Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The difficulty of reform
Constantine the Great normalized Christianity in 303 A.D., and Emperors had all been Christian for decades before Julian assumed the throne 360. Julian was a throwback to older, more traditional (i.e. pagan) Roman virtues. He saw himself as explicitly trying to restore the Empire of Marcus Aurelius. Think of him as a late Empire Ron Paul.
Except he was a Ron Paul who was Princeps - he used the Emperor's formidable powers to prune large chunks of the bureaucracy. He just eliminated the posts and stopped paying the officials. He de-centralized much Imperial power, bypassing local governors and returning authority to cities. He set the Army (well, the Magister Militum, sort of a Commander-in-Chief) on corrupt high officials and had several put to death. He had definite ideas about how to bring back the old Roman vigor, and wrote over a dozen pieces explaining his philosophy.
He was, needless to say, wildly unpopular with the Establishment. The Church in particular never forgave him for returning to the old pagan Gods; thus his nickname down through the ages.
He failed, of course. He blazed brightly, but ruled only two years before dieing in battle on the Eastern Front against the Sassanid Empire. His reforms died with him. Doubtless he would have failed had he lived, for the Empire was encrusted with 150 years of barnacles and other bureaucratic flora and fauna.
Yesterday's election made me think on Julian. I must have a soft spot in my heart for noble lost causes. Not that I think that our cause is lost, but as a meditation on the task of reform.