Monday, May 05, 2008

A Vision of Good Government

Listening to the radio tonight on the way home from work I heard Hillary Clinton (I guess she was somewhere in Indiana) stumping for the highest office in the land. In a brief radio-clip sound-bite I heard her shouting this applause line, "We need a president who will take care of you, a president who will take care of your family" followed by--the applause. A few hours later, just a few minutes ago, in fact, I came across this coin, an ancient bronze medallion, while doing a little numismatic research. Medallions, then as now, were commemorative pieces, issued to celebrate important events. This particular medallion, struck and issued in 350 A.D. was distributed to his close associates by Constantius II, a son and the successor of Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who ruled from 307 to 337. Constantius consolidated the power accrued by his father and furthered his new phase of Roman governance, now referred to by historians as the "Dominate", as opposed to the "Principate", which was the form of goverment established by the emperor Augustus, some 380 years earlier. The Dominate threw aside all pretense of republican or democratic forms. Instead the emperor consolidated to his person virtually all power; he was the commander-in-chief of the army, he directed the administration of the government bureaus, he issued laws as the chief legislator, and sat in trials as judge and jury. In short, he was AVTOCRATOR: the govenment personified, and holder of all power. For tax purposes, his subjects across the vast Roman empire, which streched from Britain to Syria, were bound under penalty of death to the land they were born on and bound to the craft or profession of their father, regardless of their hopes and aspirations. The social contract was simple: the land holders, farmers and merchants paid their taxes into the Emperor's purse and the Emperor's indigent urban clientele were paid off for their support and acquiescence. You see it here in this coin. The inscriptions read:

DN CONSTAN-TIVS PF AVG: Draped and cuirassed profile of the emperor, wearing a laurel and rosette diadem. On the coin's reverse it reads: LARGI-TIO: The emperor, diademed, in ceremonial robes, enthroned facing, wearing a large belt decorated with jewels, his feet on a footstool, holding a mappa (an attribute of legislative authority) in his left hand; with his right hand he drops coins into the folds of a robe extended to him by Res Publica, who stands turreted and bowed; to his right, Roma stands facing, helmeted, wearing a tunica, her head turned towards the emperor around whose shoulders she puts her right arm, in her left hand she holds a spear.
This, of course, is like the fascism of Mussolini or Hitler. In this coin we see the image of an all powerful, benevolent government designed to take all, in order order to bestow all; the utopian bringer of constant peace and and eternal satisfaction. A steady-state concept of governance, in fact, not unlike modern liberalism, wherein each citizen is to play his or her fixed role in the wheel of life, where all the errant affairs of men must be restored by law to a preconceived notion of balance and perfection and the even the climate of the earth itself must be measured, fixed and constrained to the purposes of government.

D(ominvs) N(oster) CONSTANTIVS P(ius)F(elix) AVG(vstvs): Our Lord Constantius, Dutiful and Good Augustus

LARGITIO: Generous rewards from the government, freely given (largesse or bounty), Res Publica are the the people. Roma signifies the condign authority of the state.

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