Bread and Circuses
In the original Latin, panem et circenses. The Roman we call Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis) wrote of this issue 2,150 years ago. He complained that in his recent times, “we sold our vote to no man,” but that Roman politicians had since devolved to providing the masses with welfare and entertainment. This sapped their will, lost them their dignity, and kept people in office solely for what bribes they could arrange for the crowd from the public coffers.
One problem with trying to keep people appeased with public coffers is the same issue as with other aspects of socialism. As Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of the UK) put it, “sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.” But this is not the only problem.
In Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and many other places, they are running out of other peoples’ money. And once you have someone addicted to feeding at the public trough, it is very difficult to convince them to actually work for a living. Any attempt to reduce the “bread and circuses” produces riots, which are the dependent classes’ violent assertions that they are entitled to money taken from others who work for it.
Two articles describe this effect as it has given rise to the rioting currently going on in England. One thought-provoking analysis called “British Degeneracy On Parade” by Thomas Dalrymple comes with a tip of the hat to this post at the excellent Finding Ponies.
The other is “Anarchy in the UK,” written for The Australian by Brendan O’Neill in the middle of it in London, and it is notable for the comments as well. Both describe these riots as arising from the UK’s welfare state, its proclivity for buying the votes of the masses.
To me, the larger problem here is that “the votes of the masses” are being directed by this pandering to turn those masses into subjects, eroding the freedoms that (in the US) were encoded into our Constitution and its Bill of Rights, and (in the UK) part of a British tradition dating back eight centuries to the Magna Carta.
These histories are related, but they are not the same: British monarchial rule has inched toward representing their subjects over a long period of time, not always successfully. The US was born in a violent paroxysm to sever itself from that monarchy, and to declare a free republic of free people — citizens, not subjects — from the beginning.
One could say that US citizens, UK subjects, and the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans being worked to death in prisons have each exactly the same rights, “endowed by their Creator.” But if all humans are created equal, and the rights that humans can exercise is completely dependent upon their location and status, then the practical matter of rights comes to the fore: We have, in practice, the rights that the local government respects and protects.
Few governments respect anything like the rights of US citizens, and it was a brand new concept when we designed and built this system between 1776 and 1791. That was an amazing decade and a half from a world political view, with much of the activity coming in two bursts of genius.
But we’re losing it. We’re losing the genius, we are losing the respect and protection of the freedoms that our system was designed to recognize, and we have a cadre of politicians increasingly adept at gaming the system to buy off the populace. This process will ultimately destroy the system we have built to protect our rights and allow us to become prosperous and productive as a people.
Sadly, we have a significant contingent of academics and politicians, including here in the United States, that think that destroying our system is a good idea.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle