Learning from History – Marcus Crassus

I have written before about how important the era of Gaius Marius and Lucius Sulla was in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Empire. In his zeal for reform, Marius ignored centuries of Roman law and tradition as he sought to remake the Republic in a more egalitarian fashion. Sulla, on the other hand, sought to return to the old ways, but had to break the rules in order to save them. When Marius used his mobs to oust Sulla, despite the latter’s apparent victory in the consular election, Sulla raised an army, marched on Rome, and made himself dictator. With unlimited power, Sulla was able to restore rule of law to Rome. However, the next generation of Romans did not adhere to the old ways, rather they took from Sulla the lesson that supreme power is found at the point of the spear.

Everyone has heard of Julius Caesar, of course. Caesar was a young protege of Marius who survived Sulla’s proscriptions and whose leadership would bring an end to the Republic once and for all. However, there was another man who survived the wars between Marius and Sulla and without whom Caesar could never have obtained power in the first place, and that is Marcus Crassus. Crassus was on the opposite side of Caesar in the civil wars, and lost much of his family fortune during Marius’ proscriptions. In the aftermath, however, Crassus used every means at his disposal to regain his lost wealth, and more. For example, Crassus started Rome’s first fire brigade. However, this was not an altruistic endeavor, but a moneymaking one. When a fire broke out in the city, Crassus and the brigade would arrive, but rather than putting out the fire they would stand by while Crassus offered a paltry sum to purchase the burning building. If the owner agreed, the brigade would put out the fire and Crassus would generously rent it back to the former owner. If he disagreed, the brigade would stand by and watch it burn to the ground.

Tactics like this soon made Marcus Crassus not only the richest man in Rome, but created a massive system of patronage that he could call upon when needed. Patronage was important in the late Republic. A wealthy patron could call upon his followers to vote for his policies, to attack his opponents, or even to riot upon command. Modern America has a similar system, though few call it what it is. Tammany Hall is an obvious historical example. This organization, founded in the late 1700s in New York City, became a powerful political machine by the late 1800s. Tammany Hall generously assisted New York residents, especially new Irish immigrants, and in return expected that these people would dutifully support politicians selected by Tammany itself. In this way, it exerted near total control of New York politics for nearly a century. Efforts in the early to mid 1900s by then-governor Franklin Roosevelt and future Mayor Fiorello La Guardia eventually stripped the organization of its power.

Political patronage in America today is not as obvious as it was in the past, but it still exists. The Democratic Party uses much of its political power and capital in distributing taxpayer dollars to various interest groups, and in return those groups support Democratic politicians. In Washington state a few years ago, the Democratic legislature and governor passed a law that forced home care workers to become part of the Washington Federation of State Employees, a powerful public-sector union. In doing so, these workers now had to pay union dues, which were then turned around and contributed by the union leadership to Democratic campaigns. You can see how this law was a payoff by politicians to their powerful patrons. The same thing happens on a national level, with racial interest groups, green energy groups, refugee and immigration groups, and more.

With his great wealth, Marcus Crassus was able to exert control over Roman politics. Despite his great power, however, Crassus worried that his influence would be dampened by the military successes of his rivals Caesar and Gneus Pompey. Perhaps to prove his military bona fides, Crassus crushed Spartacus in the Third Servile War and crucified six thousand captured slaved along the main road to Rome. He left their bodies to rot, a reminder to the people of Rome that he too could take decisive action when necessary. (I note that while brutal, this action seemed to have its intended effect; there was no Fourth Servile War.)

Crassus’ power reached its peak shortly after this victory. Rather than ruling Rome outright, he found it more beneficial to be the power behind Caesar’s throne. He financed the younger man’s rise in both the military and the Roman government. Along with Pompey, Crassus and Caesar formed the political alliance known as the First Triumverate. Crassus took the governorship of the rich province of Syria as his portion, but this proved his undoing. In an attempt to expand his power, he was killed in battle with the Persian Parthians. His death ended the Triumverate, as Caesar and Pompey could not get along without Crassus’ moderating influence. It was in the civil war between the two generals that the Roman Republic finally came to an end.

If America is the modern Rome, who is our Crassus? I have already suggested that President Donald Trump is actually our Sulla, the last attempt to return to the rule of law and to our ancient traditions. If anyone resembles Marcus Crassus today it must be former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While Crassus made his fortune with the fire brigade and other real estate schemes, Bloomberg built his upon gaining a monopoly for financial reporting systems used by newspapers. By the time of this writing, Bloomberg’s wealth is estimated to be over $60 billion, which is more than ten times that of Donald Trump before his own run for office.

Michael Bloomberg is apparently willing to spend every last penny to gain as much political power as he can. He become the mayor of America’s largest city as a Republican, following in the footsteps of Rudy Giuliani. He ruled the city as an authoritarian, attacking rising street crime through his controversial stop-and-frisk program. Though constitutionally dubious, the program did significantly reduce crime and violence in the city. He also made headlines for his attempt to ban large sodas in an effort to reduce obesity rates. When the time came for him to step down after two terms, as was the city’s law, he simply ignored it and ran for a third. He got a court to strike down the term limit. He also spent millions to create an anti-gun organization that has been working to restrict 2nd Amendment rights throughout the nation.

Bloomberg has been flirting with the presidency for several years now, but he has apparently decided to go all-in for 2020. Like President Trump, he is running an unorthodox campaign. Unlike Trump, who ran as a populist and connected directly to the voters with his Twitter account and massive rallies, Bloomberg is using his money and patronage to buy as many votes as he can. He donated millions to various political campaigns throughout the country, and in return those victorious politicians have endorsed his run for the White House. Bloomberg originally built his fortune in the newspaper business, and still wields enough control that his papers have been banned from reporting on anything that might hurt his campaign. He has hired campaign staff and social media influencers by offering huge salaries and free food, and has used his influence in the billionaire community to block donations to his rivals. Despite not polling high enough to merit inclusion in the primary debates under Democratic Party rules, Bloomberg simply wrote a check to the Democratic National Committee and bought himself a spot on the stage. Bloomberg has used his massive fortune to carpet bomb primary states with advertising, drowning out other candidates.

In short, Michael Bloomberg is the perfect portrait of the billionaire buying the White House that President Trump’s critics imagine him to be. Bloomberg himself appears to have no solid political principles, beyond his own power. Whether his strategy can win him the White House, much less the Democratic primary, remains to be seen. While Crassus seemed content to operate as the power behind the throne, it is unclear if Bloomberg will be satisfied with anything less than absolute power. Some conservative commentators suggested early on that his campaign was less about winning and more about taking control of the Democratic Party and making sure that socialists and populists alike are frozen out of power. Time will tell. For now, I simply suggest that his rise is yet another sign of the decline of the United States of America. Many politicians have lacked principle, but until now few have been so open about it.

Further reading about Bloomberg’s methods can be found in this Twitter thread by @blakezeff: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1227976156936171520.html

Learning from History: The Fall of the Hapsburgs

While not as historically glamorous as its sequel, the First World War marks an important time in world history. Five great European empires entered the war, each one believing that the war would leave them stronger. When the dust settled, four were wiped off the map. We can draw many lessons about the decline and fall of great civilizations from this period, but today I would like to look specifically at the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Austria-Hungary was the final evolution of a political structure that had existed for nearly a thousand years. In 962, German King Otto was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope, creating a new empire that drew upon the ancient authority and majesty of Rome. Unlike most empires, however, the Holy Roman Empire was more of a loose confederation of German kingdoms than a single united government, hence Voltaire’s quip that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. In the early 1400s the imperial crown was in the hands of the Hapsburg family of Austria, who would continue to hold it with a few short breaks until the dissolution of the Empire by Napoleon in 1806. By that time, the Hapsburgs had added the kingdoms of Bohemia, Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia to their holdings, as well as other non-German territory in eastern Europe. When the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, a new Austrian Empire took its place, with its center of gravity closer to the Balkans than to Germany. The Kingdom of Hungary achieved equal status in 1867, hence the dual title.

The Hapsburg family now ruled a large multi-ethnic empire from their court in Vienna. Of the empires that took part in World War I, Austria-Hungary shares the most similarities with the current United States. The German Empire, for example, was created by Otto van Bismarck in the late 1800s to be a unified German state that represented all the German-speaking peoples of Europe (Austria excepted). On the other hand, Austria-Hungary was a union of several different ethnic groups, each with their own cultures, traditions, faiths, languages, and laws. 18-year-old Franz Joseph came to power in the wake of the revolutions of 1848 ruling over Germans, Italians, Slavs, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, and more. The autocratic emperor had his hands full balancing the conflicting demands of off these distinct nationalities.

Ruling a multi-ethnic empire is difficult. Despite what modern globalists like to say, people are different. Different ethnic groups have different histories, traditions, languages, beliefs, and desires. This is the basis of self-determination: that different people who wish to live in different ways should rule themselves. That is the entire point of having separate countries. Modern globalists, however, see people not as individuals that are part of unique cultures, but as interchangeable cogs in a great machine. They seek to erase borders and countries, ruling the world from an ivory tower. The fate of the Hapsburg Empire is a lesson in why this simply does not work. The increasing diversity of the United States today is an order of magnitude greater than that of the Hapsburg Empire. If there are differences between Slavs, Germans, Hungarians, and Czechs, then what of Americans who are descended from Britain, Africa, and China? It was the 20th century conceit that immigrants assimilate into a single American culture, but the existence of identity politics today belies that assertion. Each minority ethnic group seeks to direct the government in order to benefit their own people. When the desires of different ethnic groups conflict, then resentment grows.

Austria-Hungary was the primary instigator of World War I. The heir to the imperial throne had been assassinated by a Serbian terrorist and Austria decided to use the incident as an opportunity to gain concessions from Serbia. Franz Joseph was still emperor, but now he was an old man, and was perhaps unaware of how much the world had changed since his accession in 1848. His court seemed to believe that a quick war was possible in which Serbia would be forced to give up territory and rights, and perhaps even be annexed into the Empire. Yet this was not to be. The entangling alliances of Europe caused a chain reaction which led to the world war, while the new technology of the 20th century ensured that the war would kill many millions of people. The Austro-Hungarian army found itself overmatched in technology, tactics, and leadership. As subjects of the Empire, many ethnic Slavs were forced to fight their Serbian cousins, as well as various Slavic peoples in service of the Russian army. Desertion and defection were problems on this front. Patriotism has more to do with blood and heritage than we might like to think.

What was once the Empire has been divided numerous times over the last century. In the aftermath of World War I, the victorious powers preached self-determination as a guiding factor in how they drew the new maps of Europe. This was partially a way of ensuring that the defeated empires would never again grow powerful enough to challenge the world order. Many of the different ethnic groups of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were allowed to have their own nation-states. (This is not to say that the British and French were entirely altruistic in their support of self-determination, as the way they drew new maps of the Middle East demonstrates.) Adolf Hitler tried to reverse this partition, at least with regards to the German-speaking peoples now split between various countries, but the redrawing of maps continued after World War II. The process of self-determination gained even more steam when the Soviet Union (itself a large multi-ethnic empire) fell in 1991.

The early 1990s saw a flurry of new countries being created in the land of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Czechoslovakia, which had been ruled by the Hapsburgs as part of the Kingdom of Bohemia, split into Czechia and Slovakia, giving self-rule to both of those nations. Yugoslavia broke apart into Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia, and the autonomous region of Kosovo. The Balkan region has always been a flashpoint for ethnic tension, having been ruled over the last thousand years by the Greek-speaking Byzantines, the Muslim Turks, and the German-speaking Hapsburgs, not to mention the Nazis and Soviets in the 20th century. The story of the last two decades has been the realization of these various ethnic groups that are better off ruling themselves than being subject to a single government. Even as borders are redrawn, ethnic tension continues to erupt in violence. Should ethnic Bosnians who live within Croatian borders be allowed self-rule, or must they pack up their belongings and move to Bosnia? What about ethnic Serbs who live in Bosnian territory? The issues we face today have their roots in many centuries of history.

Is Balkanization the fate that awaits the United States of America? Our country was already culturally diverse before the migration explosion of the last fifty years. The cultural and economic differences that led to the US Civil War are dwarfed by the growing divergence in our society today. When we have some regions that are majority African-American, others a majority Hispanic, and still others a majority Muslim, then how do we run the country? We have reached a point where minority groups no longer see any reason to live under white leadership – see the current crop of Democrats planning to run for president next year as evidence of that. Because of the massive expansion of the federal government, it is rational for each group to try and control the government from the top. The only workable way forward would be the sort of extreme federalism that characterized the country at its founding, but I fear we are past the point of no return.

Some cultures have contradictory and incompatible values. The Muslims of Saudi Arabia desire to order their society in a very different way than the Christians of Hungary, and both are different than Communist China, whose collectivist nature can be seen in the philosophy of Confucius more than two thousand years ago. It was hard enough to force together diverse cultures underneath the autocratic Hapsburgs. It is even more difficult to force diverse cultures together in a democratic republic where the people ostensibly have a direct hand in their own governance. Under the absolute rule of the Hapsburgs, Bohemians, Slavs, Hungarians, Croats, Poles, and the rest were equally subject to their German overlords. The idea of one of these groups replacing the emperor in Austria with their one of their own was simply not possible. Yet in a democratic republic, it is not only possible but encouraged. If the Somali community in Minnesota is numerous enough, they can elect a Somali representative to Congress. If the Hispanic population of California and Texas grows large enough, then we might see a Hispanic president soon. This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with each ethnic group being represented by their own, simply that it would be foolish to assume that they have the same values and traditions as the posterity of America’s founding fathers. If, as globalist media declares, it is impossible for a white man to properly represent a constituency of African-Americans, does that not imply that the reverse is also true?

Globalist media repeats the mantra “Diversity is our strength” over and over in a drumbeat of propaganda. Children are taught this phrase from preschool, and by the time they are grown they have completely internalized it without really understanding why it is or is not true. Questioning this phrase gets you labeled a racist bigot, with the deplatforming and blacklisting that follows. Yet history shows that diversity is not a strength. We can appreciate diversity, enjoying the art, music, traditions, and heritage of different cultures in different countries. But trying to create a single state out of many nations is doomed to failure, as the fall of Hapsburg Austria shows. When incompatible cultures are forced together the result is mistrust and misunderstanding. While a centralized world government might be in the interest of the globalists, it is not the best way to preserve unique cultures. The fate of the Hapsburgs is the fate of all globalist leaders who try to erase national borders, and it will likely be the fate of the United States of America as well.