The friends of the constitution and the Pompeians, though doing homage with the lips to Caesar, bore yet in heart a grudge either at monarchy or at least at the dynasty; the degenerate democracy was in open rebellion against Caesar from the moment of its perceiving that Caesar's objects were by no means its own; even the personal adherents of Caesar murmured, when they found that their chief was establishing instead of a state of condottieri a monarchy equal and just towards all, and that the portions of gain accruing to them were to be diminished by the accession of the vanquished. This settlement of the commonwealth was acceptable to no party, and had to be imposed on his associates no less than on his opponents. Caesar's own position was now in a certain sense more imperilled than before the victory; but what he lost, the state gained. By annihilating the parties and not simply sparing the partisans but allowing every man of talent or even merely of good descent to attain to office irrespective of his political past, he gained for his great building all the working power extant in the state; and not only so, but the voluntary or compulsory participation of men of all parties in the same work led the nation also over imperceptibly to the newly prepared ground. The fact that this reconciliation of the parties was for the moment only externaland that they were for the present much less agreed in adherence to the new state of things than in hatred against Caesar, did not mislead him; he knew well that antagonisms lose their keenness when brought into such outward union, and that only in this way can the statesman anticipate the work of time, which alone is able finally to heal such a strife by laying the old generation in the grave. Still less did he inquire who hated him or meditated his assassination. Like every genuine statesman he served not the people for reward--not even for the reward of their love-- but sacrificed the favour of his contemporaries for the blessing of posterity, and above all for the permission to save and renew his nation.

Caesar's Work

In attempting to give a detailed account of the mode in which the transition was effected from the old to the new state of things, we must first of all recollect that Caesar came not to begin, but to complete. The plan of a new polity suited to the times, long ago projected by Gaius Gracchus, had been maintained by his adherents and successors with more or less of spirit and success, but without wavering. Caesar, from the outset and as it were by hereditary right the head of the popular party, had for thirty years borne aloft its banner without ever changing or even so much as concealing his colours; he remained democrat even when monarch. as he accepted without limitation, apart of course from the preposterous projects of Catilina and Clodius, the heritage of his party; as he displayed the bitterest, even personal, hatred to the aristocracy and the genuine aristocrats; and as he retained unchanged the essential ideas of Roman democracy, viz. alleviation of the burdens of debtors, transmarine colonization, gradual equalization of the differences of rights among the classes belonging to the state, emancipation of the executive power from the senate: his monarchy was so little at variance with democracy, that democracy on the contrary only attained its completion and fulfilment by means of that monarchy. For this monarchy was not the Oriental despotism of divine right, but a monarchy such as Gaius Gracchus wished to found, such as Pericles and Cromwell founded-- the representation of the nation by the man in whom it puts supreme and unlimited confidence. The ideas, which lay at the foundation of Caesar's work, were so far not strictly new; but to him belongs their realization, which after all is everywhere the main matter; and to him pertains the grandeur of execution, which would probably have surprised the brilliant projector himself if he could have seen it, and which has impressed, and will always impress, every one to whom it has been presented in the living reality or in the mirror of history--to whatever historical epoch or whatever shade of politics he may belong--according to the measure of his ability to comprehend human and historical greatness, with deep and ever-deepening emotion and admiration.

At this point however it is proper expressly once for all to claim what the historian everywhere tacitly presumes, and to protest against the custom--common to simplicity and perfidy--of using historical praise and historical censure, dissociated from the given circumstances, as phrases of general application, and in the present case of construing the judgment as to Caesar into a judgment as to what is called Caesarism. It is true that the history of past centuries ought to be the instructress of the present; but not in the vulgar sense, as if one could simply by turning over the leaves discover the conjunctures of the present in the records of the past, and collect from these the symptoms for a political diagnosis and the specifics for a prescription; it is instructive only so far as the observation of older forms of culture reveals the organic conditions of civilization generally-- the fundamental forces everywhere alike, and the manner of their combination everywhere different--and leads and encourages men, not to unreflecting imitation, but to independent reproduction. In this sense the history of Caesar and of Roman Imperialism, with all the unsurpassed greatness of the master-worker, with all the historical necessity of the work, is in truth a sharper censure of modern autocracy than could be written by the hand of man. According to the same law of nature in virtue of which the smallest organism infinitely surpasses the most artistic machine, every constitution however defective which gives play to the free self-determination of a majority of citizens infinitely surpasses the most brilliant and humane absolutism; for the former is capable of development and therefore living, the latter is what it is and therefore dead.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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