Ides of March
~ by Burt Likko
Thanks to the spirit of revolution spreading from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and to a more limited extent to places like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco, we’ve seen what it looks like when popular movements challenge military dictators. Sometimes, the result is Egypt, and sometimes, the result is Libya.
It is March 15. This is a day commemorated and most famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Most people are familiar with the events, in no small measure thanks to William Shakespeare’s play which nearly every high school student is made to read. I think it’s worth a moment’s reflection, though, to think about what lessons this episode from history tells us about the nature of governmental power, and of challenges to it. Contemporarily, it gives us a perspective from which we can better see why Egypt looks one way and Libya looks another.
I’ll assume most readers are familiar with at least the basic history and events of what many scholars call the Roman Revolution, a century-long transformation of the system of government in Rome beginning traditionally with the agrarian reforms sponsored by Gaius Gracchus and culminating with the granting of the name “Augustus” to Octavius Caesar by the then-docile Senate. The Roman Revolution is a terrible and fascinating object of study for modern folk in liberal democracies because in it, we see an example of a representative government morphing into autocracy.
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