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Gibbon exposes the stratagems of power

Continuing the great historian Gibbon’s view of the fall of the Roman Empire, one does not have to be a genius to see the parallels with modern times,


By declaring themselves the protectors of the people, Marius and Caesar had subverted the constitution of their country, but as soon as the senate had been humbled and disarmed, such an assembly. . .was found a much more tractable and useful instrument of dominion. It was on the dignity of the senate, that Augustus and his successors founded their new empire; and they affected, on every occasion, to adopt the language and principles of Patricians. In the administration of their own powers, they frequently consulted the great national council, and seemed to refer to its decision the most important concerns of peace and war. . .

The masters of the Roman world surrounded their throne with darkness, concealed their irresistible strength, and humbly professed themselves the accountable ministers of the senate, whose supreme decrees they dictated and obeyed. . .

The names and forms of the ancient administration were preserved with the most anxious care. The usual number of consuls, praetors, and tribunes were annually invested with their respective ensigns of office and continued to discharge some of their least important functions. These honours still attracted the vain ambition of the Romans; . . .

The history of their own country had taught them to revere a free, a virtuous, and a victorious commonwealth; to abhor the successful crimes of Caesar and Augustus; and inwardly to despise those tyrants whom they adored with the utmost flattery. As magistrates and senators, they were admitted into the great council, which had once dictated laws to the earth, whose name still gave a sanction to the acts of the monarch, and whose authority was so often prostituted to the vilest purposes of tyranny.

Thus it was, but thus it does not have to be.

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