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The Bitter-Sweet Art of Politics

A joint post between myself and Freetasman.

Let us introduce the players … ”Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.” (Hamlet; act 3 scene 2)

Politics can be benign so that it maintains the status quo, or it can be radical to provoke change. But one thing it can never be is ignored.

“Among the democratic chiefs, who from the time of the consulate of Caesar were recognized officially, so to speak, as the joint rulers of the commonwealth, as the governing “triumvirs,” Pompeius according to public opinion occupied decidedly the first place. It was he who was called by the Optimates the “private dictator”; it was before him that Cicero prostrated himself in vain; against him were directed the sharpest sarcasms in the wall-placards of Bibulus, and the most envenomed arrows of the talk in the saloons of the opposition. This was only to be expected. According to the facts before the public Pompeius was indisputably the first general of his time; Caesar was a dexterous party-leader and party-orator, of undeniable talents, but as notoriously of unwarlike and indeed of effeminate temperament. Such opinions had been long current; it could not be expected of the rabble of quality that it should trouble itself about the real state of things and abandon once established platitudes because of obscure feats of heroism on the Tagus.” ( Mommsen: History of Rome chapter 8, Joint rule of Pompeius and Caesar)

It took a not very difficult action to rid the Triumvir (Three men) ruling Rome at that time of the least ethical of the political players: Crassus, for his insatiable greed for both gold and fame drove him (with more than a little help from both Caesar and Pompey) into the waiting arms of the Parthian army, who despatched him accordingly, thereby ridding Rome of many held mortgagees and debtors most grateful for the above action..and leaving the two generals to hedge and manoeuvre for control of the State.

If we go to Plutarch’s Lives /Caesar, we will read an informative paragraph there:

“At Rome, moreover, Caesar won a great and brilliant popularity by his eloquence as an advocate, and much good will from the common people for the friendliness of his manners in intercourse with them, since he was ingratiating beyond his years.  He had also a large and gradually increasing political influence in consequence of his lavish hospitality and the general splendour of his mode of life.  At first his enemies thought this influence would quickly vanish when his expenditures ceased, and therefore suffered it to thrive among the common people;  but later on when it had become great and hard to subvert, and aimed directly at a complete revolution in the state, they perceived that no beginnings should be considered too small to be quickly made great by continuance, after contempt of them has left them unobstructed. At all events, the man who is thought to have been the first to see beneath the surface of Caesar’s public policy and to fear it, as one might fear the smiling surface of the sea, and who comprehended  the powerful character hidden beneath his kindly and cheerful exterior, namely Cicero, said that in most of Caesar’s political plans and projects he saw a tyrannical purpose; “On the other hand,” said he, “when I look at his hair, which is arranged with so much nicety, and see him scratching his head with one finger, I cannot think that this man would ever conceive of so great a crime as the overthrow of the Roman constitution.” This, it is true, belongs to a later period.”

We can read here the intention of early planning of political revolution. Caesar was of the “Populares”, whilst Pompey of the “Optimates”. However, whilst the former was strategizing, the latter was ordering … again; Mommsen:

“But when Pompeius was appointed by the coalition to be ruler of the capital, he undertook a task far exceeding his powers. Pompeius understood nothing further of ruling than may be summed up in the word of; command.”

But to command as in an army, there must be seen an enemy, and since Caesar was so astute as to make himself seem ineffectual as an opponent to “Pompeius Magnus” there was for the moment no-one to attack. So Caesar moved about his subterfuges in complete sight of a hapless ruling class.

Caesar proceeded to accumulate the conquests of Gaul and would flood the capital with largesse and celebrations accurately targeted at the citizens and endeared himself to that quarter by his familiarity and endowments. One of his strategies was to flood the capital with plundered gold so as to lower its value and thereby wiping out the wealth of many of his rivals:

“He was unsparing in his outlays of money, and was thought to be purchasing a transient and short-lived fame at a great price, though in reality he was buying things of the highest value at a small price. We are told, accordingly, that before he entered upon any public office he was thirteen hundred talents in debt. Again, being appointed curator of the Appian Way, he expended upon it vast sums of his own money; and again, during his aedileship,  he furnished three hundred and twenty pairs of gladiators, and by lavish provision besides for theatrical performances, processions, and public banquets, he washed away all memory of the ambitious efforts of his predecessors in the office. By these means he put the people in such a humour that every man of them was seeking out new offices and new honours with which to requite him.” (Plutarch’s Lives)

This application of the “sweet art of politics” so clumsily smeared on by our current leader, was so perfected by Caesar that he could claim extraordinary loyalty from both his own upper class and the pleb’ populace. So that even in the Roman Senate, it was hard to find total opposition against his machinations to gain power and the Optimates fiddled and fussed on what to do about the “Caesar problem” right up until he stepped across the Rubicon and took total control of the Italian peninsula in sixty days without bloodshed and fight … The Optimates Party, under the leadership of Pompeius having, by that general’s command fled lock stock and barrel across the Adriatic Sea to Greece, leaving the field wholly, and to Cicero at least, confusingly, to their enemy without a fight!

But I have suspicions that the strategy was thought up a long time before between Caesar and Pompey, who, we are told by Plutarch’s Lives:

“For it was not, as most men supposed, the quarrel between Caesar and Pompey that brought on the civil wars, but rather their friendship, since they worked together for the overthrow of the aristocracy in the first place, and then, when this had been accomplished, they quarrelled with one another.”

And the tactic of removing the aristocrats from Italy was so they could be dealt with away from the sight of a nervous population … the fact that in the end Pompey was murdered in Egypt by a sycophantic Egyptian official hoping to secure favour with Caesar was more a mistake of war than intent on Caesar’s part … For Caesar was first and foremost the politician:

“We are told that, as he was crossing the Alps and passing by a barbarian village which had very few inhabitants and was a sorry sight, his companions asked with mirth and laughter, “Can it be that here too there are ambitious strifes for office, struggles for primacy, and mutual jealousies of powerful men?” 4 Whereupon Caesar said to them in all seriousness, “I would rather be first here than second at Rome.” (Plutarch’s Lives).

Let us conclude our dissertation on the bitter-sweet art of politics with the reflection that it has all been done before, albeit in a more radical manner … for while the politics of ancient Rome used military force to pursue “realpolitik”, we in these “less violent” modern times use economics to achieve the same ends … but the “body-count” adds up to the same.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works,” from the 1987 film “Wall Street”.

And it is a formidable “tool” to use on the masses to satisfying the greed on those in the “elite class” If we were to consider the ability of political manoeuvre as an art, we have to agree that for the last 200 years or perhaps more, the “elites” have managed to use greed to create division in the majority, to make them slaves of their own materialism to the point where they become in some levels as immoral as the elite are themselves.

It all starts in how to educate, to form those that will serve them in management and in political positions and the rest will develop like a “snow ball”.

The well-known Scottish economist and “moral philosopher” Adam Smith was arguing “that the invisible hand of market forces would ensure that the efforts of individuals acting in pursuit of their own self-interest made society as a whole better off. In other words, judge capitalism not by the motives of the capitalists but by its fruit.”

Smith was more concerned that all the people should have their basic needs, roof over their heads, food at the table and clothes, he accepted that economic inequality was good. In another words feed them, keep them happy with the basic necessities of life and the one that  is at the top will reap the benefits.

These were the text books for the future economists and politicians back then and for sure there are now many with similar views. But now, in that last 40 years or so it has become more sophisticated, the rules and collaborators have introduced a “new tool” to exploit the materialistic greed of the masses and it is easy credit / debt.

People are not happy with what Adam Smith was thinking, that only the essentials was enough, humans want more regardless of the cost of it and they bite the bait. All the working class struggles for better conditions since the start of the industrial revolution was lost due to people mortgaging their freedom and rights for debts to satisfying they materialistic need …

AKA greed.

There is more, not only people lost that freedom, but also poor nations have lost their sovereign state due to actions by their governments. Regretfully the Australian people also have become victims of greed by mortgaging the power to defending their rights, to care for the poor, the sick and the one in a disadvantaged situation. Neo-liberalism and consumerism have become like a tumour in society that it is expanding and diving us more into debt.

We lost the conditions that the previous union movement has achieved for us after considerable struggle, and in many cases also what previous political visionary leaders fought for. People do not recognise or respect any more what the union movement has achieved for them and are not prepared to lose one single day to defend a working condition. Furthermore unions are spoken of as bad for many, are accused of the cause of all the troubles that we have.

Factions in the what were progressive parties are now run by people that have been educated in universities that teach neo-liberalism that form future rulers to think one way only and not look for alternatives. The minority, the elite have taken over all the positions of power on public and private sections of society and those in power have been trained to use greed as a power tool with considerable success.

If we are asking ourselves what is the solution? What will be the way to reverse this situation? I guess that we have to look overseas, look at other countries that once upon a time were also the “lucky country” that had the best working conditions and laws and lost it all.

They lost it all because greed for self-gain was not controlled by those at the top and from prosperity the country went to poverty..progress to regression.

When people lose their comfort and their financial power to satisfying their materialistic greed and the bread is not at the table, rebellion is inevitable. The same tool (greed) that was used to gain power was also what brought the elite class down.

A good example of this is Uruguay, a tiny country of just over 3.5 million people that have managed to reverse the situation from prosperity, to rebellion and dictatorship and now again; prosperity under government members that experienced  going down from working and middle class to poverty, rebellion and torture.

Education and to be aware of what has happen in other countries is the only hope for Australia to not go through the same experience that Uruguay, Chile and other Latin American countries went through.

Changing our politicians and voting for those that are progressive and put the country first and the personal need or their party for that matter last will be a good start.

To finish, I would like to quote Jose “Pepe” Mujica, the past Uruguayan president:

“A president is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is not a king, not a god. He is not the witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant. I think the ideal way of living is to live like the vast majority of people whom we attempt to serve and represent.”

We have sacrificed the old immaterial Gods, and now we are occupying the temple of the Market-God. He organizes our economy, our politics, our habits, our lives and even provides us with rates and credit cards and gives us the appearance of happiness.


5 comments

  1. Time for Terry

    The LNP will try to cut Company Tax very soon that’s why we are getting the early bribes to cut Paye Tax.Then comes the cutting of Regulations or red tape.

  2. Joseph Carli

    There is only one objective to LNP policy and that is to keep them in power..they will include every opportunity to pork-barrel on useless projects and will be lauded by the MSM when they do…every dollar saved will now be a million dollars off “Labor’s inherited debt”…every dollar spent on useless tax breaks for the wealthy will be “investment in jobs ‘n’ growth”..But in the end they will not be able to address the real issue approaching Aust’..and that is the technological future. Jay Wetherill is spending money now to really invest in the future technology..THAT is good social investment…even the positioning of that battery bank has enlivened the local communities and put them back on the map..spirits rise and optimism for the future is restored..That is the way to invest and create good politics.

  3. Phil

    Well argued JC. Its quite dense reading for one of my intellectual stature, but I do get your point – in fact, your point is exactly where I have been pointing for as long as I care to remember but have not been so skilled in articulating – so thanks.

  4. etnorb

    Wow, what an in-depth discussion this is Joseph! You are totally correct in ALL that you say about our “glorious” (NOT!) inept, lying bunch of obscenely over-paid so-called Liberal politicians, who it seems, are ALL tarred with same “better than thou” brush! It seems to me, as you said too, that the ONLY “things” they want are MORE fucking tax cuts & perks for ALL their obscenely wealthy capitalist mates. BASTARDS, the lot of them! And as for their “treatment” of anything Union-related, you would think we are all no hopers who vote Labor & are or have been Union members. Sadly far to many “workers” today think that Unions are a waste of time, are so out of touch with reality it isn’t funny, & do not have any relevance in today’s working society. Sadly they are ALL wrong! Unions are needed much more now than ever! NONE of these “idiots” working now who think that Unions are just an unnecessary waste of time & money, have no knowledge of just what the Union movement has done for ALL Australian working people, & NONE of these idiots would be able to enjoy ALL the rights & privileges etc that the Unions have fought & won for ALL workers, the last 100 years or so!

  5. Puff, The Magic Dragon

    That is a good article. Well may we learn from history. if we care to look.

    This lying mob of crooks, who were born without a conscience, are doing a very good job of keeping the wealth of this nation out of the hands of the people of Australia and in the Cayman accounts of the crooks and shonks or businesses that pay no freaking tax in this country.

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