Tuesday, April 15, 2008

. . . And Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned.

I recently finished listening to former Secretary of the
Treasury, Paul O’Neil’s book, Price of Loyalty. While
I am quite sure that his book is from his point of
view (which is really all we can ever expect from one
another), I felt it must at least be a credible
viewpoint. As I was listening to it I was amazed at
the candor about the way within the Oval Office.
The whole book kept bringing to mind a story, just on
the outside of my mental grasp, and I couldn’t quite
reach it. Throughout the book I felt a sense of de’ja
vu’. What was it? What other tome had I read that
was brought to my subconscious mind? Then it hit me!
When Mr. O’Neil was describing the endless hope placed
upon President Bush, only to be disappointed; and when
he described many times how he thought “he had finally
gotten through” to the President; it hit me. I knew
what it reminded me of, and I was shocked at how neat
it fit in to my assessment of this administration.
I have been saying to anyone who will listen, and
writing it in e-mails and letters to “cyber-editors”,
that this administration, more than any other, reminds
me of the rise of Julius Caesar. The popular glory,
the disdain of the body politic, the repression of
opposition, the overwhelming power in the image of the
person, and the seemingly “patriotic” attempt to curry
favor, and institute a “benign” dictatorship. All of
this in history that led to the decline and fall of
the Roman REPUBLIC, is where I saw America today.
Then along came Mr. O’Neil’s book, and my mental,
subconscious comparison to another book I had read.
The book was written by Paul L. Maier, a Christian
author who wrote a couple of books based on real
times, places and events, but fleshed out with
creative writing. The book I was thinking of was The
Flames of Rome
. In it Maier describes the rise and
fall of Tiberius Claudius Germanicus Nero Caesar.
One of the most startling things about this book is
how it details the Philosopher Seneca’s attempt to
persuade, influence and cajole Nero into being the
“Enlightened Despot”. Over and over in the story
Seneca and his compatriots: Africanus Burris (Leader
of the Praetorian Guard) and Flavius Sabinus (Mayor of
Rome), meet together to educate the young emperor and
control events to help Nero see the way of good
government. However, over and over, they were faced
with complete disappointment as Nero continued to give
into his base self. Over and over again, Nero shunned
intellectualism, education and advice in order to
follow his own reckless plans for Rome. No matter how
the unofficial Triumvirate tried, Nero continued to
want his way, only his way, and wanted everyone around him to
want his way.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, Nero brought on
advisors akin to his philosophy of self, and one by
one the voice of reason was snuffed out. This was
especially true when Ofonius Tigellinus was appointed
as the replacement commander of the Praetorian Guard.
At this point there was no holding Nero back, no
reigning him in. Tigellinus held all sway, all
affection, all trust and all power. He blocked the
presence of Nero from those who would dissuade him
against his own selfish wishes, and against those who
might bring reason or an opposing view to his
decisions. Instead, Tigellinus encouraged Nero at
every turn, and used the favor of the unstable Caesar
as license to govern Rome as he pleased.
This went on through the summer of AD/CE 64. That
summer though, Rome entered one of the most
catastrophic events in its history; The Great Fire.
This disaster was felt in one way or another by
I do not have to go on with my recollection of
Maier’s story. I do not have to describe why O’Neil
described Cheney as instituting a “Praetorian guard”
around the President. I do not have to make obvious
the comparisons between America and Rome, between
September 11 and The Great Fire, and between Rome’s
bullying foreign policy and our own. What I do have
to say, what I am compelled to put down in writing is
the simple fact, “It starts with one.”
No one grows up wanting to be a tyrant, children are
not born knowing how to hate, no one thought
preserving the mass appeal of Julius Caeser would lead
to the death of the republic, no one thought the new
German Chancellor in the 1930’s would become HITLER,
the Satan of the 20th century. But, it starts with
It starts with one man with enough ideology and not
enough reason. It starts with one man consumed by
purpose, but not responsibility. It starts with one
man who welcomes the glory of the masses, and upon
their entertained backs he builds his dominance. It
starts with one man, who by a sheer cult of
personality and entourage of like-minded fellows
convinces a nation he is the most popular leader in
their time, despite obvious evidence otherwise.
And yet it also starts with one who will not be
silent, who opposes the Laurel Crown of Empire, who
refuses to hail the conquering hero. It starts with
one, one who is appalled, and voices his disdain of
the man who fiddles while Rome burns. It starts with
one; one person, one voice, one cause, one movement,
one nation, one people, but it must start with one!

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