Great Caesar’s Ghost

A Merry Ides of March, everyone.  Ah, what a wonderful day, a day to celebrate the our wonderful form of government, the republic, looking back fondly on that day, so many years ago, when a group of bitter elites, sixty senators, less than one percent of the nine hundred senators, far from a supermajority, drew knives and reminded the world how little it takes to push republics from sanctioned rule in the name of the people to oligarchy or, if you prefer, mob justice.

It’s a cosmic irony that democracy and its republican variant are only as good a government as its people.  I’ve been studying the Middle Ages a lot these the past two months, for the novel I’m currently working on (its working title, which I will change, is Duncan and the Heart of Aria, also referenced by me simply as Duncan, after its main character), which I have shifted from taking place in a completely fantastical setting, during a vaguely High Medieval era (a la Lord of the Rings), to a no less fictional kingdom, but grounded squarely in the reality of Central Europe in the year 1094 CE.  Naturally, I had (and still have) some learning to do.

One thing I learned was that women fared much better under autocratic monarchies than under any kind of republic.  The more say the greater population had in who their rulers were, the less political power any woman could hope to wield.  The trick for them was to inherit power, and that could only happen in a monarchy.  Even then they had hurdles to jump, most of them being any male relatives with the slightest ambition.  Generally speaking, the rise of parliaments toward the end of the Middle Ages put the proverbial kibosh on women in government (Catherine of Medici, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, and Victoria, notable exceptions (and all monarchs, natch)).

That first election is enough to make even the most deluded idealists take a deep breath.  Hamas’s majority in the Palestinian parliament is a case in point.  You just want to strangle ’em into moderation, and yet, at the same time, “by the people.”

Iraq just held an election.  Man, I hope that country pulls something out of this damned war.  And, yes, I have been guilty of hoping their newly democratic government would fail, just to spite the Bush administration.  What an ugly emotion, right?  I no longer care.  I can feel the world beating the ideals out of me.  We’re in the damned war; just let it find peace.  Let the Iraqis breathe for once a sigh of relief, instead of one of frustration and grief.

I look back at how idealistic I was even two years ago and I marvel.  And every now and then the bright-eyed Kantian high schooler of years passed will have a nag at me.  But I just can’t see it as worth much anymore.  I’m reminded of a scene in The Decameron, I think.  I took Medieval Literature many years ago, so you’ll have to grant me a little leniency, but I recall a scene in which one of the men begins waxing way poet about the glory of the perfect ideal of love.  On and on he ranted, invoking ever loftier and loftier claims of vision and ecstasy … until one of the women, Pampinea, I think, pinches him, breaking his trance and sending him crashing back down to this world.  It always reminds me that ideals don’t actually exist, as in are material in this world.  Now, I’m not a complete consequentialist, and, no, the ends do not justify the means.  But, at the same time, if a compromise is what it takes, if a small step is the only step towards a better world today, if a simple handshake can get a meal into the mouth of an impoverished child or a family in to see a doctor …

“Then fall Caesar.”


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