The Ides of March

Later on, he provided a lesson to all great men and women who surpass their peers and earn the right to believe themselves entitled to an irrational level of exalted treatment.  This delusion may be unavoidable in those who move the world.  Evidence speaks to that lamentable conclusion.  It is always sad to see the greatly gifted, the geniuses, the truly exceptional turn into honking jerks parading around like pheasants exulting in their plumage.  And yet, in the end, this was what became of Caesar.  His grandiosity stripped the Republic of the illusion of its importance, and that the puffed-up linens of the Senate could not abide.

Before we get there, though, there is a tale of accomplishment that could well be studied by every executive who seeks to be a constructive force, to use power in such a way to transform his or her little corner of the world for the better.  Here are just a few of the things Caesar did in the time that was alloted him — a scant five years at the helm:

Hired experts to create the 365-day calendar, featuring a month named especially after him
Filled vacancies in the Senate, stacking the upper house with his guys, much the way Franklin Roosevelt tried to jam the Supreme Court with partisans, and filled a variety of other posts throughout the infrastructure
Brought back a bunch of executives who had been persecuted by the patricians for diuciary irregularities, mostly bribery.  Since payoffs werre about as common in the Roman corporation at that time as they are now in the Far East and the Mob, prosecution of these offenses were highly selective, and usually focused on guys the suits didn’t like.  In communicating a clean slate, few actions could have been more meaningful to probusiness types
Took control of the electoral process just as surely as the Bushes took Florida in hand, giving the people the right to elect about half of their representatives, as long as they made up their slate from a list of guys he liked
Cut down the number of people on welfare — they received free grain from the state — from 320,000 to 150,000, and better regulated who got put on that list
Decreed that no citizen between the ages of twenty and forty should be out of Italy for more than three years at a time unless it was on military service, keeping the corporate center well stocked with the hale and hearty who might otherwise have gone exploring in the vast world Rome had conquered
Passed a law mandating that all in the business of grazing must make sure that among their herdsmen were at least one third of free birth, ensuring that enterprise did not become solely dependent on slaves, a move somewhat akin to Citibank deciding that some of its telephone representatives must in the future come from somewhere other than Bombay
Made doctors and teachers citizens, improving the status of Rome as a good place to pursue those professions
Regulated the paying back of debts, not canceling them altogether, but eliminating the usurous hikes that had resulted from the innumerable civil wars in recent years
Stiffened penalties for crimes, particularly murders committed by the rich; and enforced existing laws on extravagance that limited the kinds of foods that might be sold and served at Roman tables.  This fit in nicely with one of Caesar’s other traits — a general lack of interest in food and wine
Imposed duties on foreign products, strengthening local operation
Kept the citizenry busy with a bewildering array of public works and projects, including the biggest temple to Mars ever, the filling in of a gigantic pool he had himself created for a mock sea battle he had mounted for the public entertainment; the construction of an enormous theater; the regulation of the proliferation of statuary — some of it quite bad — and their location throughout the corporate center; the opening of more and better libraries with the very best Greek and Latin books; the draining of assorted marshes; the construction of a highway across the Apennine Mountains from the Adriatic to the Tiber; the building of a canal through the Italian isthmus; and many, many more, the number of which were limited only by his prodigious imagination

Many of these endevors were put on a back burner when he was, which seems a shame.  And yet, better men than Casca and Cassius believed it was right to kill him.  Not one or two, but some thirty senators took part in the drill, including the noble fellow who amounted to his stepson, the high-minded Marcus Brutus, descendent (supposedly) of the man who had freed the corporation of its Etruscan kings.  A lot more of those dignificed patricians knew about the plot to murder the leading man of their day, and said nothing.  Why?

Because in the murder of Caesar, we have the perfect interface between self-interest and morality, the killer combination of factors that throughout history, from the Crusades to today’s computerized versions, has fueled more depredations than all others combined.

And our boy?  Like many a chief executive of more recent vintage, sitting with the weight of the world on his shoulders and, perhaps, an intern on his knee, Caesar gave his foes exactly what they wanted.

He accepted all honors that were heaped on him, including the title of Dictator for Life, a position enjoyed in our day only by guys who own, not simply run, their corporations.

He allowed the forname Imperator to be given him, as well as teh name of Pater Patriae — the Father of His Country.  This was very obnoxious to guys who thought their fathers were the fathers of their country.

He was careless in his speech, stating egregious (if true) opinions — like the state was an empty shell, more form over substance; that he was the supreme ruler whose word should be counted as law, that favorites of the past, such as Sulla, were morons, that kind of thing.

When elected officials died in office — even the consul of the corporation — he took it upon himself simply to name a temporary successor, not paying the hereditary dudes the respect they thought they deserved by asking for their opinion.  The irony of protecting a republic through its non-representatives did not seem particularly piquant to the grouchy elite.  He was also fond of:

The commisioning of statues of himself for holy locations
Lounging on a raised couch in a special section of the theater
The wearing of offensively royal purple at all times when a nice magenta would have sufficed
Sitting in state on a specially constructed golden throne while conducting business in the Sneate, whose members continued to maintain a touchy attitude about such gross displays of monarchical splendor
Constructing temples to himself and placing them beside those reserved for the gods…

… and plunging assorted big fat thumbs into the eye of the ruling political and religious pooh-bahs, acts that certainly must have pleased and amused him while being of virtually no utility to the people he had always championed.

Then there was the talk of formally naming him King of Rome.  Sure, he had indicated his unwillingness to take that title… but since of late he had accepted every other title with great pleasure, there were those who doubted his sincerity.  There were even those who believed he was engineering the move.

Rome had had no kings since Junius Brutus thrust them out hundreds of years ago.  The fact that there was no king was a matter of huge pride to the aristocracy that had filled the power gap and benefited from the rise of the Republic and the eviction of a strong, dictatorial monarchy.  There was a lot they would suffer to butter the ego of Caesar.  But some things they could not live with, and being the generation of elite who allowed the return of kings to the corporation was one of them.  As a group, they shared this conviction above all others, and it had the added benefit of making them feel good about themselves.  No kings.  Period.

But Caesar’s grandiosity and narcissism was expanding exponentially, like one of those parade balloons on Thanksgiving morning.  Pretty soon there was no stopping it.  So they began meeting, and in order to appear ethical and moral to themselves, they began mapping out the high tone of the enterprise almost immediately, calling on concepts of liberty and tradition and all kinds of very noble stuff.  In this effort, they were immesurably helped by the participation of several big sheets whose notion of their role in the world were scarcely less elevated than Caesar’s.  In particular, there was Brutus, whose life Caesar once saved on at least one dramatic occasion, and whose mother was a great friend of the great man.  Once Brutus was on board, there was no question in anybody’s mind that they were all doing the right thing.

— Stanley Bing
Rome, Inc.
pgs 118-124

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