Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Adrian Goldsworthy’s "Caesar: Life of a Colossus" surprisingly reveals that Gaius Julius Caesar is a methodical builder of power and prestige. Caesar is shown to be a giant of history after years of work as a self-confident manager of people and events. Caesar is pictured as a consummate leader that manages those in high and low positions in Roman society.
Caesar’s rise to power reminds one of Lincoln or Churchill rather than Alexander or Napoleon. Lincoln and Churchill are in their middle years of life as they rise to fame as influential orators and mature men of action. Alexander and Napoleon, though certainly men of action are young shooting stars. Alexander and Napoleon are world conquerors in their 30s, while Caesar is in his 40s when fighting the Gallic wars; wars that only begin his steep climb to immortality and fame.
The Civil War and WWII solidify reputations for Lincoln and Churchill. The Gallic wars frame Caesar’s historic stature. Caesar, like Lincoln and Churchill, are seasoned by life before they become colossuses. Of course, Lincoln and Churchill are not entirely apt comparisons because Caesar created military and political loyalty at the front of combat while Lincoln and Churchill created loyalty from behind the lines.
Goldsworthy suggests that Caesar is one of the greatest leaders of all time. Driven by belief in his ability to understand the public, his soldiers, his competitors, and his enemies Caesar forged an empire. Through luck, skill, indefatigable energy, and intelligence, Caesar grasped power and used it to change the course of history.
George Packer drives a stake into America’s heart in “The Unwinding”. American anger, fear, and frustration build in the minds of all—whether Republican, Democrat, Tea Partyer, or Libertarian.
Whether an accolade of private enterprise or government, Packer offers stories of Americans that show American’ belief makes no difference because America is no longer a land of opportunity but a land of greed; not of the free but of the shackled—a risk noted by Thomas Hobbes in the “Leviathan”. The shackles come from society’s failure to protect individuals from the tyranny of special interests. One side argues that it is because of ineffective government–the other side argues it is because of too much government.
The unwinding of the financial crises reflected in the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001 and the 2007-08 sub-prime mortgage crises unfolds in stories told by Packer in this disturbing narrative. America has become a nation of extremes with each extreme using whatever means necessary to deny success of either “tea party”, “libertarian” or “occupy wall street” followers. The consequence is a “do-nothing” congress, an ineffectual President, and a politicized Supreme Court. One is left with fear, anger, and frustration after completing Packer’s diatribe. The only consolation is in history.
America has been in crises before–in 1776, 1789, 1865, 1929, 1941, 1951, 1967-68, 2001. Americans survived before; Americans will survive again but how angry Americans are, and how frustrating it is to watch America muddle along while Congress fails to act.
Francis Fukuyama offers a benediction and warning about democracy in “Political Order and Political Decay”. His book is difficult to absorb because of its wide territorial coverage and a listener’s sense that political theory is being justified as much as proven. However, Fukuyama impressively argues that democracy is the best form of government in the world and may evolve into a form of government that is best for all modern societies. He examines the current state of American democracy and other forms of democracy developed, or developing, in other countries.
Fukuyama explains there are three pillars of democracy. First, a state must be formed to protect its citizens and its territory. Second, rule-of-law must be established to constrain power held by the few over the many. And three, accountability must be institutionalized for policies that serve the interest of all the people; not only factions or special interests. When any of these supports are weakened, democracy decays.
If Fukuyama’s theory is correct, it offers a road map to America for its leadership role in the world. The road map starts with America righting its own ship of state by being a good example of democracy. America should support outside countries’ efforts to become independent democracies. Fukuyama suggests every developing sovereign country should be treated with respect based on their road to nationhood. Governments will form based on acquiring their own state identity. America’s role is to support nations trying to establish rule-of-law’ policies that serve interests of their citizens. Finally, America’s role is to demonstrate, encourage, and supplement other nations’ efforts to create institutional organizations that promote the pillars of democracy; with the United States, not as a parent, but as a partner.