Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The difficulty of reform

My favorite Roman Emperor is Flavius Claudius Julianus, better know to posterity as Julian the Apostate.  He was a reformer who took a run at unscrewing the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century.

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.


AussieAlaskan said...

Your blog is a breath of fresh air to read. Thanks for continuing.

Six said...

I fixed my post BP and offered an abject apology. I am sorry, I never meant to imply this was an outcome you were agitating for. I need to choose my words more carefully, especially when I'm angry and depressed. I hope you can forgive me.

Tacitus2 said...

Julian? Not even in my top ten list for Roman Emps.

The times call for an Aurelianus. Now there was a guy who came on the scene when everything was falling apart.

Sort of the Abe Lincoln of Ancient Rome except that he had to deal with several breakaway Confederacies at once. Better lookin' than Abe too.

Add Queen Zenobia and you got yourself a great movie....


crankyjohn said...

Would that make Obama Nero or Caligula?