I’m a huge Rome geek and I have been for two decades or more, since taking Latin when I was at secondary school and learning that so much of our culture came from a single city.
I got into Greek mythology too, at around about the same time, and I read a lot of the philosophers and thinkers of who had hovered around Athens.
I knew that democracy had grown up there, but it was their Roman counterparts I fell in love with, whilst recognising what they did.
And what they did was simple enough I guess; they built an empire on a foundation of bones, amidst an ocean of blood.
One of the men I hugely admire from history, as a politician, statesman and general, Gaius Julius Caesar, remains one of the greatest slave traders of his or any other time.
During his conquest of Gaul he actually, personally, made a mountain of money out of the blackest market of them all, a fortune so enormous that if you tried to translate it into modern money you would simply be blown away by the sheer weight of the numbers.
He makes our current billionaires look like paupers.
If we think the gap between the haves and the have nots is bad now, the rich men and women of that time lived in opulence only the uber-wealthy now can dare dream of.
In the meantime, the poor lived in slums the likes of which exist today only in the darkest corners of the Third World.
I was reminded of Caesar and his fabulous wealth, built on the backs of slaves, the other day as I watched George Osborne deliver his budget.
His big announcement about the Living Wage managed two things; it outflanked Labour, which is a despicable indictment of that party and a slap in the face for those who said the manifesto was too left wing, and it exposed the sheer gall of this government, one that has declared war on the have-nots like Thatcher never dreamed.
The Living Wage doesn’t help those on zero hour contracts.
It does nothing for public sector workers who are experiencing the most appalling pay freeze in living memory.
It will not help when they get around to removing workers’ rights, which they are determined to do come what may whether it’s by renegotiating the European Convention, removing us from it altogether or finding a way to circumvent the law with a raft of domestic legislation.
It will not help those from whom Working Tax Credits are to be removed.
The whole thing has embarrassed Labour, but is a despicable fraud nonetheless, and it has rewarded the multi-nationals at the same time as their plans for Universal Credit threaten thousands of small businesses and the self-employed, like me, who aren’t earning a fortune.
Their hatred for those with the least is brazen, acknowledged, and public.
The political climate they have stoked is appalling, selfish, insular and dangerous.
It forces large numbers of people, all across this country, into terrible poverty and the social safety net which was once there to keep those people at least afloat is being taken away one bit at a time.
One of the stories I remember reading during one of my early forays into Roman history concerned a proconsul in the area around Jerusalem.
The Christians were on edge, wanting various changes, and a Senator was sent out to meet with the proconsul to see how he was handling that.
The Senator arrived to find that the road into the city was lined on both sides with crosses, on which men, women and even children had been hung, to die in the sun.
The city itself was tense, silent, and everywhere soldiers were standing on corners, or directing punishments.
The courts were working flat out, not on administering justice but terror.
The people were starving, as the proconsul had initiated rationing to keep them weak.
The Senator asked him if was worried that such measures might result in more discontent, even outright rebellion.
The proconsul’s answer was shocking, but instructive as to his mindset.
“No,” he said, “they’ve not suffered enough.”
That’s what this government is like.
That’s what they are counting on.
To push as many people as possible into penury without provoking a backlash.
They know the people they are targeting are young.
That they come from the sink estates.
In other words, they are the least likely people in the country to actually use the vote.
And the vote isn’t worth much when you’re looking at five long years and no opposition in sight, because Labour seems almost determined to shadow this bullshit at every step.
But that proconsul learned a hard lesson.
He eventually lost the whole region to an uprising, and afterwards he was recalled to Rome in disgrace whilst someone else was sent out there to clean up the mess.
They probably executed him for his stupidity.
You can push people only so far.
Sooner or later, they do react.
Especially when you’ve taken so much from them that they feel they have nothing to lose.
This government is pushing whole communities into the corner.
You ever seen a wild animal react to that strategy?
Don’t try it at home.
We pride ourselves on being civilised, but that’s a veneer. You only to have watch human beings in time of war to realise that there’s something dreadful at our core, something prone not so much to reaction as to over-reaction and excess.
In other words, when the breaking point comes it’s going to get ugly.
Here in Scotland, where we do have a political leadership determined to oppose the cuts and roll back the horror of them, there is hope because we have elections next year and the possibility of seeing an independence referendum on the ballot paper again.
Furthermore, people here are engaged, they’re part of the debate, or feel like they are.
There’s none of the helplessness that scourges so much of this island … which isn’t to say there won’t be eruptions here too, if things get too desperate.
But there are parts of England which are like a tinderbox right now and this government is determined to ratchet up the pain.
That will end with civil disorder, and nothing is surer.
The next five years are going to be tense, and awful, and will shame this island for decades to come.
We’re a modern state whose public spending ratio has been rolled back to the 40’s already and will soon be much, much worse.
Anti-union laws are coming.
As I’ve already said, the removal of numerous workers’ rights is on the way.
Human dignity means nothing to these people.
This is the cruellest government I’ve ever known, and there is plenty of scope for them getting worse.
You know, thinking back to the time of Caesar, you are tempted to think of him as a monster when you consider the things he did. Yet he also provided the people of Rome, and the provinces, with the early apparatus of modernity.
Gaius Julius Caesar was a reformer, but a man of his time.
His nephew, and eventual heir, Octavian, was even more impressive.
One of his earliest bequests was that a large part of Caesar’s fortune be given to the citizens, and he wanted to reduce slavery to provide jobs for ordinary people.
Yes, his objectives were political but I’ve always thought that he was also an idealist and one who believed in the right things.
Slavery was, and is, one of the great evils of our time … but something about it is often overlooked, and it’s worth remembering this in the modern day.
Caesar and others got rich because slaves themselves were a valuable commodity.
It didn’t matter what they were being used for; only a fool mistreated his slaves or denied them basic living standards.
Their owners had a financial stake in that.
Have we really “advanced” as a society?
Today a multinational corporation has no responsibility whatsoever to its workforce and what basic rights they have are being ruthlessly stripped away.
Slaves had clothing, food and a roof over their heads.
If you owned large numbers of them you were spending a fortune just to keep them.
Nowadays, companies pay the bare minimum.
Some even monitor and time bathroom breaks, and deduct wages accordingly.
Some have bugged and spied on their employees.
Others adopt disciplinary systems which are so flexible they can sack pretty much anyone, anytime, on the slightest pretext and no-one can touch them for it.
All of this is bad enough, but nowadays without a job you are demonised and vilified into accepting whatever passes for work, or you lose your right to everything.
In this world, no-one is safe.
All those middle class Tories, who think what Cameron has done is just wonderful, are but one setback away from feeling the full brunt of those changes … and those changes can hit anyone, at any time.
Try paying a modern mortgage with the welfare cap at £20,000 outside London.
You’ll be on the street before long.
Because under this government (and by the sounds of it under the next Labour one, whenever that is) the modern state itself has no responsibility to its people … now, more than ever, you really do have the freedom to go hungry and homeless and to die destitute.
This is civilisation as we know it.
People being treated worse than slaves, worse than animals.
People being pushed into the corner.
Whole communities of them.
Watch what happens next.
Stay tuned to the news.
We’re almost at the breaking point.
These people have suffered enough.
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