When will 541 A.D. come to America?
The consulship was the highest elected office in ancient Rome and emblem of its republican constitution. The consuls were separate and distinct from Roman emperors.
As for who had the real power...
The consulship was formally extinguished by the Emperor Justinian in 541 A.D. Edward Gibbon examined the many
"revolutions of the consular office, which may be viewed in the successive lights of a substance, a shadow and a name….The first magistrates of the republic had been chosen by the people, to exercise, in the senate and in the camp, the powers of peace and war, which were afterwards translated to the emperors.…[T]he succession of consuls finally ceased in the thirteenth year of Justinian, whose despotic temper might be gratified by the silent extinction of a title which admonished the Romans of their ancient freedom."*
500 years earlier, one man had dared to say Rome´s vaunted republic was only its clothes. That man was the emperor:
“Julius Caesar did not even try to save appearances. He did not hesitate to say, if one believes Suetonius, that ‘the res publica was only a vain word, without substance or reality’ -- which was certainly true, but not to be spoken aloud.”**
What does Rome´s dead republican puppet show have to do with America today?
Regular readers of this blog know our core position:
"The First American Revolution, 1776-1789, transformed the political system from a monarchy not into a democracy but rather a ´политей´ or polity, i.e., a middle class-moderated, oligarchy/democracy hybrid inclined toward democracy. The Second American Revolution, 2008-2009, changed the polity into an oligarchy with democratic residues, accessories. That change was normal, predictable; Aristotle analyzed it 2000 years ago. The Third American Revolution will resurrect the polity but with greater power for democracy, less for the oligarchy." (The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution).
Lights, camera -- action! In 2008-9, the oligarchy stepped out from behind the curtain and, under the implacably blazing lights of TV cameras, stuck out its hand and received billions of public dollars. That was when and how the wealthiest 1% of Americans formally seized control of their country. The public spectacle, beamed around the world, initiated a change of, not in, the prevailing political system.
The newly-ensconced oligarchy now yearns to consolidate its rule. To achieve that end, what form of government does it seek to adopt? Or rather, can it adopt? To publicly announce Justinian-style that the American republic is dead (which is certainly true) would create colossal public demonstrations, if not a revolution.
Consolidation for what? What does the oligarchy ultimately want? Control for control´s sake? A single statistic reveals simultaneously who the oligarchy is and its objective. 16,000 families hold $6 trillion in assets, the same amount as the bottom 2/3 of all Americans.
To avoid massive riots and protests, the new governmental system retained the trappings of the gone but not forgotten old one, i.e., the constitutional polity, the oligarchy/democracy hybrid created in 1789 by the Founding Fathers. Today, those trappings provide the same function as did the Roman consulship: blue smoke and mirrors.
As did the shadow of the Roman republic, the American Constitution will linger for centuries. It, too, will become an increasingly hollow shell, a contentless form.
The real substance of America´s new oligarchic political system is found in, around, and in spite of the Constitution -- in a constitutional dictatorship. More on that subject shortly.
To sum up what has been said so far:
The ancient saying, All roads lead to Rome, makes sense beyond its literal meaning. Akin to its Roman precursor, the American "republic" -- a cover word for polity -- is extinct. No need to wait 500 years, though, for an open acknowledgment of the untimely demise. That acknowledgment is here, now, albeit totally censored by academia and the mass media.***
That censorship is why, for the United States, 541 A.D. can wait. No hurry. The blue smoke and mirrors are up and running just fine. No despotically-tempered Emperor Justinian is needed to bring out the hook -- not yet.
The important thing is not an official, certified death notice but rather a general, public acknowledgment that the democratic component of the polity silently completed the transition from substance to shadow to name.
The final phase of the historic fade-out took place during the Bush-Obama Administration. We identified the producer of the film: 16,000 families. The director is anonymous.
Or is he?
* * *
The oligarchy´s new government is still a work in progress. To understand it, we pick up where our prior post left off.
Extraordinary crises call for extraordinary powers to solve them. In the United States, those powers are grouped under presidential prerogative:
"In their endeavor to develop and legitimize an independent presidential war-making power, U.S. presidents have utilized the prerogative theory of presidential authority. According to this theory, the U.S. Constitution vests in the President a broad prerogative--a general, undefined power that is inherent in the Office of President and is in addition to the more specific, less ambiguous enumerated grants of presidential authority contained in Article II, Sections 2 and 3, of the Constitution. The adherents of prerogative theory hold that the presidential prerogative is a broad power to act in the national interest, or general welfare, of the U.S.A. during time of a very serious national crisis or extreme emergency. They contend that the President has general, undefined authority and responsibility to take rapid and decisive action to cope with a national crisis or emergency situation of extraordinary proportions, e.g., the U.S.A. being subject to foreign invasion or attack or being in imminent danger of foreign invasion or attack."
Our prior post:
"Abraham Lincoln was a vigorous advocate of presidential prerogative. During the American Civil War he felt that because of his presidential oath...to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, not only did he have extraordinary powers to save the nation -- he was obligated to use them. Among other things, Lincoln went so far as to suspend the constitutionally-guaranteed right of habeas corpus.
In extraordinary and extreme crises such as civil war, then, given (i) a clear and present danger to the nation´s very existence and (ii) the threat´s temporary nature -- which together form (iii) a dangerous emergency -- it is responsible and reasonable to invoke a provisional constitutional dictatorship."
The acceptance of a legal provisional dictatorship in America invites a fatal question. Is there a way for a non-provisional dictatorship to be legal, legitimate, i.e., constitutional?
No doubt many an oligarch, president, four-star general and CIA chief has spent many a sleepless night wrestling with that question.
No doubt, either, some of them found the answer.
There is one way and one way only to make the oligarchy´s dream of a non-provisional, legal dictatorship come true: make a temporary emergency permanent. Make the extraordinary, ordinary; the unnecessary, urgent.
Make the Cold War metamorphose into a hot peace.
The philosopher Giorgio Agamben analyzed in depth the state of exception in which a dangerous emergency requires the suspension of the law in order to save it:
“In truth, the state of exception is neither external nor internal to the juridical order, and the problem of defining it concerns precisely a threshold, or a zone of indifference, where inside and outside [of the juridical order] do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other.”****
Agamben observed that government by exception/emergency has been on the rise worldwide since World War I. A case study: the U.S. Senate determined in 1973 (Report 93-549) that "since March 09, 1933 the United States has been in a state of declared national emergency." The senate´s reasoning: FDR´s Proclamation 2039 of March 9, 1933, aimed at stopping gold hoarding and runs on banks, was never revoked.
When does temporary become permanent?
How high is high? How low is low?
* * *
Fast-forward from Lincoln-FDR to Bush-Obama.
As Agamben noted, the growing tendency for states to declare an emergency -- hence, for chief executives to obtain legitimately the extraordinary powers authorized to counter a dangerous emergency -- rose to new heights during the George W. Bush Administration.
9/11 provided the rationale. Three days after the attacks, the congress passed a Joint Resolution known as the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force):
"Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and
Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and
Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and
Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and
Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, Section 1 - Short Title
This joint resolution may be cited as the 'Authorization for Use of Military Force'.
Section 2 - Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces
(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution. (2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution."
Unusual and extraordinary threat to national security; attacks launched against the United States; grave acts of violence; rights to self-defense; the President has authority under the Constitution... All preliminary requisites were in place to evoke presidential prerogative and its extraordinary powers.
I believe the 9/11 attacks constituted a true dangerous emergency; hence, presidential prerogative was needed, justified, authorized. You disagree? All I can say is, 2,977 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks. That is more than died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (2,403).
Before continuing, we cannot pass over the AUMF´s reference to the War Powers Resolution. Passed in 1973 as a response to LBJ´s, Nixon´s and Kissinger´s dubious engagements in armed conflict in the Far East, the Resolution was purportedly intended to limit a president´s ability to initiate warfare.
The Resolution declared:
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
(1) a declaration of war,
(2) specific statutory authorization, or
(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
In practice, the third condition of national emergency has served as a backdoor for any president to make null and void the other two requirements. This is a classic case of a legal proceeding that was written in order to be evaded, viz., blue smoke and mirrors.
As weak and pointless as it was, in order to pass, the War Powers Resolution had to override a veto by President Nixon. That veto displayed the extreme degree to which presidents take their prerogative seriously; they feel obligated to protect at all costs their power to initiate and conduct warfare.
No question about it: that power is all-important. As Gibbon noted, Rome crossed a major threshold when the power to initiate and wage wars passed from the elected consuls to the emperors.
That power separates the men from the boys. And that is where Obama got into serious trouble.
* * *
The 2001 AUMF is manifestly insufficient to justify presidential prerogative today.
For one thing, the AUMF refers only to al-Qaeda; ISIS did not exist. For another, 13 years have passed since 9/11. Compare that to two other dangerous emergencies which only lasted four years: the American Civil War 1861-65) and, for America, World War II (1941-45).
Because of the length of time involved and the undisputed weakening of al-Qaeda, the AUMF´s continuation has been called into question. By whom?
Well, by President Obama.
In a speech delivered on Mary 23, 2013, he acknowledged, among other things, the connection between the AUMF and presidential prerogative:
"America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that ´No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.´...
[The current threat consists of] lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously...But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11...
Now, all these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact -- in sometimes unintended ways -- the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.
The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.
So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands."
You can imagine the unabashed, unabridged shock that hit the CIA and Pentagon on hearing Obama´s words. The duo had so carefully crafted the emperor´s new clothes -- and now he says he doesn´t want them!
Temperature rising, jukebox blowing a fuse were de rigueur in boardrooms and bedrooms across America. Repeal the AUMF? Let the emerging, permanent constitutional dictatorship be shelved? The oligarchy wasn´t going to sit back and let it happen.
A hurry-up offense was formed. The would-be emperor had clothes, but he was wandering. He had to be brought back in line.
And, he was.
What a difference a year and a half can make. Forget James Madison; forget the contradiction between liberty and continual warfare. Forget any rejection of unbound powers. Last week, Obama performed a major flip-flop:
"I'm going to begin engaging Congress over a new Authorization to Use Military Force against ISIL. The world needs to know we are united behind this effort, and the men and women of our military deserve our clear and unified support.
With respect to the AUMF, we’ve already had conversations with members of both parties in Congress, and the idea is to right-size and update whatever authorization Congress provides to suit the current fight, rather than previous fights.
In 2001, after the heartbreaking tragedy of 9/11, we had a very specific set of missions that we had to conduct, and the AUMF was designed to pursue those missions...
We now have a different type of enemy. The strategy is different. How we partner with Iraq and other Gulf countries and the international coalition -- that has to be structured differently. So it makes sense for us to make sure that the authorization from Congress reflects what we perceive to be not just our strategy over the next two or three months, but our strategy going forward."
You heard correctly. Going forward the state of a dangerous emergency will continue. So, too, will presidential prerogative. The extraordinary has become ordinary; the provisional, permanent.
The crossroads were crossed.
* * *
Those States consequently stand surest and endure longest which,
either by the operation of their institutions can renew themselves,
or come to be renewed by accident apart from any design.
Nothing, however, can be clearer than that unless thus renewed
these bodies do not last. Now the way to renew them is...
to bring them back to their beginnings, since all beginnings of sects,
commonwealths, or kingdoms must needs have in them a certain
excellence, by virtue of which they gain their first reputation and
make their first growth. But because in progress of time this excellence
becomes corrupted, unless something be done to restore it to what
it was at first, these bodies necessarily decay; for as the physicians
tell us in speaking of the human body, ´Something or other is daily
added which sooner or later will require treatment.´
-- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses, Book Three, Chapter 1 --
What were the beginnings of America? What was its certain excellence?
The constitutional dictatorship currently under construction is not among them.
True, many Americans wanted George Washington to be a constitutional monarch, i.e., an elected, not hereditary, king.***** Some day, when the blue smoke of the non-existent republic blows away and the mirrors fog over and crack, the oligarchy now running America will seek legitimacy in a constitutional monarch. To buttress their cause, they will drag up discussions and arguments presented in post-revolutionary America in the late 1700s.
Don´t let them get away with it:
(i) A constitutional monarch is not the same thing as a constitutional dictatorship. A monarch may or may not be dictatorial. By the same token, a dictator may or may not be a monarch. I will not prolong this discussion because at the moment
(ii) outside a coterie of moon-faced ghouls in the suburbs of Dallas, no one is seriously entertaining the idea of a constitutional monarch for America. The reason is
(iii) almost immediately after the birth of America, the possibility of an American king was put to bed for 200 years+.
When the Revolutionary War ended, George Washington resigned his military commission, telling those who wanted him to become king, "I didn´t fight George III to become George I." He served two terms as president, and refused to run for a third. When his friends and congress egged him on, asking "Would you like to be king?" Washington responded, “That, gentlemen, is one thing I should be disgusted to be. It must not be so with us."
You just saw one real beginning, one certain excellence of America. There are others:
The Gadsden flag with its iconic rattlesnake touched a deep cord in the American colonies. Universal symbols such as the snake are rooted in humanity´s collective unconscious; they are archetypes that run deeper than deep. They operate autonomously, outside our conscious control.
An extraordinary man in an extraordinary time, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin thought the rattlesnake was an excellent symbol of the American spirit. Here is what he said:
"I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.
Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"
Two implications of our return to the first principles of Washington and Franklin are straight-forward:
(i) Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS has yet to launch an armed attack against the United States. Until ISIS takes that step, there is no dangerous emergency. The extraordinary powers of presidential prerogative which Obama and the oligarchy are urgently seeking, are not justified.
There is no question that ISIS must be militarily defeated. For that purpose, this blog has called for an authentic international alliance. All the means required to achieve victory over ISIS already exist without granting Obama emergency powers.
(ii) Constitutional amendments are needed to curtail the cancerous growth of presidential prerogative. To start with, congressional authorizations of military force should be required to have a sunset provision of one year. In other words, unless an authorization is expressly renewed, it automatically expires in 365 days.
Our point: although it would be a pure formality, even that sunset amendment is impossible. As far as such corrections within the system are concerned, the oligarchy has consolidated its control past the point of no return. The shadow of a constitutional dictator has already gained too much substance.
Speaking bluntly, if the sunset constitutional amendment could pass, there would be no need to pass it.
Stopping the legal but illegitimate use of presidential prerogative awaits the Third American Revolution. That revolution would restore the polity -- the oligarchy/democracy hybrid created by the Founding Fathers -- but with more power for democracy, less for the oligarchy.
* * *
Obama spent a key period of his personal development, grades 1-4, outside the United States. That crucial absence may explain why he has no appreciation -- or only an abstract one -- of America´s first beginnings to which the United States now needs to return in order to realize what it so desperately needs: a dramatic renewal.
In that regard, Obama is politically tone-deaf. He cannot be taught, trained, "fixed."
Obama´s flip-flop last week confirms he has off-loaded the power to wage war to the Pentagon and CIA. They, not him, are now the unseen director. They, not him, are the substance of constitutional dictatorship. They, not him, were never elected.
Unlike in the Hans Christian Andersen story, the new American emperor has clothes -- acres of them. They spread from the White House to the Supreme Court to the Capitol Building.
The emotional price paid for being the front man for the dictatorship is astronomical. More and more isolated, Obama sleepwalks through the The Last Shepard role the oligarchy assigned him. With every speech he delivers, his washed-out heart and boarded-up face tell the tale of a priest without faith; of a doctor without intuition. A tourist even when he is at home.
A Godot for whom no one is waiting.
*Edward Gibbon, The History of The Decline And Fall of The Roman Empire, Chapter XL.
**(« César ne cherchait même pas à sauver les apparences. Il se gênait pas pour dire, si l’on en croit Suétone, que ‘la res publica n’était qu’un vain mot, sans consistance ni réalité’ -- ce qui était bien vrai, mais qui n’était pas à dire. ») Lucien Jerphagnon, Histoire de la Rome antique, Hachette, Paris, 2002, p. 181.
Jerphagnon translates res publica not as democracy in the modern sense but as the thing of everyone [la chose de tous]. Ibid., p. 198.
***Or rather, almost totally. Following a lively exchange of correspondence, a top South American intellectual and journalist, Gustavo Pérez Ramirez, courageously wrote in the mass media what theretofore had been universally barred:
(1) He broke the 2,000-year-old taboo against calling a polity a polity; it had to be called a "republic" or "democracy."
(2) He broke the media and academic prohibition against stating that the United States never had a democracy. It had a polity.
(3) Finally, he broke the media and academic censorship of the observation that the U.S. polity under Bush-Obama went the way of all polities: it became an oligarchy.
For the Gustavo Pérez article, click here.
****Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 23. A specific example of how the law -- in this case, the U.S. Constitution -- provides for suspensions of its provisions: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." Article 1, Section 9.
*****For an enlightening discussion, click here.