Democracy Is Dying, Again

Democracy Dying Across the Globe

That headline isn’t getting the coverage it deserves, and it’s true around the world. Freedom House, a non-partisan organization based in the US, measures and rates democracies around the entire world. Their data has shown net falls in global freedom every year for the last decade. 2020 has been freedom’s lowest point since the organization was founded in the 90s. I’ll spare you the technical jargon, but their methodology is derived from the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it specifically measures liberties enjoyed by individuals. It rates the implementation of freedoms rather than the written law of them. For example, a fraudulent election would rate poorly because even though by law a country had an election, the individuals did not enjoy the liberty of electing their government. Russia is a good example of a democracy on paper whose people don’t enjoy many liberties. The dirty details are here if you’re curious.

In Poland, the ruling PiS party has turned their former independent judiciary into a political tool by persecuting judges who made unfavorable rulings or criticizes changes to their judiciary.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has consolidated control not only over its government, but over its media and many areas of public life. Freedom House reports that it was one of the most democratic nations in the world in 2005, and this year, it was demoted to a “hybrid regime,” a category for countries it ultimately considers not democracies.

Similarly, several countries in the Balkans saw losses, even as those countries, such as Northern Macedonia and Serbia, join the EU. As the make up of EU countries becomes less democratic, Europe as a whole may follow. Spain, for example, imprisoned several leaders for hosting an illegal referendum on Catalonian Independence. While it may seem reasonable to detain those responsible for trying to rip apart a country, the violence exhibited towards those voters is not. While of course that news isn’t new, it does begin to establish a worrying trend for the most democratic continent.

More recently, France has cracked down on ‘the enemy within,’ referring to radicalized Muslims after a teacher was beheaded for depicting a caricature of Muhammad. The perpetrator had already been killed by the police, so raids are now expatriating Muslims guilty of nothing other than being ‘suspicious.’ In less diplomatic terms, they’re being expelled for thought crimes. As police raid homes, bills are being passed to keep the police from being held accountable by outlawing posting any video of police. Make no mistake, terror attacks from all creeds are deplorable and reprehensible, but when raids and arrests are made on little basis other than what people believe, the government unabashedly encroaches on the liberty it’s sworn to protect and sets a precedent for raids against others with unpopular ideals. I don’t envy Macron as he faces pressure to do more and Muslim countries around the world rally against France for stoking tensions with the Muslim world further. Malaysia’s former Prime Minister accused the western world in being hypocritical and selective when upholding freedom of expression, and he does so with a somewhat compelling argument.

Democracy’s faltering isn’t unique to Europe either. Many countries that are marginally democratic have seen slides into further corruption or authoritarianism.

The election-quagmire in Venezuela has gone so far that the former mayor of its capital, Caracas, says that they’re quickly dissolving as a country and becoming a failed state.

I’ve written about Hong Kong extensively, but the situation still continues as liberties continue to be chipped away. China has reduced the city’s autonomous legislature and now limits those who can run to ‘patriots.

Belarus, which hasn’t had a free or fair election since the 90s, nevertheless has seen unprecedented protests and police brutality over a rigged election. They’ve closed their borders and have been accused of torturing protesters.

In Thailand, the king has steadily taken more power, gained controlling shares of corporate giants, dissolved the prominent opposition party, and bizarrely, rules from Germany. Protests finally erupted in February and quickly escalated, resulting in several arrests and accusations of police brutality. Thailand had already faced a military coup in 2006, and a military crackdown in 2011, which resulted in changes to their constitution, allowing

Kyrgyzstan, one of the only former soviet states that’s a democracy, faced civil strife and contested elections forcing its president to step down – for the third time in 15 years.

In Sri Lanka, their president, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has gone as far as amending their constitution to give him the power to dissolve parliament and fire the Prime Minister.

Both Myanmar and Mali had a literal military coup. The former after a democratic leader won an election without the military backing, and the latter to resolve increasingly violent protests against government corruption, promising for elections within a ‘reasonable time frame.’ To their credit, this election did occur with a new president being named in September. Myanmar situation is more grim. Their army has killed over 500 protestors, including children, at the time of this writing.

The world’s largest democracy, India, is similarly becoming more authoritarian. I’ve written before on the brutal takeover of Kashmir, but among other concerning practices involve including religion as a criteria for citizenship, a clampdown on dissenting media (often in the form of lawsuits), and allowing unlimited and anonymous donations to political parties, as well as well as an increase in police brutality – another worldwide trend that’s closely intertwined with waning liberties.

And of course at home in the United States’ most recent election, we saw attempts to restrict access to voting, to encourage voter fraud, eager attempts to politicize the courts, and campaigning to remove entire parties from ballots. The president of the United States equivocated on whether he’d endorse a peaceful transfer of power, and subsequently incited an insurrection (despite the politicization of events, his language is clear).

A US Supreme Court Justice refused to endorse a peaceful transfer of power – something explicitly called out in the US Constitution justices are committed to upholding. The only alternative to a peaceful transfer of power is a violent one. Even an election decided by courts would be peaceful as it was in 2000’s contested Gore v Bush, so it’s hard to imagine that those words have any less gravity than an implicit endorsement of civil war or military coup. Even if one wanted to chalk that up to ‘taking words out of context,’ ‘just joking around,’ or otherwise not being serious, others took it as a call to violence. In Texas, a group of pickup trucks hoisting MAGA flags attempted to run a Biden Harris campaign bus off the road.

It would be a mistake to think that these problems will dissipate with the inauguration and presidency of Mr. Biden, and not only because Trump is reportedly considering a 2024 run. The fact is these problems are far more systemic as evidenced by increased rhetoric and protests from Democrats and Republicans with regards to accepting both the results of the 2016 and 2020 election results. In 2016, refusal to accept results was largely limited to citizens, but in 2020, it spread to representatives across all levels of the government. Over 50 lawsuits were filed, some with aims as wild as completely disregarding the vote and assigning Pennsylvania’s electors in favor of Trump. Another lawsuit saw the state of Texas suing 4 states to overturn their election results, and 17 other states signed on their support. The list is extensive and seemingly endless. Lastly, 139 members of congress, just shy of 1 in 3 congressmen, actively attempted to overthrow the election.

It’s difficult to not sound alarmist, but if you live in a democracy, your ability to criticize the government or vote for someone not in power is waning. Perhaps that’s not a concern though. In fact, support for Democracy itself is at an all time low. Polls such as the one linked naturally beg the question, what was the wording? After all, there’s a large difference between being dissatisfied with your particular government and being dissatisfied with the idea of democracy. Both cases, however, bode poorly for stability, and history has shown that democracies die in times of civil strife. That’s what I want to talk about today, why and how democracies of the past have died.

Historical Precedent

Tearing the Republic’s Bonaparte

The French Revolution is largely recognized as one of the most important events in human history, where most of what we recognize as unalienable rights originates. While it’s true that the American Revolution predates the French, the ideas in the American revolution weren’t taken quite as seriously as those in the French. After all, colonies revolted all the time, but the French had been a world power for hundreds of years. What’s particularly interesting and less spoken about, is that mere months after the monarchy was overthrown and the First French Republic instituted, Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew it all and became emperor with the people’s supposed approval.

Napoleon Bonaparte in imperial regalia
Napoleon Bonaparte dressed in homage to a Roman emperor

I was a bit hesitant to include a portion on the French Revolution since revolutions inherently lead to instability and frequent changes of government, but I thought it was particularly interesting as it’s the only other revolution American high schoolers are taught about as it relates dealt with liberty and freedom, yet it descended into a military dictatorship within months. Let’s set the scene:

September 1792, a very bankrupt France found itself at war with Prussia and Austria. In addition to the war abroad, civil unrest abounded. An event formally dubbed the “September Massacre” occurred (though I think riot or even insurrection may be more accurate) where government officials, peasants, and the military broke into a prison and murdered over a thousand inmates. The Legislative Assembly of France (an entity in itself that had only existed for about a year) came together and decided to oversee an election, and determine how to deal with the rampant, uncontrolled and continually escalating violence in the streets. They formed the committee of Public Safety, which infamously began The Reign of Terror. Anyone who was viewed as not fully supportive of the revolution (or maybe someone who looked at the wrong person the wrong way), was arrested and swiftly guillotined.

The Committee of Public Safety was seen as a temporary drastic measure to reel in the chaos surrounding the country from invasions to counter revolutionaries. The granting of temporary powers is by no means extraordinary nor unique to France, but eventually those temporary powers become permanent in the name of safety or security. Extraordinary temporary powers are rarely truly temporary.

In 1794, Maximilien Robespierre was arrested and executed for his role in the Reign of Terror, and a new government was formed, the Directorate. The Directorate was also a short lived government that was overthrown by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte and a few members of the Directorate in the Coup of 18 Brumaire.

Members of the Directorate and Napoleon formed France’s next government, the French Consulate with Napoleon as head of government as First Consul, a term from Roman government. From there it was only 5 years in 1804 when Napoleon would be coronated as emperor.

Napoleon’s ascent to fame as emperor what I really want to hone in on. Napoleon was incredibly popular, and his victories in wars all around Europe brought stability to France. However, some feared that when Napoleon died, a lack of successor would plunge France into chaos…again. Remember that the French Revolution had started in 1789, and was preceded by a period of rampant wealth inequality. By 1804, the revolution was well in living memory, and the Reign of Terror even more so. The fear of chaos was real, and despite having participated in a literal coup, Napoleon and the Senate put the question to the people of France. The turnout was reportedly about 47%, with over 99% voting to make Napoleon emperor. I had some trouble determining whether that was a real result or just a propaganda piece. From what little bits of information I could scrounge up, the result was likely fudged, but not significantly. Note that 47% is similar to turnout in US elections, and oftentimes those who fudge electoral results tend to fudge both turnout AND votes.

Napoleon was thusly crowned emperor by the pope that December, and ruled in his own right until his continued wars with all of Europe finally collapsed, and he was banished to a small island. Per the people’s wish, his son Napoleon II was supposed to ascend to the throne, but the allies against France forbade any of Napoleon’s relatives from holding power in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. On an unrelated note, the original treaty was reportedly stolen in the late 1970s by 2 American professors. It was returned to France shortly after the theft was revealed in the early 2000s.

The most interesting part of my readings on Napoleon was that Napoleon was elected Emperor. The senate, quite literally, wrote in their new constitution, “The government of the Republic is handed over to an Emperor.” Make no mistake that people would willingly trade democracy for stability. They did so in France, and as we’ll see below, they’ll also support whomever promises to improve their lot, regardless of the means pursued to do so.

The Winds Blow Augustus

Perhaps the most famous failure of democracy is that of the Roman’s. Of course, Roman democracy looked a lot different than ones we’re familiar with today. Though if you rewind the clock a couple hundred years, before striking wealth, sex, and race requirements, you may begin to see more similarities. However, as Rome became a superpower, its traditional ideals faltered before being struck entirely when the senate bestowed upon Gaius Octavius the name, “Augustus” (literally, “venerated”), and the democracy that had struggled to survive the civil wars of the Roman Republic was dealt its killing blow.

But democracies don’t just die. Their institutions are weakened by minor assaults that gradually increase in frequency and severity. Octavian/Augustus didn’t just wake up one day and decide he could be emperor. Previously, the Senate had bestowed upon him and two other men (Marc Antony and Lepidus) special powers in the form of the second triumvirate. The first triumvirate (consisting of Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey the Great), however, was unofficial, and merely ‘acknowledged’ rather than enshrined into law. Prior to Julius Caesar, a general by the name of Sulla had been granted an extension of powers by the Senate so he could quell rebellions and turn back the status quo from the chaotic tribunates of Gaius and Tiberius Graccus. (In overly simplistic terms, you could think of each of the two tribunates as a sort of “super-representative” with veto power in a modern senate). What I really want to focus on is how over the course of decades, boundaries get pushed, the audacious becomes expected, and that enables the power hungry to push the envelope just a little further. That story begins with the Gracchi.

The Gracchi brothers often are credited with being the ‘beginning of the end’ of the Roman Republic. Let’s look at the background that lead to their ascension. The latter days of the Roman republic were marred by increasing wealth inequality. The source of the inequality is an interesting problem. Rome’s soldiers were by law required to own land, and the vast majority of them owned small farms. They were what we might think of as middle class. When Rome was small, its soldiers would fight in their campaign, and be back in time to harvest the crops, and have fame and loot to boot. As Rome grew though, its wars took them further away and against larger opponents whose subjugation might take months rather than weeks. By the time the soldiers returned home, their farms were overrun and ruined. Compounding this problem was the importation of slaves.

Before we go too far, I want to do a quick sidebar on slavery in ancient Rome. Slavery in Rome differed in several respects from the trans-Atlantic slave trade we’re accustomed to. Perhaps most importantly, most slaves were taken as prisoners of wars and whether or not you could be enslaved was a concept completely distinct from race. Additionally, slavery could also be used to pay off a debt or as punishment. Lastly, while slaves were explicitly seen as property, it’s worth noting that Romans viewed slavery as “contrary to the natural state.” Thus, it should be of no surprise that a slave could earn their freedom, especially those entrusted with management of an estate or business or those working as an artisan or mechanic. As the fledgling empire grew, several emperors passed laws to protect slaves from the harshest of masters outlawing both murder and separating families of slaves. Lastly, freed slaves were immediately granted all rights of fully fledged citizens, minus the ability to run for office. A freedmen’s child, however, was free to run for office.

Because the primary source of slaves were wars, which Republican Rome was winning left and right, wealthy estate owners could buy more and more slaves to work increasingly large estates. Estates that grew when soldiers returned to ruined farms and were thus forced to sell their homely farm at extremely low rates. Each war fought meant large landowners bought more land from soldiers whose farms were ruined.

There was a land cap on the amount of land an individual Roman could own. It just wasn’t enforced. At first, the rich would acquire multiple estates under fake names, but soon they dropped the pretense entirely. It is into this landscape that the Gracchi brothers are born. The Gracchi brothers, Gaius and Tiberius (you may have realized that those two names are the Roman equivalent of John and Bob), were separated by about ten years and born into a well connected, wealthy family, though technically were plebians. Their father had become famous for his military service and maintained enough relevance and prestige to give his sons a platform.

The Gracchi Brothers

The elder brother, Tiberius, worked his way up through the various ranks of civil service proving himself a talented and capable administrator. Tiberius first began working on his key signature proposal, the Lex Agraria (translated, the Agrarian Law) while serving as a quaestor in Spain. According to Plutarch, “a law dealing with injustice and rapacity so great was never drawn up in milder and gentler terms.” Effectively, he proposed that those who own more than the legal limit of land should have their land purchased from them at value and then given to those who were struggling. No punishment would be ennacted on those who’d broken the law. The rich elites were completely against it and decried Tiberius as seeking to stir revolution and upset the political balance. It wouldn’t be good for Rome! Tiberius retorted,

“The wild beasts that roam over Italy have every one of them a cave or lair to lurk in; but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy the common air and light, indeed, but nothing else; houseless and homeless they wander about with their wives and children. And it is with lying lips that their imperators exhort the soldiers in their battles to defend sepulchres and shrines from the enemy; for not a man of them has an hereditary altar, not one of all these many Romans an ancestral tomb, but they fight and die to support others in wealth and luxury, and though they are styled masters of the world, they have not a single clod of earth that is their own.”

We might recognize this proposal today as wealth redistribution, and as it is today, then it was also vehemently opposed by the wealthy. It is at this impasse that the Republic began to crack. You see, Tiberius was a plebian, and he had recently been elected as Tribune of the Plebians. If you read my post on protests, you might recognize the position as the one that has ultimate veto power over any law that was proposed. Unlike modern vetos, the veto was absolute. It stopped any law dead in its tracks, and thus was used exceedingly sparingly. When a man named Marcus Octavius refused to allow a vote on Tiberius’ law, Tiberius in turn refused to let any bills be introduced and prohibited the quaestors (kind of like a treasurer) from allowing any money to be spent. He single handedly brought the entire government to a halt. To gain public support, he rewrote his bill striking the provision to pay the wealthy landowners the value of the land thus just taking it and giving it to the poor. Still, Marcus refused to allow a vote.

Thus, a plot formed to kill Tiberius. And he knew it. Tiberius armed himself, and his sword never left his side.

Like all governments, there is a level of trust that’s inherent to the system. That unspoken trust dictates that people in power don’t abuse it and abide by the tradition and framing of the founders. Whether that’s certifying a vote, or only issuing a veto when the situation was dire, the trust always exists and is inherent to all constitutions.

Seeing they were at an impasse, Tiberius tried another tactic. On the next voting day, he pleaded with Marcus Octavian to let the people have the small bit of land in exchange for their toils, and Marcus refused. Seeing no other option, Tiberius then introduced legislation that would overturn their own election. At the next assembly he said, I have the votes to remove you from office. Step down, or we will cast the votes. Again, Marcus refused. The votes were tallied, and Marcus Octavian was removed from office. This was a first for Rome, and it had an important implication.

Roman officials were sacrosanct. In other words, harming someone who was sacrosanct in any way was punishable by death. However, now that Marcus was no longer an official, he was no longer sacrosanct. Tiberius had his men physically drag Marcus out and deposit him into the crowd where he now belonged, but the crowd swarmed him. Tiberius tried to calm them to no avail, and the wealthy rushed to protect Marcus. Marcus barely managed to escape, but one of his servants had his eyes ripped out in the chaos. With the co-tribune gone, and with everyone afraid of the chaos that had just ensued, Tiberius passed his Agrarian law, but he wasn’t out of the woods. The wealthy hated him. One senator in particular, Publius Nasica, resolved to make Tiberius’ life a living hell, refusing to even grant him a tent to work in.

Then however, a miracle occurred.

The king of neighboring Pergamon died, and in his will, he left his kingdom and its wealth to Rome. He believed that Rome was on the verge of invasion (which was probably true), and in doing so, he could avoid the bloodshed of a war and a succession crisis. Tiberius wasted no time drafting a bill that resolved to divvy up the riches of the kingdom straight to the people of Rome, and let the Roman people vote on it, bypassing the senate entirely. Immediately, the senators whipped up theories saying the king had gifted Tiberius a purple robe. That accusation doesn’t make a lot of sense to the modern ear, but he was basically saying that Tiberius was trying to whip up the people to proclaim him king. Kings, and only kings, wore purple robes. The taboo against kingship was so intrenched in Roman society that when Rome descended into autocracy, instead of calling the ruler a king, they called them imperator or princeps just to avoid using the word king, even though emperors would wear purple robes. In a more modern vernacular, the senators were calling Tiberius a dirty communist and a corrupt fascist.

Tiberius’ Murder

Tiberius’ term neared its end, and knowing how many feathers he’d ruffled and how many powerful men wanted him dead, Tiberius decided to break yet another sacred tradition, and ran for a second term in office. This was explicitly illegal, but the voting commenced regardless. Plutarch then writes that on voting day, a senator told Tiberius that the other senators had planned to kill him. Tiberius, alarmed at this, tried to tell the crowd assembled for voting that he was in danger by gesturing to his head. Someone in the back couldn’t hear him, and rushed to the senate building and told them that Tiberius was asking for a crown. This incensed the senate yet again, and this time, they marched down to where the voting was taking place. On the way they destroyed public benches for makeshift clubs. Once there, they publicly beat Tiberius to death, which quickly resulted in a riot of retaliation when his followers saw what was occurring. Tiberius was only 30 years old, and the resulting chaos claimed over 300 souls. Plutarch called the act sedition.

Many more of Tiberius’ followers were tried and put to death or exiled, but Tiberius’ rockstar status lived on. In one trial, one of his followers was asked what he’d do if Tiberius had asked him to set the capitol on fire. He replied,  “If such a man as Tiberius had ordered such a thing, it would also have been right for me to do it; for Tiberius would not have given such an order if it had not been for the interest of the people.”

For what little it’s worth, the senate did then carry out Tiberius’ agrarian reform.

The Republic’s for us, not Forum

Before I get into his brother, I want to note that this act was a complete shock to the Romans. Political violence was a foreign concept to the Romans at this point. Plutarch claims, though he’s likely exaggerating, that the Romans hadn’t seen such violence since they overthrew the Roman Kingdom establishing the Republic almost 400 years prior. Imagine how much more shocking the storming of the US capitol might have been had there never been a civil war, and the last act of political violence was the American Revolution. Political violence may have been more foreign to the Romans than it is to us. Indeed, with Tiberius deposed, Rome would see peace for about 3 years until his brother, Gaius, decided to take up the Gracchi mantel.

Gaius (or Caius) Gracchus was about 9 years younger than Tiberius, and he was a man who held a grudge. Indeed, the senate refused to give Gaius his brother’s body, and instead dumped it in a river. Mike Duncan (author of the Storm Before the Storm) has compared Gaius’ career to a movie sequel. Everything Tiberius did, Gaius did bigger, badder, and wilder. While Tiberius had spoken calmly and with a tempered measure, Gaius often flew off the handle. So much so, that one of his slaves carried a lyre, and plucked a string whenever Gaius needed to tone his speech down.

After Tiberius’ death, Gaius supposedly retreated to private life wanting to escape the chaos of public life until his brother Tiberius appeared in a dream saying, “Why, pray, do you hesitate, Caius? There is no escape; one life is fated for us both, and one death as champions of the people.” Taking this as a sign, Gaius immediately went to work, and he too worked his way up the Cursus Honorum (basically, the defined career path for Roman politicians). The senate began to fear the return of a Gracchi brother. Gaius was serving as a quaestor in Sardinia, and as quaestor, he served the governor. The senate came up with a plan to prevent Gaius from ever running for tribune by extending the governor’s term. By tradition, even if the quaestor’s term was up, he was obliged to continue to serve the governor. Thus, he was kept by tradition to stay out of Rome. Ultimately though, Gaius said to hell with tradition, and sailed back to Rome. In doing so, he confirmed to the senate that he would also look to upend the social order.

Gaius, despite the senate accusing him of stirring up rebellion, managed to clear himself of all charges. He then immediately ran for Tribune, and as a result of his namesake’s popularity combined with the elite’s utter disdain for him and his brother, his run prompted record turn out unlike anything seen in Rome before. Purportedly, so many came to vote for Gaius that there wasn’t enough room in the courtyard to house them all, and so they climbed to the rooftops to watch the proceedings.

Gaius handily won tribune, and continued in his brother’s footsteps by continuing to court the public (or “Assembly”) rather than the Senate to get laws passed. Over the course of Gaius’ tribunate, he touched almost every aspect of public life, and rubbed against the elite every time. The reforms that parallel those today weren’t limited to wealth inequality. Another hard question was that of Italian citizenship. Gaius wanted to grant anyone living within Italy “Roman Rights” as opposed to their current “Latin Rights.” At the time, only those who resided in the city of Rome could vote, so Gaius was not only advocating for further citizenship, but expanding voting rights to those who’d been previously subjected and/or conquered by Rome. Gaius’ reforms didn’t stop there. He added mile markers to Roman roads. He also reformed the military from ways that would seem foreign and bizarre to the modern ear. Previously, if a person wanted to join the military, they’d have to furnish their own equipment, and if they could not, its cost would be deducted from their pay. Gaius’ reforms had the public tax furnish its soldiers’ equipment. This change ultimately would lead to Rome having its first professional army, an uncommon concept in the Classical era. He also fixed the price of grain, and prevented senators from being the only judges in criminal cases. Perhaps a similar change would benefit impeachment trials in the United States.

Gaius Gracchus’ tribunate would come to an end, and like his brother, he knew he was likely in danger. Gaius however, didn’t run for tribune again. However, through a quirk of Roman politics (that may or may not have been intentionally exploited), Gaius ended up being appointed to a second tribunate even though he didn’t technically run. Those that did win a position were able to appoint whomever they liked into empty positions. In Roman elections, a candidate had to secure 51% of the vote – regardless of how many people were running. If the vote was split, the seat was empty. It might be like if more people wrote in a candidate than voted for who was actually on the ballot, and then political parties decided to honor the wishes of the crowd. Through this, Gaius was appointed and served his second tribunate.

Gaius Gracchus in the Forum
Gaius Gracchus in the Forum

Gaius’ second tribunate was every bit as contentious as his first, and of course the senate loathed that this man, intentionally or not, managed to knab a second tribunate, something they’d literally murdered a man for years prior. Gaius went to Africa to oversee the founding of another of colony as part of the agrarian reforms that were still being carried out. When he returned, he’d found that the senators and consuls had made Gaius irrelevant by passing several of the measures he had campaigned on, but never passed, and when he returned to Rome, he found himself irrelevant. Either to maintain power, or to protect himself from the same violence as his brother, he announced his candidacy for an unprecedented third term as tribune.

Gaius barely lost the election, and claimed the election had been stolen from him. Perhaps it was, that much is lost to history. The senate overjoyed with his loss, immediately set out to repeal all the laws that Gaius had passed, including that of Latin citizenship. Latins had come from all over Italy to watch the proceedings under Gaius’ promise of protection, but the consul then forbade any Latin from entering the city. Gaius, incensed, got a mob together to protest the repeal of any of his laws. During the opening ceremony, the person performing the sacrifice was aligned with the senatorial rank, and as he carried the remains away, he proclaimed “Make way for honest citizens, you rascals!” The mob immediately stabbed him.

As a result, the consul declared martial law with the senate’s blessing. Gaius hid for his life, but knew he was done for. The senators demanded he surrender before any talk of mercy began. Gaius rejected the offer and fled into the forest, where Gaius was either caught and killed, or had his slave execute him.

The consul who declared martial law, having received Gaius’ severed head, built a temple to Concordia (the goddess of harmony) on the site where the secession of the plebs had happened years ago. Upon completion, it was soon vandalized with the words, “A work of mad discord produced this temple of Concord.”

If you read this story, and immediately seeing parallels to today’s contentious issues and bombastic politicians, you know why I told it. Things aren’t ever exactly the same, but there’s enough parallels between the DACA Dreamers and Latin Rights or the Gracchi claims of fraud and Trump’s claims of fraud to make one shift uncomfortably in their seat as one recalls the civil wars that soon followed in Rome’s history. I’m not claiming a civil war is imminent, but I do want to point out the flaw in dismissing the past as somehow fundamentally different, or that people are more sensible today. The constant attempts to appeal Agrarian Reform harkens memories of attempts to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. Recent attempts across the globe to claim an election was stolen or fraudulent feel like they were pulled right out of Gaius’ political playbook. I could go on, but the point is clear. Democracy is in danger. If history truly does repeat itself, then we must prepare for what comes next.

Further Reading:

“The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan

On slavery in ancient Rome

On the Viking’s and the world’s oldest parliament

“Lives” by Plutarch

“Democracy in Retreat” – Freedom House

On Napoleon’s Coup of 18 Brumaire

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