Right to Kill Caesar: A Vindication of Brutus
There are more students studying Ancient History at senior levels in NSW than in all of the United Kingdom. This, I was vouchsafed by the Board of Studies. It is a vindication of our government’s decision to introduce history – ancient and modern – at a very advanced level called Extension History in the NSW curriculum. Indeed, a vindication of our school curriculum, the best in Australia.
That was on display last night, when at Macquarie University I joined staff and students to debate the proposition that “Brutus was right.”
I argued that Brutus was a Claus von Stauffenberg in his commitment to block dictatorship and imperialism with a deft public assassination.
My argument was based on the proposition that Caesarism had the following characteristics:
- domestic dictatorship,
- a ravenous love of war,
- endless wars of imperial expansion,
- war crimes, in prosecution of these wars.
Thus Caesar provided a template that was adhered to by Napoleon who said on his way back to France after his disastrous invasion of Russia that, “Of course, the death of a million men doesn’t matter to a man like me.” A perfect summation, in fact, of Caesarian orthodoxy. Other exemplars of Caesarism were Hitler and Mussolini: a “great” man, the myth of the political saviour who will rescue his people from the untidy rule of factions and parties and bring glory through foreign conquest.
Equally potent arguments were presented by my colleagues Professor Tom Hilliard and student Amy Smith for an audience of 500.
We lost. The cause of the republican liberators went down to defeat. Former Senator Steve Loosley, leading the Caesarian party, was able to claim triumph when the hands were counted by university vice chancellor Steven Schwartz. Damn, I can’t even claim it was close.
There was a devastating argument I might have thrown in, given that my friend Loosley is a former general secretary of the NSW ALP and the public believes he and his colleagues have had some experience in political assassinations. Given the recent history of the office Loosley’s abhorrence of political murder might have been questioned. But even that argument may not have worked. There is too much sympathy for the myth of Caesar, perhaps because he was murdered before he faced his Waterloo and the mob, up till now bribed with handouts and circuses had turned on him.