class
In the period just before the Roman
Republic’s fall, the Roman middle class was crushed - destroyed by
cheap overseas slave labor.
In our own day, we’ve witnessed rising income
inequality, a stagnating middle class, and the loss of American
jobs to overseas workers who are paid less and have fewer rights.
Rome’s late Republic used various
methods to reduce the power of common citizens.
The GOP has so effectively gerrymandered Congressional
districts that, even though House Republican candidates received
only about 48 percent of the popular vote in the 2012 election -
they ended up with the majority (53 percent) of the seats.
Loss of the Spirit of Compromise
The Roman Republic, like ours, relied on
a system of checks and balances.
Compromise is needed for this type of
system to function. In the end, the Roman Republic lost that spirit
of compromise, with politics increasingly polarized between Optimates
(the rich, entrenched elites) and Populares (the common people).
Sound familiar? Compromise is in
noticeably short supply in our own time also.
"We have a Republic - but only if we can