Saturday, October 15, 2016

Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

We went to see Tom Holland give his talk at the Wells Literary Festival this afternoon. During the session - in a marquee at the Bishop's Palace - the rain became more and more torrential, until he was practically shouting into the microphone.

The audience waits in anticipation ...

Tom Holland in full flow while the rain beats down above

According to Wikipedia, Holland had the usual gilded background.
"Holland was born near Oxford and brought up in the village of Broadchalke near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. He was educated at Chafyn Grove School, Canford School, and Queens' College, Cambridge, where he obtained a double First in English and Latin,"
I was expecting a standard Matthew Parris-style super-liberal. But Holland is more interesting than that (and not without courage):
"In March 2015, Holland published a piece entitled "We must not deny the religious roots of Islamic State" in the New Statesman. It argued that the jihadis of ISIS call themselves Islamic and people like Mehdi Hasan ought not to deny it, as he had in the previous week's issue. Holland wrote that "It is not merely coincidence that ISIS currently boasts a caliph, imposes quranically mandated taxes, topples idols, chops the hands off thieves, stones adulterers, executes homosexuals and carries a flag that bears the Muslim declaration of faith."


"... he provided an insight into his own views, asserting that "Liberalism is essentially Christianity-lite, and you can include atheism and secularism in that bracket too—these are basically Christian heresies. The ethics involved are really New Testament ones." and adding later, when asked about resistance to his views on Islam, that "when I write about Islam my anxiety, and the reason I always pull my punches, isn’t that I’m afraid I’ll be killed, it’s that I’m afraid to be drummed out of the liberal club."

Best insight of the afternoon? He was asked why, after Augustus, it proved impossible ever to restore the Republic.

He replied that the Republic was a governance model which worked when Rome was just a city-state. Once it had expanded into its conquered provinces, each with established legions under the command of a battle-hardened general, it would always prove impossible for the Senate to resist that determined general with an army at his back.

Julius Caesar was the first over-mighty general, but made the mistake of treating Rome's elite as powerless minions: they promptly assassinated him. Augustus was smarter and retained absolute power while pretending to be merely 'first citizen' - the Senate were prepared to collude in the pretence that they too shared a measure of power.

Tiberius truly believed in the values of the Republic and couldn't square that with the reality of his own absolute power. His solution was to retire to Capri and run the Empire very competently from there. In return his enemies in Rome blackened his name in their histories for all eternity.

Caligula gave up pretense and enjoyed absolute power, terrorising the aristocracy into submission. If only he hadn't insulted his own bodyguards ...

Here's a link to the list of emperors in the Julio-Claudian dynasty.


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