Duncan Kinder and Zenpundit comparing the USA and Rome


Duncan Kinder wrote:

It seems to me that it is precisely Obama and his crowd who are trying to reduce the independent entrepreneurial middle class to client status in our times.
True but incomplete.  Mitch McConnell and his crowd likewise are trying to reduce them.  Both crowds advance this mutual objective while diverting attention by pointing their fingers at the other.  It is a cat and mouse game.
This demonstrates another difference between contemporary USA and late Republican Rome, for the Patricians and Plebeians were divided by genuine – not cosmetic – policy differences.

According to Wacky-Piddly:


From 2003 to 2008, among McConnell’s top 20 donors have been 5 financial/investment firms: UBS, FMR Corporation (Fidelity Investments), Citigroup, Bank of New York and Merrill Lynch. During his entire political career, the top three industries donating to McConnell have been: Lawyers ($1.5 million), Securities and Investments ($1.5 million), and Health Professionals ($1.4 million)

When Kinder talks about “clients” he’s referring to “patrons and clients” in the ancient Roman context.

The whole thread was kicked off by:


Finel seems to see a Roman triumvirate as a good future for the USA. Finel does not discuss why the wealthy were so pernicious, nor explain Cicero’s “Softly, softly! I want none but the judges to hear me.”

Zenpundit’s comment is an Orwellian “crimestop” mixture of intelligent insight and failure to see the obvious:

I would add that the rapaciousness of the tax-farming in the provinces was due in part to Roman patricians delegating that perk to Rome’s Italian Allies, making the Italians the junior partners in Roman imperialism much the same way lower and middle colonial officials and military officers of colonial armies in the British Empire in the in 17th-19th century were frequently drawn from the Scottish, Welsh and Anglo-Irish gentry and “respectable” English freeholding yeomanry. It gave these ambitious folk a stake in the system and kept the door ajar to their possible entry into the ruling class ( the Romans eventually had to yield citizenship to the Italians, though the pedigree of one’s citizenship remained an important part of a politician’s auctoritas).

Finel’s analogy of Popularii and Optimates with Republicans and Democrats works well as a narrative device for the point he is making, but it is important to keep certain differences in mind. The Optimates and Popularii were not parties in any modern sense and can’t really be equated with 21st century liberal or conservative ideology either. Roman politics was heavily personalist and based on politicians building and leveraging clientelas, rather than ideological affinities. Socially, many in the Republican base today – the rural state, conservative Christians and LMC suburbanite small businessmen – would also fit better with the Popularii and plebians.

By contrast, many (certainly not all) in the Democratic base are sociologically more like the Optimates – at least the UMC, urban-suburban technocratic professionals, academics and lawyers from “good schools” who run the Democratic Party and fill the ranks of the Obama administration. Economically, both the GOP and the Dems are, in my view, increasingly in favor of a rentier oligarchy as an American political economy, with game-rigging for corporations, tax-farming schemes to hold down and fleece the middle-class, sweetheart revolving door between government service and private contracting – all of this self-dealing behavior would be comfortably Optimate.

Could we get a “man on horseback” or a “triumvirate”? Americans have repeatedly elected generals as President, including some of Civil War vintage who were, unlike U.S. Grant, of no great distinction and Teddy Roosevelt, a mere colonel of the volunteers, was a Rough Rider all the way into the Vice-Presidency. (Incidentally, I don’t see General Petraeus or any other prominent Flag officer today being cut from the mold of Caesar, Antony or Pompey. It’s not in the American culture or military system, as a rule. The few historical exceptions to this, MacArthur, Patton and McClellan, broadcast their egomania loudly enough to prevent any Napoleonic moments from crystallizing). Never have we had an ambitious general in the Oval Office in a moment of existential crisis though – we fortunately had Lincoln and FDR then – only after the crisis has passed and they were elected them based on the reputation of successful service. It is unlikely that we would, but frustrations are high and our political class is inept and unwilling to contemplate reforming structural economic problems that might impinge upon elite interests. Instead, they use the problems as an excuse to increase their powers and reward their backers.

Being hit by another global crisis though, might predispose the public to accept drastic but quietly implemented political changes beneath the surface that leave our formal institutional conventions intact, which is how republics are lost.

The USA’s Constitutional republic was lost in 1865; it was a Federal Republic from that point until 1913, when it became a kleptocracy dominated by the Federal Reserve. The tattered scraps of the original Constitution have been usurped year after year; Reagan’s War on Drugs and Bush the Younger’s War on Terror were noteworthy milestones in the demolition of the USA Constitution.

Currently the USA has movements that attempt to re-assert the Constitution:



These movements are only relevant and practical because USA military officers take an oath to uphold the Constitution, not the dictates of the President.

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