Summary: What happens as a nation of citizens becomes a plutocracy ruling subjects? The people’s psychology must change to match their new situation. It happened as Roman Republic fell; it’s happening today in America.
A theme of the original Star Trek is that humanity was not meant for slavery; we always rise up and fight for freedom. That seemed plausible when I watched those shows as a child. Unfortunately, history shows that rebellions against internal elites are rare. Successful revolutions are still more so (even partial successes, such as France 1789). In fact subjects in well-managed societies (eg, tyrannies, oligarchies) wear the yoke comfortably.
More common is evolution in the other direction, our subject for today. The transition from citizen to subject is a bitter one. How have people managed it in the past?
Their Republic lasted almost five centuries (509 BC–27 BC), followed by five centuries of Empire. The transition required a complex psychological process, with several modes of adjustment.
First, pretend nothing has changed by retaining the outward forms of the Republic. The Senate still met, the laws still remained (more less than more). SPQR still appeared on coins, on public documents, on monuments and public works, and on the standards of the Roman legions (Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, The Senate and People of Rome).
Second, hope for a miracle that restores the Republic. Better times are coming! A good emperor will come, or the people will rise up (as they did in the past).
Third, adopt a philosophy of passivity and withdrawal — some combination of irony, detachment, and resignation. For Rome that was Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Hedonism. The rebelliously inclined adopted one of the mystery religions (esp popular in the Army), or something radically different like Judaism or Christianity. (This insight stems from Hegel, developed by Nietzsche and others)
The United States
We’re following in Rome’s footsteps in many ways, and this adjustment as well.
First, we’re ignoring the rapid erosion of the Constitution and the civil rights it provided. The Executive’s powers grow, the Courts become their cheerleaders, and Congress retreats into irrelevance.
Second, instead of beginning the hard work of organizing and educating our fellow-citizens, we dream of better days. People hope for organizational solutions — magic org charts or a constitutional convention, without describing how these changes occur — or why they improve America with no change in its people. Others draw parallels with revolutions such as 1776 America or 1789 France, ignoring the decade of mobilization that preceded those events. Quite unlike the apathy and disorganization that prevails today, accompanied by a massive increase in the State’s surveillance and police machinery.
Third, we cannot see what’s on the mind of Americans. Other than porn, videogames, TV, and drugs. Personally I find it difficult to choose between epicureanism or hedonism. Perhaps I’ll try both, then choose. Followed by a conversion to Christianity in my dotage or on my deathbed.
For More Information about Rome — and its lessons for America
- Is the American Republic dying, as in the last days of the Roman Republic?
- Watch the Constitution die right now as we burn a 2452 year old vital legal precedent.
- For America to prosper it must first burn.