Today, March 15th, commemorates the assassination of two would-be tyrants: the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar on the floor of the Senate, by a group of republican conspirators known as the Liberatores, on March 15th, 44 BCE (2,049 years ago today, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments), and the assassination of Czar Alexander II Nikolaevitch, the self-styled
Caesar over all the Russias, who was killed on March 13th, 1881 CE (125 years ago Monday, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments), by grenades thrown by a group of anarchist conspirators in an act of propaganda by the deed.
As a political strategy there are plenty of reasons not to get too enthusiastic about tyrannicide — after all, these two famous cases each ended a tyrant but not the tyrannical regime; Alexander II was replaced by the even more brutal Alexander III, and Julius Caesar was replaced by his former running-dogs, one of whom would emerge from the abattoir that followed as Augustus Caesar, to begin the long Imperial nightmare in earnest. What I want to honor today is tyrannicide not as a political strategy but as a moral fact: putting a diadem on your head and wrapping yourself in the blood-dyed robes of the State confers neither the virtue, the knowledge, nor the right to rule over anyone, any more than you had naked and alone. Tyranny is nothing more and nothing less than organized crime executed with a pompous sense of entitlement and a specious justification; the right to self-defense applies every bit as much against the person of some self-proclaimed
sovereign as it does against any other two-bit punk who might attack you on the street. Every victory for human liberation in history — whether against the crowned heads of Europe, the cannibal-empires of modern Fascism and Bolshevism, or the self-perpetuating oligarchies of race and sex — has had this insight at its core: the moral right to deal with the princes and potentates of the world as nothing more and nothing less than fellow human beings, to address them as such, to challenge them as such, and — if necessary — to resist them as such. Thus always to tyrants.
In honor of the event, the Ministry of Culture of this secessionist republic of one would like to offer a commemorative reading. This is from William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I Scene 2:
BRUTUS: What means this shouting? I do fear, the people
Choose Caesar for their king.
CASSIUS: Ay, do you fear it?
Then must I think you would not have it so.
BRUTUS: I would not, Cassius; yet I love him well.
But wherefore do you hold me here so long?
What is it that you would impart to me?
If it be aught toward the general good,
Set honour in one eye and death i’ the other,
And I will look on both indifferently,
For let the gods so speed me as I love
The name of honour more than I fear death.
CASSIUS: I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,
As well as I do know your outward favour.
Well, honour is the subject of my story.
I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but, for my single self,
I had as lief not be as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I myself.
I was born free as Caesar; so were you:
We both have fed as well, and we can both
Endure the winter’s cold as well as he:
For once, upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,
Caesar said to meDarest thou, Cassius, nowUpon the word,
Leap in with me into this angry flood,
And swim to yonder point?
Accoutred as I was, I plunged in
And bade him follow; so indeed he did.
The torrent roar’d, and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews, throwing it aside
And stemming it with hearts of controversy;
But ere we could arrive the point proposed,
Caesar criedHelp me, Cassius, or I sink!
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tired Caesar. And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature and must bend his body,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.
He had a fever when he was in Spain,
And when the fit was on him, I did mark
How he did shake: ’tis true, this god did shake;
His coward lips did from their colour fly,
And that same eye whose bend doth awe the world
Did lose his lustre: I did hear him groan:
Ay, and that tongue of his that bade the Romans
Mark him and write his speeches in their books,
Alas, it criedGive me some drink, Titinius,
As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me
A man of such a feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world
And bear the palm alone.
BRUTUS: Another general shout!
I do believe that these applauses are
For some new honours that are heap’d on Caesar.
CASSIUS: Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in thatCaesar?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talk’d of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass’d but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.
BRUTUS: That you do love me, I am nothing jealous;
What you would work me to, I have some aim:
How I have thought of this and of these times,
I shall recount hereafter; for this present,
I would not, so with love I might entreat you,
Be any further moved. What you have said
I will consider; what you have to say
I will with patience hear, and find a time
Both meet to hear and answer such high things.
Till then, my noble friend, chew upon this:
Brutus had rather be a villager
Than to repute himself a son of Rome
Under these hard conditions as this time
Is like to lay upon us.
CASSIUS: I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.
BRUTUS: The games are done and Caesar is returning.
CASSIUS: As they pass by, pluck Casca by the sleeve;
And he will, after his sour fashion, tell you
What hath proceeded worthy note to-day.
Re-enter CAESAR and his Train
BRUTUS: I will do so. But, look you, Cassius,
The angry spot doth glow on Caesar’s brow,
And all the rest look like a chidden train:
Calpurnia’s cheek is pale; and Cicero
Looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes
As we have seen him in the Capitol,
Being cross’d in conference by some senators.
CASSIUS: Casca will tell us what the matter is.
CAESAR: Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Beware the State. Celebrate the Ides of March!
- GT 2005-03-15: Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!: the second annual celebration, and some thoughts on tyrannicide and
- GT 2004-03-15: Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!: the first annual celebration. It’s like President’s Day, only cooler.
- Professor Wilkes: Tyrannicide Not Terrorism
- Leo Tolstoy (1900): Thou Shalt Not Kill