In some correspondence a year ago with Andrew Sullivan, I pointed to the parallels between a number of the dead-ender crowd who favor uncritical (indeed, unthinking) support of President Bush and an intellectual movement in Europe in the period between roughly 1870 and 1930 called the “Caesarists.” While there were several different flavors of Caesarists, some things linked them: disdain for constitutional government, and particularly for parliamentary democracy, preference for a “strong man” leader imbued with extraordinary power over the state in all of its aspects, a love for empires, a strong focus on the military and military models as a basis for social order, and the view that the state leader should exercise a combination of political and sacerdotal (i.e., religious) functions. In modern U.S. thinking, Leo Strauss is pretty much alone is embracing the Caesarist tradition, and not surprisingly, the contemporary Caesarist camp is filled with self-styled Straussians.
A recent organization in the Caesarist camp calls itself Family Security Matters. Its board features an array of Neoconservative notables, including Barbara Comstock, Monica Crowley, Frank Gaffney, Laura Ingraham, and James Woolsey. Its website contains a number of posts which glorify what I would call traditional conservative values, but a number of them veer into the fringe. And this post, since taken down, but still at Google cache, is particularly revealing:
Caesar pacified Gaul by mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in ancient Rome – thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that gave peace and prosperity to the known world.
If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.
He could then follow Caesar’s example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.
President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.
When I first read this, I was convinced it was a sort of comic send-up. I’m now convinced it wasn’t. It’s frightening that someone might actually believe this rubbish. And in defense of Gaius Julius Caesar we should quickly note that the description of his campaign in Gaul and his return to Rome are inaccurate. Julius Caesar won fame among his contemporaries as the author of the military doctrine of clementia: those who surrendered and recognized his authority were allowed to keep their property, their lives, and in some cases even their state offices. He also used this doctrine with great success in Gaul, and indeed his success in Gaul was in no small part attributable to his ability to play off of differences between Gallic groups and win some over to his camp.
The author of this piece needs to be sent back to intermediate Latin to work on translations of the Gallic Wars or better still, to memorize this snippet from Tacitus which has been taught at West Point for the last hundred or so years:
Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. (I’d translate it this way: They rape, slaughter, and wrongly convert to their own name, and this they call “empire;” they make a desert and then have the affrontery to call it peace.)
This is taken from Tacitus’s Agricola, in chapter xxx (98 CE) and it reflects a very harsh, and typically Roman, judgment on just the barbarous conduct that the tract writer at Family Security Matters proposes.