Caesar in the Flesh

 

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.

Marcus Aurelius

 

platoAnd we always thought democracy was for Old Greeks… evidently not for Plato though.

 

BALTIMORE – Nothing new. Same old, same old. China warned that its corporate debt levels were too high. Sotto voce, investors might have heard that Chinese debt is in danger of blowing sky high, as companies continue to borrow in order to finance overseas acquisitions. But it didn’t seem to phase them. Not on Monday. The Dow was up 41 points anyway.

 

PonziFinance_0Ponzi finance in China: corporations are borrowing ever more merely to pay interest on their existing debt.

 

Meanwhile, President Obama visited Cuba, hoping to be remembered by historians for more than just Obamacare. And the presidential primaries continued to be a source of amazement and entertainment.

It is not often that we get to use the word “apoplectic.” But this seems to be an occasion for it. Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times in London, is practically melting down at the prospect of a Trump win:

 

The U.S. is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Mr. Trump were to become president. Even if he fails, he has rendered the unthinkable sayable.

Mr. Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe, and an ignoramus. His business consists of the erection of ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. An American “Caesarism” has now become flesh.

 

Quoting leading neocon Robert Kagan, Wolf writes that Trump is the “GOP’s Frankenstein monster.” If you have any doubt about the kind of monster Trump may be, just Google “Trump Hitler.” You’ll find 2,700,000 results, including a number of videos.

Some complain about The Donald being compared to Hitler, suggesting that a comparison to FDR would be more appropriate. Others are of “Hitler” complaining about being compared to Donald Trump…[ed note: Hitler/Trump videos here, here and here].

Meanwhile, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren says Trump is an “insecure loser who reminds me of Hitler.” And South of the Border, the Mexican president… along with two of his predecessors… have all found similarities between A.H. and the Republican frontrunner.

 

TrutlerGodwin’s law in action: Trutler discovered! Also known as reductio ad Hitlerum. Luckily Martin Wolf is always wrong about everything, so we can sleep soundly…

 

The Road to Tyranny

Is Trump really like Hitler? Trump has no mustache. He doesn’t speak German. He has the “strongest Jewish ties of all the candidates,” he tells New Yorkers. His daughter, Ivanka, is married to an orthodox Jew and has converted to the faith.

What kind of Hitler is this? No, to understand Donald J. Trump, you have to go further back… to a Time Before Pants.

“If there were anybody who would have been unsurprised by the sudden rise of the Donald,” writes colleague Van Bryan in Classical Wisdom Weekly, “it would have been Plato.”

Plato believed that democracy would be a fleeting and unhappy phase of human government. It was the “worst” kind of government, he said… partly because it led inevitably to tyranny.

In Plato’s rendering of political cycles, the best form of government is the Aristocracy – with superior, high-minded, selfless, and capable people in the driver’s seat. Think Jefferson or Adams.

This typically gives way to a degenerate form of government, Timocracy, in which the leaders were still public spirited but less competent. Then, the rich and powerful (the cronies) take advantage of weak government by asserting their own authority.

Plato called this form of government an oligarchy.  Suddenly or gradually, the little people get tired of being exploited. They take control of things in a democracy.

 

The Plagues of Every City

Plato seems to have little respect for and little confidence in democratic government. The number of “drones” (we would call them “zombies”), hoping to get something for nothing, multiplies. As Plato wrote of the “drones”:

 

[They] are the plagues of every city in which they are generated, being what phlegm and bile are to the body. And the good physician and lawgiver of the State ought, like the wise bee-master, to keep them (drones) at a distance and prevent, if possible, their ever coming in.

Freedom creates rather more drones in the democratic than there were in the oligarchical State… And in the democracy, they are certainly more intensified.

 

Public discipline disintegrates. Chaos and disorder increase. Budgets get out of balance. Markets become volatile. Pointless wars proliferate. Finally, the “drones” accept a dictator who promises to restore order (“Make America Great Again”).

To which Donald Trump replies: “Hey, they love me in Athens.”

 

Chart by: Bloomberg

 

Chart and image captions by PT

 

The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

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3 Responses to “Donald the Dictator?”

  • Kafka:

    Bill

    If you are looking for historical context read Gibbons (1776) the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire- when the Empire was sold to Didius Julianus by the Praetorian Guards after their murder of Pertinax.

    Trump is Severus, outraged at how a once moral nation has become so corrupt that the powers of the state are auctioned to the highest bidder.

    K

  • All-Your-Gold-Are-Mine:

    Yes… Obama and now Trump! And the alternative is Hillary! Democracy sucks… Plato was correct!

  • Treepower:

    For a more fully formed version of the constitutional cycle you could check out Polybius’s theory of anacyclosis. This is the recognition that benign forms of government by a king, an aristocracy or a people will inevitably degenerate in turn into tyranny, oligarchy and finally ochlocracy. The axe he was grinding was that by combining elements of all three forms of government the Roman Republic had checks and balances which prevented the inexorable slide into mob-rule and stasis, thus making it the superior polity of the ancient world.

    In the event he was more correct about the inevitability of political decay than he was about the stability of the republic, but it proved a tolerably successful system for quite a long time before the Gracchi poisoned the well.

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