What is the role of government? Protection from foreign foes? Bridges? Behavior modification? And what does this role have to do with Augustus Caesar and fertility in the Roman Empire? Find out more in this podcast
Security, Bridges, Babies, and Behavior
Until the last 75 years of human history, the ability of any particular nation to provide permanent security from foreign invaders was dicey. In just a period from 1930 to 1945, China, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, and the Philippines were conquered. Add in European colonies that would become nations, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and the list gets even longer. In just the past 20 years, we have seen the province of Crimea wrested from Ukraine and Georgia brought into submission by Vladimir Putin's Russia.
There have been historical exceptions. Unless one counts the Glorious Revolution in which William III invaded England in 1688, that nation has not been conquered in 1,000 years. And even in that case, William was married to James II's daughter Mary who was crowned Mary II. It is debatable whether that was an invasion or coup. England's successful defense was partly due to its being an island but more consistent governmental focus on the navy. The Spanish in the 1500s, the French in the 1700s and 1800s, and Germany in the 1900s all had designs, and superior armies, to enable a conquest. Yet the British focus on their superlative navy, and later their air force, was critical.
It would be easy to say that they simply had better admirals in Drake, Hawke, Hood, Jervis, and most importantly, Nelson. Yet note that it was a system that kept elevating the best men to lead that navy. Nelson was no sprig of the nobility given commands due to his lineage but rather rose through (God forbid) merit. It should be noted that the army seemed to be more prone to a noble equals promotion type of system, and it was a fortunate historical confluence that Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington and the son of Earl, was very good at ground war when Napoleon was around.
Throughout the centuries, the British government was focused on many things, some important and some folly, but their primary duty to their people, preserving the nation from foreign foes, was preeminent and successfully carried out.
Our Declaration of Independence talks of Liberty and the sometimes-misunderstood pursuit of happiness, but the first word of the inalienable rights is life. That should be taken to mean not living life but rather life itself. This could consist of protecting citizens from some pernicious or evil company dumping PCBs into a river that later becomes drinking water. But historically, the threat was and still is protection from the direct predations of our fellow humans. In local terms, this is the police, but the organized military built and deployed by a nation-state or Empire is even more fearsome. So do the Ukrainian people currently fear the threat of hoodlums in Kyiv more than the hundreds of thousands of Russian troops on their Easter border.
When the Nazis rounded up Jews for extermination in places such as Warsaw, it was not just that they were killing Jewish people, but that particular group was Polish. The Polish government failed in its most crucial role, preserving the lives of Polish citizens. The Nazis did not kill American Jews because our military strength (and an ocean) meant they would never have the chance.
In addition to physical security, we have been hearing much today about infrastructure. The infrastructure question goes back to the early decades of the American Republic. In 1824, just 36 years into the nation's life, Congressman Henry Clay of Kentucky addressed the House of Representatives to proclaim his idea of an "American system" of national development that would benefit all sections of the United States. Clay's speech distilled his long evolving belief in tariffs to protect fledgling American industry—one component of the American System that sought to promote federally-funded internal improvements and institute a strong national bank. Equipped with visual charts, Clay delivered an address that filled two legislative days and more than 40 pages of print in the Annals of Congress. "The object of the bill under consideration is to create this home market and to lay the foundations of a genuine American policy."
Transportation needed to be improved to promote trade among the regions, North, South, and West. The American System included financial support for roads, canals, bridges. Given the challenges of organizing a private consortium to build a specific bridge or road, an argument may be made to enable such projects.
But the challenge is evident. If the private contractor does the building, then who selects those? Obviously, politicians are vested in choosing certain contractors, the classic scratching each other's back. And then there are the environmental factors. For example, the keystone pipeline should be a traditional governmental infrastructure project. But on scant evidence, the so-called eco-warriors have compelled Democratic presidents to shut it down. So instead, we have gas in several thousands of trucks, each capable of an accident in thousand ways, as opposed to one single, easily monitored pipeline.
And finally, the federal government should not be directly involved. Eisenhower gets credit for the interstate highway system, but before that monolith, the United States was the number one economy without it and the world's industrial leader. The further the spend away from the location and accrues to Washington, the greater the risk of corruption and waste.
Our challenge is that governments are rarely staffed and managed by those merely wishing to enable physical security or provide those infrastructure projects that lend to the whole of the people and leave it at that. Instead, they broaden their concept of security to mean many things. It means security from poverty and hunger. It also means security from offense. The only way to enact these concepts is through behavioral change, and in that regard, government, especially progressive government, does not wish to leave that to chance. They would not be the first to use the coercive power of government to enact behavioral change.
During the reign of Caesar Augustus spanning the 1st centuries BCE and CE, Rome, like modern America today, had a fertility issue. So as much as we decry the concept of illegal immigration, which by its definition is unlawful, we need immigration. Not just for tasks that the citizenry seems increasingly unwilling to do, but also because our creaky and collapsing entitlement Ponzi scheme needs working-age people to support the 45 million currently in retirement. And it is a double whammy. Not only do we need their labor and thus taxes, but aging populations need massive support in terms of caregivers, nurses, and administrators.
Anecdotally, walk into an assisted living facility, take a close look at the staff, and hopefully think of more creative and permanent laws for our immigration issues. The wall with a closely watched gate was not as bad as an idea as liberals would have one believe. But make no mistake: we need the gate and the people.
Augustus' problems were a bit different. By the end of Augustus' reign, the imperial army numbered some 250,000 men, equally split between 25 legions and 250 units of auxiliaries. Though legions were increasingly recruited from the provinces, especially Hispania, Augustus still wanted Romans and Italians to constitute a fair number of these.
And the imperial administration required even more Romans. And this would not include farmers, artisans, and merchants. In other words, Augustus needed people, lots of them. And the Roman were simply not, in the words of Syndrome from the wonderful animated movie The Incredibles, getting busy enough. Augustus, being Augustus, he would change the behavior of the Roman people through laws.
And in some regards, it was not even about raw manpower but particularly the nobility, many of whom had been devasted by the previous 50 years of Civil War. Many of the old nobility were exterminated by Augustus himself, and his great Uncle Gaius Julius did not seem to be a factor in Augustus' calculations.
The Leges Julia of 18–17 BCE attempted to elevate both the morals and the numbers of the upper classes in Rome and increase the population by encouraging marriage and having children (Lex Julia de maritandis). They also established adultery as a private and public crime (Lex Julia de adulteries).
The Leges Julia offered inducements to marriage and imposed disabilities upon the celibate to encourage population expansion. Augustus instituted the "Law of the three sons," which held those in high regard who produced three male offspring. Marrying-age celibates and young widows who wouldn't marry were prohibited from receiving inheritances and attending public games. Ironically one of the offenders of the leges Julia was Augustus himself with his one daughter and none by his second wife, Livia. Augustus, like modern-day progressives, practiced the concept of do as I say but not as I do. Thinking of Gavin Newsome imposing lockdowns and then eating with a large group in a toney Napa Valley bistro.
The eclectic, polymath professor of history and international relations, James A. Field, Jr., reduced the Augustan laws to its barest, bluntest essentials, "It was in fact purely eugenic and demographic in its conception, framed with the object of preserving and perpetuating the back-bone of the Augustan state, the senatorial and the equestrian orders."
In an essay for William and Mary Press, Charles Reed entitled Law Reform in the Ancient World: Did the Emperor Augustus Succeed or Fail in His Morals Legislation? "It is time to take stock of Augustus' entire program of moral reform. Seen on its own terms, it is hard to call Augustus' campaign a success. Rome was a highly eroticized society, and neither Augustus nor anyone else could recreate the virtue of the imaginary golden age of earliest Rome. Roman ethics would never hold out marriage as the sole and exclusive outlet for sexual expression. If the goal was to subject wealthy and powerful elites, who were accustomed to running the Roman state without interference but who had brought about its shipwreck, to a larger state authority, then one can say it succeeded. The Augustan law reforms may have failed on their face to impose a new morality or to stimulate childbirth. However, it achieved a different, but the much-desired result: a reallocation of power between elites, on the one hand, and state authority on the other."
And with that insight, we come to the real purpose of progressive lawmaking, the laws imposed are often not about the claim but rather the acquisition of power to the central state to perpetuate our own progressives' vision, ambitions, and simple lust for power.
Part of the Biden Build Back Better bloated abomination is the "education" of 3–4-year-olds. And yet, just as with Augustus, there is another, actually two, side agendas here. The most obvious is to create more jobs for the Democrats. Who exactly is going to staff these new roles? And note that, unlike current private school daycare, these roles will have to be licensed, which means more educational professor roles to issue said licenses. Both teachers and academic professors are overwhelmingly democrat. And as the sun follows the moon, these teachers will be unionized by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers..
Again, more Democratic dues to buy Democratic politicians. And those private daycares? Before Obamacare, there was a robust, comprehensive private, non-employer healthcare insurance market. Obamacare has intentionally destroyed that. Private insurers cannot compete because it is subsidized by the government (i.e., you and me as taxpayers). So, it will go with private daycare. Will the education be better? Speculative? Will it end in accruing money to the Democratic Party? Without any doubt.
The second is a little opaquer—teaching certain morals in the school. The backlash to CRT and other forms is not coincident with the pandemic. That was the first time for many parents to observe what was going on in the classroom. And not some kabuki theater Parents' Day but the day-to-day of what was being taught in the school. The Washington Examiner has helpfully compiled a sampling.
Earlier this year, a whistleblower uncovered a fifth-grade social studies lesson in Philadelphia that asked students to celebrate the "black communist" Angela Davis. Students were asked to act out "free Angela Davis" rallies, demanding that the government release the Black Panther imprisoned on charges of murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping.
The Philadelphia public school system released an "Antiracism Declaration" last summer that said educators must "no longer be passive or disjointed in [their] approach."
"Race is the social construction that set the foundation and built the infrastructure for the United States we know today," the memo read. "Racism is the root of all other forms of injustice and provides the nourishment needed for other systems of oppression to thrive. As such, to destroy the tree, we cannot simply pick at the leaves or chop away at the trunk; we must destroy the root."
2. BLM's Buffalo soldiers
The Office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives in Buffalo, New York, announced a new curriculum for fifth-grade students last July centered on Black Lives Matter. The lessons include learning the Black Lives Matter "declaration on Black Villages."
"We are committed to disrupting the Western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and 'villages' that collectively care for one another, and especially 'our' children to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable," the lesson read.
One of the core tenants of Black Lives Matter had long been rebuking the "Western-prescribed nuclear family structure." However, after much criticism, the organization took that goal off its website.
3. Homework for parents
At the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, a private primary school that can run upward of $40,000 a year in tuition, parents are asked to "decenter whiteness at home and in [their] family."
"Pay attention to how your language may perpetuate 'universal' standards of beauty, speech, behavior, dress, conflict resolution, etc.," a memo from a middle school teacher read. "It's quite common for a person to compliment two of my three children on their beautiful blue eyes. While I always appreciate the compliment, I am conscious of my third brown-eyed child — what message is she receiving about how she fits in with European beauty standards? When in my own positive and negative interactions with children have, I come from a white-centered approach?"
4. Fear and learning in Las Vegas
A black mother filed a lawsuit against a Las Vegas charter school earlier this year over a course that mandated seniors list elements of their identity that would be regarded as privileged.
"William Clark was compelled to participate in public professions of his racial, religious, sexual, and gender identities, and would be labeled as an 'oppressor' on these bases," the mother's court filing read. Lessons in the course included statements such as "reverse racism isn't real" and that the traditional idea of family "reinforces [s] racist/homophobic prejudices."
5. Amazing Grace
At the Grace Church High School in New York City, students are asked to stop referring to their parents as "mom and dad."
"While we recognize hateful language that promotes racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination are already addressed in our school handbooks, we also recognize that we can do more than ban hateful language; we can use language to create welcoming and inclusive spaces," a memo from the school read.
Grace Church High School, which has a tuition of around $53,000 a year, defended its guidance.
Given the progressive nature of teachers' schools (Jill Biden was a professor at one), the public teacher's unions, and most teachers themselves, this is more than likely scratching at the surface, not anecdotal but pervasive.
Professor Erec Smith of York College, who has written several anti-racist pieces himself, in response to CRT defenders, summarized the feelings of many parents. The presenters said that CRT opposition comes from right-wing racists who disdain to discuss the truth about race in American history. This is also inaccurate. Most of the people I know, or know of, who take issue with CRT's educational manifestations identify as liberals who have long been vocal about the importance of accurate history. What's more, both sides of the political aisle should be concerned that CRT (both theoretical and applied) is adamantly opposed to traditional concepts like free speech, equality, individuality, and the idea of merit, to name a few. You can imagine what kind of "education" would ensue if teachers implicitly and explicitly demonized these concepts.
This is not to say that certain behaviors are not worthy of being taught. From listening to the teacher to raising one's hand before speaking to not throwing food in the cafeteria. But there are two exceptions. The first is teaching morals with parental knowledge of what was being taught. The second was teaching an intentionally divisive and shaming type of curriculum.
And there is the Covid response. Writing for the National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty cites the positioning adapted by Dr. Anthony Fauci at the inception of the virus, "Fauci purposely lied about the efficacy of masks out of concern if that if at that stage, he touted them, the people would have rushed at them leaving none for professional medical staff. Now the ability to make more of them was of little account, but Mr. Science was no such thing at that point. Instead, he was Mr. Policy shaping the behavior of the people, in this case preventing what he thought would be a rush for masks."
Later, on herd immunity, Fauci kept moving the numbers back, "When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent ... Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, "I can nudge this up a bit," so I went to 80, 85. We need to have some humility here .... We don't know what the real number is. I think the whole range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But I'm not going to say 90 percent." Interestingly, he cites humility (in the we form) given that is in short supply from the doctor these days.
Even after all this, Fauci maintains that he is above politics. "I am somebody who only cares about science and health, and it is — you're right, it's painful and disturbing to see when you're trying to focus all of your attention on doing what you can do the way we did to create the vaccines, to develop the drugs, to save millions of lives. And then you have this completely outlandish politicization of it. The politicization of everything. Politicization of the public health, politicization of the origins, politicization of all of it is really.”
And note his comment about politicizing the origins of this? Let's do a little scientific analysis of our own. There are a handful of virology labs across the globe. COVID happened to emerge from the city in which one is located. The Wuhan Lab works on coronavirus-type pathogens. There is no direct animal identifier making the wet market theory implausible. The bats most likely to carry a strain of this particular disease are resident hundreds of miles from Wuhan. We know they were conducting gain of function research. This is not speculative science from a historian who secretly desires a lab coat or an MD after his name. The science in any practicality points right at the Wuhan lab as the source. In his effort to protect the actions of his bureaucracy and its federal funding, Fauci endeavors to politicize. But that is not the most pernicious of his activities in some regards. Instead, it is the blatant behavioral guidance of the American people under the guise of science. Or, as Fauci states, "I represent the science." It is a little disturbing that an infectious disease specialist asserts that scientific discovery and his persona are the same. Especially in the light of how many of us have been wrong on COVID.
I am not disputing that certain behaviors can be modified on a national scale with the correct number of incentives vs. disincentives. For example, taxes, payrolls, even the right clothes, and haircuts can create behavioral incentives. But to what end are the incentives trying to achieve? For example, one of my disputes with the Biden administration is that they tout the efficacy of the vaccines, then are seen publicly wearing masks. This week, there was a photo of Biden, Fauci, and Kamala Harris together in the Oval. Not only had all had double vaccines but the booster as well. But they were all wearing their masks. So the best message for the vaccines was to state that if you get it, you get to lose the mask.
Yet the vaccine work mandates, in which people could lose their jobs, were more stick than carrot and poorly planned given the national mood. Those who say that children are forced vaccinated against measles are to note a vaccine that has been around for decades. It would have been far better to continue to tout all research, all of the work that went into the vaccines; instead we have take the jab or lose your job.
And much of that attitude is born of the progressive mindset. They know better how to live your life than you do. They know how much money you should earn, what curriculums you should be taught, what foods you should eat, and what medicines you should take. One of the many significant aspects of capitalism is that the typical desires of human beings and the benefits of capitalism are often on the right track. But that also is determined by the Individual's incentives, not a nation of 330 million at the behest of a relatively small clique of progressive thinkers.
The comparison with Augustus here is apt because though he kept the trappings of the old Roman Republic, he ruled very much as an autocrat, and all of the Empire knew as much. Augustus' was one of the shrewdest men to have ever lived, but he was wrong on his marriage laws. The progressives are wrong on far more laws than just one.