Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
CÆSARISM. A sketch of Cæsar's life and character is a proper introduction to the subject of Cæsarism. Alexander and Cæsar, the two greatest statesmen of the classical period of European history, appeared when the nations to which they respectively belonged had already passed the period of their highest internal development. Alexander did not even dream of the future greatness of Rome. He knew not that the course of empire was taking its way westward. His eyes rested, by way of preference, on the east. He loved Asia and he conquered Asia as a lover, with the consciousness and the affection of a man who feels within himself the power to attract and make happy the half-resisting, half-yielding object of his love. Cæsar was more fortunate than Alexander, in this, that his victorious campaigns were mainly fought to subjugate the west of still barbarous Europe. He thus moved with the course of the world's history and his memory was borne onward by its current. He had no love for the people be conquered and to whom he brought Roman civilization. In the long struggle of the Gauls for freedom from foreign rule Cæsar, who always showed himself generous toward the Romans, practiced all the terrible harshness of the military usages of Rome. He conquered the west exclusively from motives of Roman policy. Cæsar loved Rome as he did himself. Rome was called by destiny to unite in one humanely ordered empire all the nations which had prepared the way for, or produced, European civilization, and to make this civilization accessible to the still backward nations of Europe. But no Roman understood this vocation of his country so well as Cæsar, and no one did more to fulfill it than he did. If Rome ever became mistress of the world Cæsar deserved to become the head of Rome. When he recognized this and strove for this mastery, he acted not from motives of morbid ambition, as his enemies and enviers supposed. He desired to be the first, because he was the first. The character and spirit of Rome were personified in him.
—Caius Julius Cæsar, both by his birth and family relations, was connected with the two principal parties which in his time strove for political influence in the capital. By origin he belonged to one of the highest old noble families. He moved, especially in his younger years, in the highest circles of the aristocracy of his time, but on his mother's side and by his marriage with Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, he was also related to the great plebeian Marius, and connected with the democratic party. Politically he had joined this party at an early day. In reality Cæsar was neither a democrat nor an aristocrat. He felt himself a monarch to whom all parties should be subordinate.
—But Cæsar was also a thorough stranger to the thought of merely playing the rôle of the friend of the people and to erect a tyranny by the aid of the lower masses. He had a heart for the weal and woe of the people. The weaknesses and failings of the multitude could of course not escape his clear vision. He knew that the multitude needed direction and in certain circumstances a firm hand, but he cheerfully fulfilled the first duty of a monarch—to do good to the people. He clearly saw that the aristocratic party would yield to monarchic power only if forced to, and he well knew that the democratic party would far more readily conquer power for its chief leader, and leave it to him. He held to his party even when the following of its colors brought him the very reverse of promotion; but he looked after the interests of the great masses of the people more carefully and diligently after he had come to full power and needed their approbation no longer, than at the time of his rise. With increasing self-consciousness Cæsar became purer, more humane, greater Power, which ruins so many weaker men, was to him a condition of his own ennoblement. Without it his unsatisfied spirit was unrestrained, passionate, excitable. In power he recognized his lofty destiny and by it his intellect received a harmonious development. There is no greater proof of his inborn greatness than this. In his youth he was deeply involved in the intrigues of parties, and was far from being unstained by the filth of the scandalous means employed on every side in these struggles. He employed, too, on occasions, the leaders of bands who were ready for the perpetration of any crime. But even in his youth, whenever he took a personal stand, he showed himself as noble as he was brave. He defended with energy the cause of his marriage against the powerful Sulla, who tried to dissolve it. He defended the cause of history against the ruling aristocracy when he restored in splendor the statue of the proscribed Marius, and lauded in public funeral orations the services of the fallen leaders of democracy. He defended the same cause of history against the narrow party rage of his own adherents by showing due honor to Pompey and Sulla, his political opponents. Wherever it seemed possible to attain a political purpose through an understanding with men the most prominent and powerful, he took all pains to take that peaceful course. Through the different alliances which he brought about, he won more than one great bloodless victory. He was especially averse to brute force and preferred the peaceful measures of political effort and demonstration, to military action. He did not love war, though he knew he was the greatest soldier of his time, and was sure in advance of the greatest triumphs. He was first a statesman and then a warrior. The great truth that war is merely the violent form of politics, and must therefore be conditioned, directed and limited by the political mind, has perhaps never been made so clear in history, as by the life and career of Julius Cæsar.
—The magnanimity with which Cæsar spared his enemies is proverbial. Even during the civil war he respected the Roman and the man in his enemies. His humane conduct was the more praiseworthy when compared with the bloody persecutions which all victorious leaders of parties inflicted on their political opponents, both before and after him. Cæsar wished to combine all the forces of the nation and direct them to the common service of the fatherland. He was raised high above the narrowness and shortsightedness of party hatred. In this, too, he was a real emperor, that his guidance of the state did not favor the oppression of one party by another, but the free rivalry of all parties, for the common weal. He erred rather in forgiving his enemies too readily than in punishing them too severely. Conscious of his own magnanimity he was too much inclined to attribute to others better intentions than they had; and because he himself saw clearly how necessary he was to the state, he hastily, but too hastily concluded that the aristocracy saw it likewise.
—Cæsar was not religious after the traditional manner of the Romans. He was initiated into the arts of the priesthood at an early age, and knew how greatly the ancient religion was misused for political purposes. He ridiculed the signs and wonders which the priests held in readiness to check obnoxious measures, and allowed himself to be guided in his acts neither by the warnings nor threats drawn from the flight of birds and the omens of sacrifices. He even gave open expression to his contempt for these things, to the horror of the faithful and the vexation of hypocrites. But his firm belief in a divine destiny in which he confided, speaks for the instinctive religious trait in his character far more than the temples which he built in honor of the gods.
—The cheerful amiability of his nature was especially manifest in his liberality, his social connections, and his relations with women. He was generous to such a degree that he might have been considered a spendthrift had he not been Cæsar. On this account he became involved in his youth in debt to such an extent that he was able to pay it only in his riper years. But when he controlled the power of the state, and with it corresponding wealth, his coffers were never empty, no matter how liberal were his gifts. The youth might have been considered a spend-thrift, because he did not limit his expenses by his income. The man of mature years was evidently an excellent manager, for he achieved great things without disturbing the balance between his income and expenses. Different traits of his are handed down which show his tender relations to women. The respect for his mother, the love he bore his first and his last wife, the fatherly affection he bestowed on his daughter Julia, and even the tender regard shown his second wife after divorce, have been signalized by history. That such a man found much favor with women and enjoyed this favor in a high degree, can astonish no one. But no matter how many love affairs he may have had in later years, he was too much of a statesman to let his loves interfere with the interests of the state. He made good use of marriages to strengthen political alliances, but he drew a very sharp distinction between his private loves and politics. He could not endure that the institution of marriage should in any way be despised or attacked by the people.
—He was like all men of monarchical nature, a lover of order and too great an organizer to undervalue the significance of fixed forms of law. At the same time his genius was so marked and his nature so imperial that often in his life he overstepped the barriers high and low of recognized law, and demanded without hesitation exceptions from the rule wherever it seemed needful to him from high political considerations. He carried the law of his own mode of action in himself; when in conflict with the laws of the land he broke through them in order to fulfill his mission; he was clearly conscious that he was called to found a new order of things.
—He was not a hero of religion, but of science; not a churchman, but a statesman. He, like all distinguished Romans, had to thank Grecian masters for his early scientific training. He was as familiar with Greek as with Latin literature and was even a master of language. He was in his studies a sober but a penetrating investigator, and gave himself up with pleasure to natural sciences and grammar. His correction of the calendar is one of the examples of the application of science to public uses most worthy of imitation. He had a great reputation as an orator even in those days of most brilliant formal eloquence, although he despised the framing of ornate phrases, and sought effect only through the clearness of his thoughts and the power of his personality. From his "Commentaries on the Gallic War," we learn to value his smooth and natural style which describes situations and events so clearly, without pretension or idle ornament. He also engaged in written political controversies, being no less skillful in encounters with the pen than in battles with the sword. Pre-eminently in favor of publicity, he was the first to have the proceedings of the senate and the people made public, in writing. The political press may honor him as its intellectual father. He aided and promoted higher culture in every direction.
—His chief study, however, was the state. Single men of antiquity may be named who surpassed him in all other branches of intellectual activity, but as a statesman he holds unquestionably the first rank in the ancient world. "His talent for organization was wonderful; never did a statesman so cement his alliances, never did a commander so weld and hold together an army of disconnected and opposing elements, as Cæsar did his coalitions and his legions. Never did a ruler judge his instruments with so penetrating a glance. No man ever knew better how to put the right man in the right place. He was a monarch, but never played at being king. Perfectly pliant and flexible, agreeable and graceful in conversation, obliging to every man, he appeared to desire nothing but to be the first among his equals. No matter how much cause troubled relations with the senate gave him, he never had recourse to brutality like that of the 18th Brumaire. Cæsar was a monarch, but he was never affected by the giddiness of tyranny. He accomplished the possible, and never neglected the good for the sake of the impossible better. He never disdained to mitigate incurable evils by, at least, palliative measures. But wherever he recognized that fate had spoken he always submitted. Alexander on the Hyphasis, Napoleon at Moscow, turned back because they could not help it, and were angry at fate because it grants only limited success to its favorites; Cæsar turned back willingly from the Thames and the Rhine, and kept in mind on the Danube and the Euphrates that it was not for him to entertain any exaggerated plan of world-conquest.
—Like every true statesman he served the people not for the sake of reward, not even for the reward of their love, but sacrificed the favor of his contemporaries for the blessing of the future, and above all for the glory of saving and rejuvenating his nation." (Mommsen.)
—He restored long-absent peace to the state, and re-established law and order in it; he limited the power of the senate, and the influence of the comitia: but at the same time he saw to it that under his own personal direction and control only proper men should be elected to public offices and should make a moderate use of their official power. He did not allow the provinces to be fleeced by their governors. He restored order to the finances; restrained the army within the bounds of duty, and purified the administration of justice of many abuses. He promoted the cause of civilization in every way on the basis of Greco-Roman science and culture. He sought to infuse new life into the old Roman aristocracy by taking into their body new persons of distinction to elevate the condition of the oppressed classes of the people by colonization on a large scale, by modifying the laws relating to debt and the opening up of new industries; to give support to the poor by the systematic distribution of corn among them. He extended the right of citizenship farther over the nearest provinces and thus broadened the real foundation of the Roman commonwealth. Through numerous colonies in the remote provinces he opened a new field to the progress of Roman civilization, and thus promoted the civilization of these provinces themselves. His great edifices employed the laboring power of the nation and increased the common weal, for in them the useful and the beautiful were combined. He was hindered in the execution of many great plans by the passions, as foolish as they were wicked, of the so-called patriots, who, by the murder of the greatest of Roman statesmen, inflicted the deepest wound on their fatherland which they thought to save in this manner.
—Cæsar cherished the design of giving to the world a comprehensive code of law. If ever there was a Roman fitted to leave the world Roman-human laws, that Roman was Cæsar. But fate decided against him here, and 500 years later gave a far inferior ruler the glory of framing, from the memories of a greater past, a code which the most liberal Roman with creative mind had wished in vain to produce.
—Cæsar, dying, bequeathed to the world the idea of empire. History was juster than Rome, inasmuch as it connected his name indissolubly with the grandest institution which antiquity introduced into the world, but the full perfection of which only the future was destined to see. The Romans themselves preferred the name of Augustus for their emperors.
—The name of Cæsar designates also the degenerate variety of the empire known as Cæsarism which in our time has been renewed by the Napoleons, and which would therefore be more correctly termed Napoleonism. It has, it is true, certain characteristic traits which recall Cæsar, but still more his successors, the old Roman emperors, and which recall especially the connection with democratic institutions of a political one-man power inclined to dictatorship, an absolute autocracy on the basis of the fourth estate, upon which the ruler leans and whose interests he cares for. Cæsarism wishes well to the multitude which does homage to it, and is tyrannical toward all opposition which stands in its way. It has a political ideal which it wishes to realize, but in this ideal freedom has no dignity and no power. Everything is directed from above, as if by a god, with the approval of an accommodating senate and subservient representatives of the masses. The financial, the military, the intellectual powers of the nation are all subservient to the state and to Cæsar who is the highest expression of the state and represents its unity, its power and its dignity. The administration introduced by Cæsarism is distinguished by a well-considered system of offices which are easily controlled from a centre by skillful machinery, and therefore such an administration has rather a mechanical than an organic character. Its character is such that it does not allow of any self-determination of its members. It prevents the danger of party rule, but it suppresses all parties. It acknowledges the duty of caring for the nation and advancing its interests; it is a powerful stimulant to enterprises which promote the common good, but still it hinders the free development of the best powers of the nation, for this is possible only in the atmosphere of a more general freedom. It seizes power quickly and wields it unsparingly. At home it wields too much power; abroad it is bold and enterprising. In order to find recognition and safety, it needs dazzling results at home and glorious victories abroad. Disaster and defeat endanger its existence.
—A cultured-nation endures Cæsarism only when morally debased and it apprehends the loss of its property and its pleasures. People who love freedom combat it as the enemy of their liberties. It can be approved only when the Cæsar far surpasses the nation which he rules, in mind and character. "An undeceivable, infallible and indefatigable head, and an incapable or unworthy nation," such are, according to Ollivier's happy expression, "the fundamental conditions of a Cæsarian democracy." Such a head is not to be found. The powers of a Cæsar even are limited from the first. Even for a gifted Cæsar it is not possible to acquire the wisdom of age in youth, nor to preserve youthful freshness in advanced years. Cæsarism is not reconcilable with hereditary monarchy, and an elective monarchy is no safeguard against the Cæsar madness which seizes those who wickedly pretend to be the possessors of preterhuman power.
J. C. BLUNTSCHLI.
Return to top