Sunday, July 29, 2007

Book Review: 'Rubicon' by Tom Holland.

Tom Holland states, in the preface to Rubicon (London, Abacus, 2004), that it has become a cliche to compare Ancient Rome to the modern United States. Surprisingly this comparison is most often made to the Roman Empire and not the Roman Republic. The Roman Republic is clearly the ancient regime that is most similar to the United States. As Holland writes: "Rome was the first - and until recently - the only republic ever to rise to a position of world power, and it is hard to think of an episode of history that hold up a more intriguing mirror to our own."(1)

Rubicon is, however, not a comparison of the Roman and American Republics. Rather it is compelling piece of narrative history chronicling the downfall of the Roman Republic, from the civil wars of 80's BC to the ascension to supreme power of Octavian (Augustus) in 27 BC.

Holland's thesis, emerging from the narrative,(2) is that Rome's republican constitution was undermined by the expansion of Rome's borders beyond Italy, as the expansion fundamentally changed the Republic's economy and military. This change lead to increased divisions, rebellions, civil unrest and the emergence of increasingly powerful military generals.

The civil war, in the 80's BC, between the supporters of generals Gaius Marius and Sulla, became the the first in many civil wars over the next 60 years. Sulla, by being the first Roman general to march his legions on Rome, set a dangerous precedent and his use of prescription lists (death warrants) against his enemies undermined the constitutional balance that he was actually trying to preserve.

The precedent established by Sulla made it hard for individuals such as Cicero, Clodius, Pompey and ultimately Caesar, to resist the temptation of using force to sort out the chaos of Roman politics. Cato (clearly Holland's favourite) is portrayed as the only true defender of republicanism during this period, and he is ultimately not strong enough to defend the Republic. Caesar's raise to power and the civil wars after his death were more than the Republic could bear and in 27 BC the Senate had no choice than to grant sole power to Octavian.

Rubicon is a good argument for modern politicians to study republican Rome as this regime shared many of the values of modern republicanism:(3) representative government, elections, constitutional checks and balances, the rule of law, citizenship and individual liberty, but also many of the ills of modern republics such as populist politics and the influence of money on politics. While there are also many important differences between Rome and modern republics, its seems important to note the undermining effect of imperialism and military might on the republican constitution.

Holland, if nothing else, has written a fascinating book that should increase modern readers interest in ancient history.

(1) p. xxiv.
(2) It is a testament to Holland's scholarship that a clear thesis emerges from this piece of narrative history.
(3) Republicanism, properly understood, is not just government without a monarch, but a government based on citizenship and representation.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Down with Capitalism!

The dismissal from the Tour de France of Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen is an example of everything that is wrong with capitalism.

Rasmussen was leading the race after defeating his rivals in the difficult mountain stages, but controversy surrounded him because his mislead, or lied, about his whereabouts in June. As a result Rasmussen had been warned by the cycling authorities.

In spite of these warnings Rasmussen had been cleared to race by the Tours organisers, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and his own team. Rasmussen had also been subjected to over a dozen drug tests during the Tour, without failing one. Neither the Tour nor the UCI had any grounds on which to disqualify Rasmussen.

His team's sponsor (the Dutch bank Rabobank), did not, however, like the association with Rasmussen and ordered, according to the New York Times*, Rasmussen to be fired. Rasmussen, unlike last years winner Floyd Landis who actually failed a drug test, will therefore not have any right to an appeal or fair hearing. Instead he is life work and career has been destroyed by a sponsors' arbitrary decision.

That's how capitalism works. The rules of law (and sport) are disregarded and individuals are destroyed in the pursuit of profit. I will never watch the Tour de France again!

* initially reported that according to Rabobank team spokesman, Jacob Bergsma, it was Rabobank who had ordered the firing of Rasmussen. See also this article in the Houston Chronicle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reading List

When it comes to books my desire to own and read them completely outstrips my ability to set time of to actually read them.

This is a collection of just a few of the books that I have bought (or been given) in the last few months that remain unread.

Considering that I'm now unemployed I should have some time to catch up with my reading list.

Here's the problem, which one should I read first? Suggestions are more than welcome!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Graduation

Got the results of my final law exams a couple of weeks ago. Somehow I've managed to pass all of them!

It's very satisfying (to say nothing of the relief) to have completed the course. Deciding to study law is one of the worst mistakes of my life (up there with joining the Navy and quiting my job in the Tax administration).

My graduation (which I will not be attending) is on July 25.

For now I'm enjoying the satisfaction of completing the degree and trying not be overwhelmed with the harsh reality of unemployment and job applications.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bec's Graduation

Here's my wife at her graduation for a MA in Theology at the University of Wales, Lampeter.

I am so proud of her and not just because she got a distinction on her MA, but because of her hard work, dedication and soft heart.

On Monday my wife starts working for the Adventist church in England.