A dialog between Tiberius Caesar and Nerva
Tiberius: Nerva, tell me; what is statecraft?
Nerva: You should have asked someone before you set about trying to practice it. Why must we discuss it now?
Tiberius: Perhaps I am in a mood.
Nerva: Your father did not rely on moods.
Tiberius: My father did not have to contend with being forever reminded of his own father’s superiority.
Nerva: He did… at first.
Tiberius: Is there nothing about him that you are able to recall without trite reverence?
Nerva: His talents as a father.
Tiberius: Perhaps I should send you off to the Persian court as a gift; you would make a fine propagandist against my reign.
Nerva: You flatter me unfairly. Anyone who has been paying attention could fill such a role quite as well as I.
Tiberius: But not with such efficiency. Anyway, I am sure that all of Rome would revolt were I to take you even father from the city than I have already. We hardly need a senate as long as we have your wisdom.
Nerva: We hardly need a senate at any rate.
Tiberius: If you will talk to me of statecraft, I will provide further opportunities by which you may display your wit.
Nerva: Very well. Shall we examine the subject in the manner of the Greeks?
Tiberius: By the asking of questions, you mean? It would appear that we have already done so by accident… wouldn’t it? But let us allow the dialog to take whatever form it chooses.
Nerva: The imperative form does seem to suit you. Now, you have picked a rather heavy subject that we ought to whittle down until it may be wielded by a man; otherwise it is of no use to him.
Tiberius: Statecraft is a weapon, you contend.
Nerva: Statecraft is a weapon that is best left sheathed. There are two forms of power available to men. One is the power to kill a man; the other is to have a man killed. But already I am confusing myself…
Tiberius: The depth of your wisdom is such that even you cannot follow it. The gods themselves have sent you as their envoy.
Nerva: At the very least you have finally learned to insult through an over-abundance of flattery; we will make a philosopher out of the soldier yet. Now you must allow me to walk backwards, and pay no attention to my footprints. I ought to have begun with a question, like our precious Greeks. How would you dig a trench with an eye for having it done quickly and effectively?
Tiberius: With the proper tools.
Nerva: No. You would have others build it. I mean this both in the sense of your own situation and as a general principle to be applied to anyone who means to make manifest their will. Not even the lowest freedman builds a trench himself; he enlists his neighbors in the doing of the deed by means of persuasion. In the case of a trench, he has an easy time of doing the convincing; all will benefit from the flow of water to the fields.
Tiberius: It would seem as if statecraft is a simple matter of showing men what ought to be done and then having them proceed to do it. But of course we know otherwise by experience.
Nerva: You are dropping anchor before the ship has landed. Like most men, you would not do such a thing in fact, but cannot help but do so when contending with theory. But this suits our discussion as it is that very attribute of man – his competence in practical matters and his incompetence in the face of the formless realm of the ideal – that necessitates the state in the first instance.
Tiberius: Could I interject?
Nerva: So it would seem.
Tiberius: Why do you suppose this to be the case?
Nerva: Because there is no essential cause for it to be otherwise. A man who can fix a horse to a plow will have a considerable advantage over a man who can identify the elements.
Tiberius: Unless the latter can profit thereby, and to an extent greater than the profit one finds in grain… that is, when we do not fix the price of grain by decree. I suppose I am confusing the issue, however.
Nerva: To a worthy end, actually, but let us leave the grain for the moment and return to the competition between the plowman and the thinker.
Tiberius: Be still a moment; why cannot the plowman be the thinker as well?
Claudius: S-s-sometimes he is.
Nerva: Holy fucking shit, has he been sitting here the whole time?
Tiberius: Yeah, I don’t even really notice him anymore.
Claudius: True wisdom lies in juh-juh-joining one’s local neighborhood association.
Nerva: He speaks truth!
Tiberius: I have underestimated you for the last time, Claudius.
Nerva: Formerly I did not ascribe to the concept of the gods; now I know that one of them walks among us.
Tiberius: From this day forward, all men will join a neighborhood association in order to ensure that the property values of the many do not decline due to the failures of the few. Senatus populesque Romanus!
Did you know that Roman law is still in effect today and that all homeowners must join a neighborhood association or be promptly executed by the relevant magistrate? It’s true! Consider becoming a member of whatever neighborhood association for which I just wrote this thing and you’ll receive the benefits of whatever it is that such organizations do! Something about lawns!