"Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit."

C. Iulius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Civili Bk III.68

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Martyrs of the Molehill

If recently I have haven’t written much it is not through lack of interest, but rather a lack of anything that was fundamentally noteworthy and new as an issue. One issue is however now noteworthy, but sadly not really new, namely the increasing use of the veto by some of our Tribunes.

Given the current lack of any real distinction between patricians and plebeians and certainly no “class war” or suppression of the rights of plebeians by predatory patricians, there really isn’t much for our Tribunes to do in Nova Roma, which is no doubt the reason why, in an effort to give meaning to their existence, it was decided to graft onto their historic role that of curators of the constitution.

This function, combined with the personalities of some of our current Tribunes, is the root cause for the increase in the use of the veto. Instead of protecting an individual from magisterial abuse, our Tribunes concentrate on the finite details of the constitution; it says black but does that mean black or does it really mean dark purple? If it says black does it actually mean it can never be white? This recently culminated in one Tribune trying to infer that public games which required the use of the English language were in fact discriminatory towards non-English speaking citizens and particularly those who were weak in written English skills.

Had the Tribune that interposed this veto done this in Rome of antiquity he probably wouldn’t have made it back to his house alive. The plebeians, the very people he was meant to protect, would in all likelihood have lynched him. It would have been a fundamentally brave or fundamentally stupid Tribune that deprived the Romans of their entertainment. The very fact that our Nova Roman Tribune could even contemplate doing this is indicative of the disassociation that exists between the plebeians in Nova Roma and the Tribunes. The Tribunes feel no instinctive reluctance to do something that would harm the very social order they are meant to protect, and the plebeians didn’t rise as one to protest this, as they really don’t have any inherent identity as plebeians.

In Rome patricians were a distinct group, as were plebeians and despite the rise of some plebeians into the Senate and somewhat of a blurring of the distinction over the course of generations for such a select few plebeian families, in general the divide was obvious. In Nova Roma there was once nothing that marked a patrician or a plebeian other than a nomen that was either one or the other. Now with the passage of the Lex Equitia de Familia, a very necessary reform, there isn’t even that obvious distinction.

So our Tribunes have no historic role to play in Nova Roma, and the unhistoric one they have been assigned could have been beneficial had some of them shown more restraint recently. Had these Tribunes adopted the restraint shown by a constitutional monarchy, where the sovereign has the power to dismiss parliament in extreme circumstances, such as a tyrannical abuse of power, and only exercises that rarely and judiciously, then they would have brought more honour to their role than is currently the case.

The possession of the veto is a great responsibility and it calls for its careful and selective use. Instead it has been employed on the last occasion to enforce a very silly position, namely that it is discriminatory to use English in public games as the constitution only mandates its use for government matters or day-to-day business. The games, apparently, don’t fall into either category.

That quintessential pragmatic Roman approach to such questions was absent, again indicative of how few steps we have collectively taken towards a mastery of Romanitas. A Roman of antiquity would not even have been led down this path of tortuous reasoning, but even assuming they had the solution would have lain in what was the fundamental purpose of a Tribune and was this a hill to die on?

Sadly for Nova Roma some of our current Tribunes are all too content to seize on a molehill and terraform it into Mt. Everest and then proceed to huff and puff all the way to the top of it, dragging the rest of us reluctantly along, and there on its highest peak fall on their swords in “defence of the constitution”. If there was ever a single example that best demonstrates why the constitution has become a millstone around our necks and as far removed from being a document that preserves our rights, as the Earth is from Alpha Centauri, then this is it. A document that is meant to protect us in fact oppresses us, encouraging through its convoluted and imprecise language ludicrous upsets such as the “English, no English” debate.

From this latest unhappy example of why some people equate being Roman with a profligate use of tools that the Romans designed, in this case the veto, what conclusions can one draw? Firstly that we need to create a real separation of the social orders in a historic manner as possible, and focus the Tribunes on their traditional role. Secondly, and in conjunction with the first lesson, that we need to scrap the constitution and restore the traditional supremacy of the law, as determined by the people, and remove the excuse for all this grandstanding that is currently the hallmark of a number of the Tribunes this year; not all, but a significant enough number for their actions to go from being farcical to pointlessly obstructive.

It is time for a number of our Tribunes to start being Tribunes of Nova Roma, rather than Martyrs of the Molehill.