Posts tagged Julius Caesar

Tyrannicide Day 2007

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Today, March 15th, commemorates the assassination of two tyrants. Gaius Julius Caesar, the butcher of Gaul and the dictator-for-life who had conquered, burned, and proscribed his way to becoming the King of Rome in everything but name, was stabbed to death on the floor of the Senate, by a group of republican conspirators known as the Liberatores, on March 15th, 44 BCE (2,050 years ago today, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments). Czar Alexander II Nikolaevitch, the self-styled Caesar of all the Russias, died in an explosion set off as an act of propaganda by the deed by a group of anarchist conspirators on March 13th, 1881 CE (126 years ago Tuesday, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments).

There are lots of reasons to avoid tyrannicide as a political tactic — 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. But it’s important to recognize that these are strategic failures, not moral ones, and what should be celebrated on the Ides of March is not the tyrannicide as a strategy, but rather tyrannicide 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, anywhere, for even one second, 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 age-old 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.

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 Act IV, Scene III of Friedrich von Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell (1805). According to the legends from which Schiller drew his story, in 1307 William Tell, a renowned archer and patriot from the canton of Uri, assassinated Gessler, the brutal governor who ruled the canton on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor in Austria. The assassination sparked an uprising in which the people of Uri and the surrounding cantons tore down the Hapsburg forts, and drove the Austrian forces out of what then became the free and independent Swiss Confederacy. How far the legends reflect historical events and how far they are inventions of early modern Swiss nationalists is a matter of debate; but if true, they record one of the most successful tyrannicides known to history.

(GESSLER and RUDOLF DER HARRAS on horseback.)

GESSLER: Say, what you will, I am the Emp’ror’s servant And must give thought, to how I best can please him. He hath not sent me to this land, to flatter The people and be soft to them — He wants Obedience, the issue is, shall farmers Be master in the land or shall the Emp’ror.

ARMGARD: Now is the moment! Now I’ll bring it up!

(Approaches timidly.)

GESSLER: I have not had the hat put up as jest In Altorf, nor was it to test the hearts O’ th’ people, these I’ve known for quite some time. I have had it put up, that they might learn To bend their necks to me, which they hold high — I had the inconvenient thing set up Upon their path, where they would have to pass, That they would meet it with their eyes, and it Would bring to mind their lord, whom they forget.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: And yet the people do have certain rights —

GESSLER: To ponder these, there is just now no time! — Far reaching projects are at work and growing, The Imperial house would grow, and what the father Hath gloriously begun, the son will end. This little people is to us a stone I’ th’ way — this way or that, they must submit.

(They want to pass on. The woman throws herself down before the GOVERNOR.)

ARMGARD: Kind-heartedness, Lord Governor! Mercy! Mercy!

GESSLER: Why stand you on the public highway in My way — Stand back!

ARMGARD: My husband lies in prison, The wretched orphans cry for bread — Have pity, Severest Lord, on our great misery.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Who are you? And who is your man?

ARMGARD: A poor Wild hay man, gracious Lord, from Rigiberg, Who over the abyss mows down the grass Which freely grows from jagged rocky walls, To which the cattle do not dare to climb —

RUDOLF DER HARRAS (to the GOVERNOR): By God, a miserable and wretched life! I beg you, set him free, the wretched man, However heavy his offense may be, His ghastly trade is punishment enough.

(To the woman.)

You shall have justice — Yonder in the castle Bring your petition — Here is not the place.

ARMGARD: No, no I will not budge from out this place, Until the Gov’rnor hath returned my husband! Six months already lies he in the tower And waits the sentence of the judge in vain.

GESSLER: Woman, would you use force with me, away.

ARMGARD: I ask for justice, Gov’rner! Thou art judge I’ th’ country in the Emp’ror’s stead and God’s. Perform thy duty! As thou hop’st for justice Yourself from Heaven, so show it to us.

GESSLER: Hence, drive this brazen people from mine eyes.

ARMGARD (Seizes the reins of his horse.): No, no, there’s nothing more for me to lose. — Thou com’st not, Gov’rnor from this place, ’til thou Hast rendered justice to me — Knit thy brows, And roll thine eyes, just as thou wilt — We are In such unbounded misery, that we Care not about thine anger —

GESSLER: Woman, hence, Or else my horse will trample over thee.

ARMGARD: So let it trample over me — there —

*(She pulls her children to the ground and throws herself with them in his way.) *

Here I lie With all my children — Let the wretched orphans Be trodden under by thy horses’ hooves, It will not be the worst, that thou hast done

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Woman, are you mad?

ARMGARD (vehemently continuing): Thou hast for some time Trampled the Emperor’s land beneath thy feet! — O I am but a woman! Were I man, I would know something better, than to lie Here in the dust —

(He hears the previous music again upon the crest of the way, but muffled.)

GESSLER: Where are my servants? Have them carry her away from here, or I’ll Forget myself and do what I will rue.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: The servants can not pass therethrough, O Lord, The hollow way is blocked up by a marriage.

GESSLER: An all too gentle ruler am I to This people still — their tongues are still. too free, They have not yet been tamed, as they should be — Yet this shall all be changed, I promise it, I will yet break this stubborn mood of theirs, The brazen spirit of freedom I will bend. Throughout these canton lands I’ll promulgate A new decree — I will —

(An arrow pierces through him, he puts his hand on his heart and starts to fall. With feeble voice.)

God grant me mercy!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Lord God what is this? Whither came it?

ARMGARD (starting up): Murder! Murder! He totters, sinks! He’s hit!

The arrow’s hit the center of his heart!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS (springs from his horse): What horrible occurrence — God — Lord knight — Call on the mercy of your God — For you Are now a man of death —

GESSLER: That is Tell’s shot

(Is slid down from his horse into the arms of RUDOLF DER HARRAS and is laid upon the bench.)

TELL (appears above on the top of the rocks): Thou ken’st the archer, seek not for another! Free are our huts, the innocent are safe ‘Fore thee, thou wilt no longer harm the land.

(Disappears from the heights.)

(People rush in.)

STUSSI (in front): What is the matter? What hath happened here?

ARMGARD: The Gov’rnor hath been shot through by an arrow.

PEOPLE (rushing in): Who hath been shot?

(Meanwhile the foremost of the wedding train come on the stage, the hindmost are still on the heights, and the music continues.)

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: He’s bleeding fast to death. Go forth, get help! Pursue the murderer! — Unhappy man, so must it end with thee, And yet thou would’st not listen to my warning!

STUSSI: By God! here lies he pale and without life!

MANY VOICES: Who’s done the deed?

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Hath madness seized these people, That they make music for a murder? Silence.

(Music suddenly breaks off, still more people come in.)

Lord Gov’rnor, speak now, if you can — Have you No more to trust to me?

(Gessler gives a sign with his hand, which he repeats with vehemence, when it is not understood at once.)

Where shall I go? — To Kussnacht? — I can’t understand you — O Be not impatient — Leave all thought of earth, Think now, to reconcile yourself with Heaven.

(The whole marriage party stands around the dying man with an unfeeling horror.)

STUSSI: Behold, how pale he grows — Now enters death Into his heart — his eyes have now grown dim.

ARMGARD (lifts up a child): See, children, how a maniac expires!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: O insane women, have you then no feeling, That you must feast your eyes upon his horror? — Help — Lend your hand — Will no one stand by me, To draw the painful arrow from his breast?

WOMEN (step back): We touch the man, whom God himself hath struck!

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: Curse on you and damnation!

(Draws his sword.)

STUSSI (seizes him by the arm): Dare it, Lord! Your rule is at an end. The tyrant of The country is now fallen. We’ll endure No further violence. We are free men.

ALL (tumultuously): The land is free.

RUDOLF DER HARRAS: And is it come to this? Fear and obedience so quickly end? (To the men in arms, who are thronging in.) You see the horrifying act of murder, The which hath happened here help is in vain — ‘Tis useless, to pursue the murderer. We’re pressed by other worries — On, to Kussnacht, That we may save the Emp’ror’s fortresses! For in this moment are dissolved alike All bonds of order and all ties of duty, And no man’s loyalty is to be trusted.

(Whilst he exits with the men in arms, six BROTHERS OF MERCY appear.)

ARMGARD: Make room! Make room! Here come the Brothers o’ Mercy.

STUSSI: The victim lies — The ravens now descend.

BROTHERS OF MERCY (form a half-circle around the dead man and sing in deep tones): With hasty step death comes to man, It hath no respite to him given, It strikes him midway in his span, Forth from life’s fullness is he driven, If he’s prepared or not, to die, He must stand ‘fore his Judge on high!

(Whilst the last lines are repeated, the curtain falls.)

— Friedrich von Schiller (1805): Wilhelm Tell, translated by William F. Wertz, Jr.

Thus always to tyrants. Beware the State; celebrate the Ides of March!

Past celebrations

Tyrannicide Day ceremonies for 2006

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

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 me Darest thou, Cassius, now
Leap in with me into this angry flood,
And swim to yonder point?
Upon the word,
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 cried Help 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 cried Give 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.

Shout. Flourish.

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 that Caesar?
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: Antonius!

ANTONY: Caesar?

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!

Past celebrations

Republican virtue (or: the Man who would be King)

Back around Presidents’ Day, David Boaz sent a communique out from Planet CATO in praise of George Washington, consisting mainly of a panegyric on G.W.’s lived example of republican virtue. We begin with the headline The Man Who Would Not Be King and move on through some of the favorite tropes of nationalist nostalgia for the Old Republic:

George Washington was the man who established the American republic. He led the revolutionary army against the British Empire, he served as the first president, and most importantly he stepped down from power.

In an era of brilliant men, Washington was not the deepest thinker. He never wrote a book or even a long essay, unlike George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. But Washington made the ideas of the American founding real. He incarnated liberal and republican ideas in his own person, and he gave them effect through the Revolution, the Constitution, his successful presidency, and his departure from office.

What’s so great about leaving office? Surely it matters more what a president does in office. But think about other great military commanders and revolutionary leaders before and after Washington–Caesar, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin. They all seized the power they had won and held it until death or military defeat.

From his republican values Washington derived his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself. The writer Garry Wills called him “a virtuoso of resignations.” He gave up power not once but twice — at the end of the revolutionary war, when he resigned his military commission and returned to Mount Vernon, and again at the end of his second term as president, when he refused entreaties to seek a third term. In doing so, he set a standard for American presidents that lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose taste for power was stronger than the 150 years of precedent set by Washington.

— David Boaz (2006-02-20): The Man Who Would Not Be King

And what did Washington do when, out of his abhorrence of kingship, even for himself, he stepped down and returned home? Here’s the way Boaz puts it:

painting: George Washington driving his slaves

Master George, farming

What values did Washington’s character express? He was a farmer, a businessman, an enthusiast for commerce. As a man of the Enlightenment, he was deeply interested in scientific farming. His letters on running Mount Vernon are longer than letters on running the government. (Of course, in 1795 more people worked at Mount Vernon than in the entire executive branch of the federal government.)

Ah, yes, his farming, with his numerous workers at Mount Vernon.

You see, the thing about Washington is that while he was busy Not Being a King by returning to farm at Mount Vernon, he was personally claiming the authority to rule as Lord and Master over several hundred of his fellow human-beings, held as chattel slaves, with more absolute and invasive authority over his subjects than any Bonaparte ever even dreamed of exercising over the common men and women of France. As the landed lord of one of Virginia’s largest slave-plantations he demanded absolute control over their conduct, took every last penny earned by their labor, and reserved the right to exercise almost any physical brutality that he saw fit to inflict in order to punish or deter challenges to his authority. (And that is, note, not a matter of whether or not he actually acted unusually harshly towards any given slave; it’s part and parcel of what being a grand Virginia slave-lord meant.) The Man Who Would Not Be King arrogantly claimed for himself rights and prerogatives that merely political tyrants would have trembled to assert, solely on the basis of his money and his position within the racial aristocracy of the American South.

Washington was certainly an interesting character; studying his life may even have some things to teach us. But sentimental lies have nothing to teach us at all, and the ridiculous notion that Washington, the slave-driver of hundreds, abhorred tyranny or arbitrary power is nothing more or less than a sentimental lie. He may very well have abhorred the idea of ruling over fellow white people; he may very well have disliked crowns and robes as a point of fashion; but he had no problem maintaining absolute tyranny over hundreds of blacks, spanning his life from the age of 11 until his death. And if you think that’s good enough to count as exemplifying republican virtue, as abhorring kingship, or as retiring from a seat of power to a private life, then you need to think a lot harder.

Further reading:

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!


Just a reminder: today is Tyrannicide Day, the commemorations of the nearby assassinations of Czar Alexander II on March 13th, 1881 (124 years ago Sunday, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments), and Gaius Julius Caesar on March 15th, 44 CE (2,048 years ago today, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments).

It’s worth remembering in these days that the State has always tried to pass off attacks against its own commanding and military forces (Czars, Kings, soldiers in the field, etc.) as being of a piece with terrorism against civilians. This is, in fact, what virtually the entire record of so-called terrorism attributed to 19th century anarchists was: direct attacks on the commanders of the State’s repressive forces. But that just ain’t terrorism. I think there are plenty of reasons–strategic reasons, not moral reasons–to criticize the strategy that lay behind the assassinations of Czars and Princes in the late 19th century, or for that matter the assassination of Julius Caesar, but the fact that the brutal absolute monarch of a monster State lay dead at the end of it is not among them.

The fact that someone puts a crown on his head and wraps himself in the bloody robes of the State does not make him anything more than a person just like you or me, and the same principles of just self-defense apply when it comes to the crowned heads of Europe as apply to some freelance thug on the street. The right to challenge the princes and potentates of the world as fellow human beings, subject to exactly the same moral principles as you and I and anyone else, has been at the core of every movement for human liberation in history. And thank God for it. That’s something worth commemorating a lot more than, say, the births of a couple of jerks who got themselves selected as President.

Beware the State! Celebrate the Ides of March!

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Today, March 15th, 2004 CE, is the 2,047th anniversary (give or take the relevant calendar adjustments) of the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar–the butcher of Gaul, the annihilator of the Republic, the destroyer of the Great Library of Alexandria, the harbinger of five centuries of absolutist tyranny, and the explicit archetype of every brutal prince, absolute monarch, and fascist dictatorship in the ancient, medieval, and modern history of Eastern and Western Europe. At last, as dictator-for-life Caesar increasingly threatened the elevation of his coup d’etat into an explicit monarchy, a group of Senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus rose up, taking the title of Liberatores, and stabbed Caesar 23 times in the Forum.

Today is also only two days after (again, give or take the relevant calendar adjustments) the 123rd anniversary of the assassination of Czar Alexander II of Russia, an autocratic self-styled Caesar who, in spite of making a tremendous step forward for freedom by emancipating the serfs, also fostered the ultra-reactionary Three Emperors League with Austria and Prussia, began his reign with the senseless and devastating Crimean War, continued to pursue vigorous warfare against Turkey and conquests in the East, and imprisoned and murdered hundreds of liberal, socialist, and anarchist students. On March 13, 1881 he was killed by a bomb thrown by an anarchist in an act of Propaganda by the Deed.

In honor of the event, I’d like to suggest a new holiday. Let’s celebrate March 15 as Tyrannicide Day (observed)! Two tyrants’ deaths bundled together into one day of celebration; it’ll be just like President’s Day, except cooler.