Random Thoughts

Polybius on Government and Recent Upheavals

Polybius, ranking second only to Thucydides (See: A History Of International Relations : Power & Hypocrisy), was a Greek historian, who lived from 205 to 123 BCE. He was taken hostage by the Romans, became their great admirer and lavished praise on the Roman republic as the best form of government like that of the Sparta of Lycurgus. He was close to Scipio Africanus, who destroyed Carthage in the second Punic War.

Polybius has a very neat chronology of government evolution. He postulates that in mere animals or after a catastrophe in human beings leading to a loss of all knowledge of arts and social habits, there would be herding together for security and a single individual by virtue of his physical strength and courage would emerge as a leader. Such a one would be a despot. After some time, a concept of justice and then reciprocal duty and obligation would tend to bestow the leadership to one who is not only strong and brave but also just and fair. This may occur spontaneously or because the prior despot had used his strength to exact undue advantages from the weaker populace. Such a perverted despot would have become a tyrant and when replaced by a just and fair leader who rules by virtue rather than force (Ashoka after the slaughter of Kalinga – Henceforth I will only conquer only by Virtue) would be a king and not a despot or tyrant.

As long as the king is a righteous individual and not intoxicated by power and hubris, he (or she) will not make his dress, food or drink at all conspicuous and will live very much like the rest. When the royal power and privilege becomes hereditary, the progeny often lost their humility and goal of public service and began to believe that they were entitled to a better, more ostentatious lifestyle because of their superiority and birth. Soon they indulged in sensual pleasures, however unlawful, without fear of denial. The people were offended and jealousy and resentment increased. The kingship became a tyranny (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Gulf Sheikhdoms, Morocco). Disintegration began and plotting against it commenced. When the plotters were amongst the best of men and succeeded in overthrowing the tyrant, the rule of the noblefew, which he calls aristocracy began. Once again the children of these nobles were raised in wealth and luxury, but often without a sense of public service and cursed with excessive self-importance. The tendency of the aristocrats to pass on the rule to their children (Qadafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt) led to the rule of the few but not of the just. Polybius calls this Oligarchy

Once again the people were angry and unhappy and tried to throw out the oligarchs and replace them by the rule of the people (not one king or few aristocrats) or Democracy. This may work if the initial leaders of a democracy are just and honest. Unfortunately the smart and or the rich load the dice in their favor (See my article - Madison’s Hoax & Gresham’s Law). When the true Democrats as opposed to the leaders of a republic become overly fond of office, they use the power of incumbency to raise funds by accepting bribes from lobbyists to pass favorable legislation (present day America, Britain and India). In some cases they try to bequeath their legislative or parliamentary seats to their children and eventually form a nexus with criminals and money launderers or corporations who finance their elections (again USA and India). Eventually the criminals become savvy and eliminate the politicians as middle men, The criminals run for elections themselves, as in India or the republic becomes an oligarchy run by corporate power like in America.

It is this simple truth that Francis Fukuyama failed to see in his foolish essay when he predicted that democratic capitalism was the end of history. It is the nature of mankind and government in a milieu of crony capitalism to metamorphose a democratic republic into a corporate oligarchy. My prediction is that it may even go as far as becoming a Fascism. The current Supreme Court in the United States has become a handmaiden of the government as it was in John Adam’s time when it passed the Aliens and Sedition Act in distinct contravention to the Constitution (this time see the Friday March11th editorial in the New York Times on “Indefensible Detention”)

The same curse of a new generation of so called elected officials, as in kingship and aristocracy degenerating into tyranny and oligarchy respectively, can occur when democracy degenerates into mob rule (this happened in France after the revolution of 1789). The Girondists failed to deliver after the Revolution. To some extent the interference of England and Austria, both monarchies wishing to nip the anti-monarchic French Revolution in the bud, led to the terror and the Jacobins. Eventually Marat was assassinated, Dante sent to the guillotine by Robespierre, who was guillotined a little later. There came the tumultuous assemblies, massacres, banishments, re-divisions of land: until after losing all trace of civilization, once more a master and despot was found in Napoleon Bonaparte. The same thing happened in Iran due to interference by the USA in the coup against Mossadeq, after a time delay commensurate with the lack of political consciousness in Iran and the torture and terror of the Shah’s Savak, trained by American CIA. Shahpur Bakhtiar was forced out and assassinated, prime minister Bazergan was made to leave, president Bani Sadr impeached, Minister Ghotzbadeh executed and Ayatollah Khomeini took over as despot or Vilayat-e-Faquih. 

Another scenario occurs when there is a 800 pound gorilla like the US itching to interfere to assure an uninterrupted supply of oil at an affordable price. It has its own political agenda and interfered in Iraq to cause regime change and capture cheap oil. For geopolitical reason, it has supported the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Qadafi in Libya, but failed to install its puppets trained at the international army school in Georgia. The US still supports the tyranny of king Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, the other king Abdullah in Jordan and those of the Sheikhs in Bahrain and Gulf Kingdoms as well as the Sultan of Oman. For the US knows that mob rule is inherently unstable and temporary and just as its leaders used the populace to throw out the British and then form a government of the landowners, merchants and bankers to the detriment of the citizens, it has interfered the world over to facilitate suitably favorable regime change (for a parallel in politics and biology, see my article “Coercive Cultures & Selective Breeding”). Thus it is too early to predict the outcomes of the agitations in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. If the outcomes in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, West Bank, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay are any indication of the future, it does not favor success for US intrigue and hypocrisy.   


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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Views: 3341      Comments: 5

Comment You seem to exult in the stating of the obvious, is all I can comment on your litany of non-communists. Again, you lack a perspective of history, so that to you everything that occurred, America's action in a particular historical context, is condemned in the light of today, and how convenient, when the freedom you live to tell the tale in was won by America in WW2 against both Germany and Japan. I won't advise you to read history, as there is none so blind...

15-Mar-2011 08:45 AM

Comment 1)There is none as blind as one who does not wish to see. The hypocrisy of seeking refuge behind the declaration of independence while sweeping slavery under the rug cannot be whitewashed on the basis of then prevalent custom and norms. An African American Federal Judge Higginbotham has pointed out that while Jefferson and the founding fathers implied that all white men owning property were created equal--- they had the temerity to use grandiose high principled words to fool the world into accepting them as high minded. Judge Higginbotham is I suspect sarcastically thankful for their pretentiousness as those words served them in such a way as to hoist them by their own petard with the passage of time and judicial interpretation of language.
2) The scarecrow of communism was foisted on easily brainwashable American public (Read Walter Lippman"s words --- Nobody went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American electorate). Read James Carroll's "House Of War" to get the true history of the Truman era and Dean Acheson and others' plot to scare the hell out of the American public to indulge in Military Keynesianism which even Eisenhower ranted against in his farewell speech about the military industrial complex.
3) You need to study history. There was no communism at the time that Andrew Jackson attacked Florida belonging to Spain on the pretext of pursuit of the Seminoles. It was then sort of bought from Spain.
4) The same tactic was used by President Polk in the Mexican War. The US by aggression took Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona. Earlier it had taken Texas. The successful war general Zachary Taylor later became president just like Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. There was no communism at that time.
5) There was no communism when the US provoked the Spanish American War by blaming Spain for the ship explosion to usurp Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico and control Cuba. Similar tactics were used in lying about the the attack by communist north Vietnam in the Gulf Of Tonkin and the rubber stamp Congress has invariably knuckled under any strong president like Johnson, Nixon and the shrub "W" . The idiot president McKinley, like Bush Jr., was so ignorant that he prayed in the White House while kneeling and proclaimed that he desired to convert the heathen Filipinos to Christianity, until some other knowledgeable cabinet member informed the idiot president that the Filipinos had been Christians (Catholics) for over three centuries.
6) It was not to fight communism that the US dethroned the Hawaiian Queen and annexed Hawaii. It was pure aggression and carried out initially under the pretext of evangelism and then intrigue of sugar plantation owners. That is why even today, a hundred years later we still pay higher prices for Hawaiian sugar.
7)Read Stephen Kinzer's books"Overthrow" and on the Iranian coup against an elected devout Muslim prime minister Mossadeq. He was not a communist. The coup was orchestrated by BP and Shell by flattering the idiot Dulles brothers (Secretary of State and Director of CIA) who could indulge in delusions of grandeur while imbibing single malt scotch in their penthouses. Better still, the documents of the coup have been officially declassified some years ago and were published by the New York Times and are probably available at the State Department's official website.
8) The repeated betrayal and reneging on treaties signed with the American Indians, The Cherokee trail of tears and the convenient arguments used by Locke to take away ownership of Indian lands from the natives as they had not been adequately cultivated, all show the duplicity and fraud that was perpetrated. The American Indians were not communists and neither were African American slaves.
9) Slavery was not really abolished at the time of the Civil War. Read Douglas Blackmon's book "Slavery By Another Name". Read Eric Foner's books on the Civil War and reconstruction era.
10) It is indeed a shame that most Americans are totally ignorant of their history and have been nourished on a diet of jingoism, propaganda and ignorant and blind patriotic chauvinism. A year before Before the Declaration of Independence, another statement was made.Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Boswell tells us that Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel on the evening of April 7, 1775. He doesn't provide any context for how the remark arose, so we don't really know for sure what was on Johnson's mind at the time. I would add that blind patriotism is also a religion of the ignorant and unenlightened and the US deserves credit for having better brainwashed its citizens than even the communist USSR.

Gaurang Bhatt

gaurang bhatt
15-Mar-2011 05:55 AM

Comment I love your phrasing 'non-nuclear Japan'! - Like all your specious arguments it is completely out of context - since, at the time, the only nuclear thing about America was the A-bomb. No, but you go back through history, even to America 'condoning' of slavery, as though everything then was the same as it is now; and that there has been no historical process of change, manifestly progressive, whereby America does not nuke 'non-nuclear' countries (even though possessing the capability) and, incidentally, to bring you up to date, slavery was abolished in America.

As for its intervention in countries you mention, stylised by you as 'behavior', it has always been in the interest of democracy, the freedom of the world, and the suppression of the evil of communism and its manifestaation of tyranny, where the means of effecting this only reflected the necessity obliged on it to do so. The ample evidence of this is that America has never acted as an invading power, annexing whole nations in the manner, as I said, of the old empire builders. This surely speaks for the inherent role America sees itself as fulfilling post-WW2, as the king-pin of the United Nations, an assembly of free democratic countries, to this day and to this hour.

14-Mar-2011 21:11 PM

Comment There was once a bully who unhesitatingly and without remorse snatched whatever he wanted from his neighbors if they happened to be weaker. He never tried to extort or defeat by direct challenge another bully who happened to have the same physical strength and weapons. When criticized for his bullying tendencies, he defended himself by saying that he never beat up children to take away their candy, in spite of being strong and armed, but merely used verbal threats to steal the kids' candy. He chastised the world that far from criticizing him, they should praise him for his restraint and humane tendencies.

The US used the atom bomb against non-nuclear Japan. The standard defense claimed is to avoid American casualties likely to occur during the invasion of the main Japanese islands. Post facto analysis does not support this lame argument and the real reason was to intimidate Stalin and the USSR. International relations are unfortunately not based on morality and ethics and one can understand the rationale for US or any superpower behavior, but to praise it on ethical grounds and laud it, one has to have malfunction of mirror neurons which allow one to see and consider the point of view of others and especially the weaker.

The golden rule is "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you and NOT DO UNTO OTHERS BEFORE THEY DO IT TO YOU". Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg trials--"We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this Trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to do justice. "

On that basis, the US has frequently failed this test throughout its history including its birth when it proclaimed that "all men are created equal and they are endowed by their creator with certain inherent and unalienable rights and amongst these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and then condoned slavery. This is called hypocrisy and Jefferson was its prime practitioner throughout his life as even George Washington and John Adams, two rare generally honest and honorable founding fathers realized, the former at the end of his life despite Lafayette's arguments. US behavior in Cuba, Central and Latin America, Caribbean, Indo-China, Indonesia, Philippines, Hawaii, Iran was bad and shameful. It brought Saddam Hussein to power in Iraq and supported him till it was convenient and then attacked him, just like it did Noriega in Panama. I understand that those who live in a world of make believe are angered and offended when shown their real and true visage in a mirror. The only quasi-legitimate defense of US international behavior is that most other nations in similar positions of power would have behaved just as badly as its rival USSR and its predecessor Britain, behaved like a significantly worse scumbag.
Gaurang Bhatt

gaurang bhatt
13-Mar-2011 09:25 AM

Comment To state that US involvement in the Middle East is "to assure an uninterrupted supply of oil at an affordable price' and is the basis of 'US intrigue and hypocrisy' is to mix good and evil intentions in the same subject, reminiscent of those who accused Christ of ‘having a devil’.

If you claim to understand history, even modern times, tell me why the US chooses to use conventional arms to fight its wars, in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, while in possession of a formidable nuclear arsenal of unlimited destruction? And in this restraint it sets an example to those countries which now possess a nuclear arsenal.

This perennial restraint shown by the US is unprecedented in the history of warfare, and may be argued away as ultimately for its own benefit; but it is nevertheless restraint. For the US not even to threaten to nuke Baghdad, say, in the Gulf War, or Afghanistan in the conflict there, as a quick solution, must be credited as a sign that the US is for life not nuclear wastelands. The US doesn’t launch invasions, annexing Iraq and Afghanistan, and before them Korea and Vietnam, in the manner of the old empire builders, using the real threat of its nuclear armoury.

Oddly enough, the restraint shown by the US in deploying nuclear weapons is interpreted as its being bound by international law to so comply . Not to the extent of total nuclear disarmament, however, which still makes restraint a reality. Nevertheless, in the eyes of those who would oppose it, the extant nuclear arsenal of the US appears as a sign, not of threat or of absolute power, but of ineffectuality, and emboldens its opponents to take the US on with their virtual peashooters, AK45's, and home-made bombs; who seize the nuclear ineffectuality of the US as an opportunity to defy it, to sustain years and years of conventional arms conflict that the US seems to tolerate even at great sacrifice of its own troops. Their safe argument is 'The (good ole)US will never use its nuclear bomb.' The premise, I should say, to their violent actions and dreams of conquest, and, blindly, the inversion of evil intent on the US.

In conclusion, the proper, healthy attitude to the US by journalists and commentators must be that of profound respect, if they are to remain in the world of reality and talk sense. The US is patently a force for good in the world, and all its actions must be viewed in that light. It chooses not to be a nuclear bomb tyrant in the name of world peace.

12-Mar-2011 20:37 PM

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