Persian Letters

The Persian Letters(1720), written by Charles Montesquieu, was a precursor to some of his greater contributions to the 18th century enlightenment and society.  He’s better known as a political theorist famous for the separation of powers in a republic; most notably the separation between executive, legislative, and judicial powers.   His book Of the Spirit of Laws (1748) was his masterpiece and was more influential than any other book on the founding fathers who wrote the constitution of the United States of America.  The Persian Letters is a good start-off book for anyone interested in reading Montesquieu as it is a much more laid back and easy read than his other works.  The book makes observations of politics, fashion, and religion in 18th century Europe; often times with a healthy dose of satire.  Freedom of religion is another concept Montesquieu influenced us with and is perhaps just as important as any other freedom a person can have. This book demonstrates very well Montesquieu’s disdain for religious intolerance and religious persecution.  Many of my favorite quotes from the book that will be shared in this post series have to do with Montequieu’s view and insight on religion.

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Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus

He steered Rome from a time of civil war and anarchy to a period of civility and prosperity.  He took the title: Princeps, or first amongst equals (i.e. The Benevolent Dictator.)  It’s hard in the end to judge what he did.  These were such different times that they cannot be judged from 2010.  Women were given away by men like commodities.  People were executed.  Children were executed.  It’s so hard to process what it must have been like in 44 BC.   Despite his participation in the debauchery and the executions and the battles where blood was spilled by many, there was an overwhelming reverence for Augustus which is what the title Augustus means: the revered one.  Some people, in fact, believe that the Pax Romana brought to the people of Rome is the basis for the Anno Domini and is an allegory to Augustus.   Perhaps this is because of his brilliant image campaign.  Perhaps public opinion would have been different for Augustus if the common folks knew of what he did behind closed doors.  Lord Acton once gave us a famous quote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Augustus achieved absolute power.

Timeline Part 4 – Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus 63 BC – AD 14

He considered nothing more incumbent on him then to avenge his uncle’s death and maintain the validity of his enactments. – Suetonius

When Julius Caesar was killed there was a vacuum in the heart of the Empire.  There was much uncertainty and there was unrest in the streets.  Immediately, political jockeying was underway to see who would or could take over the Republic.  Most held their ambitions close to the vest as no one could be trusted and confidence in the wrong soul would be met swiftly with murder.

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Gaius Julius Caesar 100 BC – 44 BC

A lot of people in America today don’t realize the powerful influence Rome has had on their everyday lives.  So many fundamental things such as our architecture, our laws, our policies, our religions, our constitution, and our democracy all have ties back to ancient Rome.  When you consider Julius Caesar you might not think about his power and legacy as a military general and politician.  But each year when your calendar reads July, have you ever wondered where the month got its name?  That’s right – July is named after Julius Caesar.  He’s still a part of your everyday life.  Rome put a spell and a stamp on this world many years ago and its influence is still relevant today.  Recognize that Rome hasn’t gone away and is still the origin of so many things you are accustomed to today.  In this author’s opinion, the most pivotal and influential man in all of Roman history has to be Gaius Julius Caesar.  This post is number 3 in a timeline series of posts that are all tagged Timeline.

Timeline Part 3 – Gaius Julius Caesar  100 BC – 44 BC

As a 15 year old, Caesar accompanied his father to the forum to get his first real taste of Roman politics.  Rome’s fast acquisition of territory around Caesar’s time was partly why it was so treacherous toward the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire.  Carthage had just fallen, Hispania was falling, and Gaul was coming into the control of the Romans as well; so much wealth was being acquired at an incredible rate.  The governance of the Republic was enduring significant growing pains.  To seek high office in politics in this time period was a dangerous thing.  I can’t think of a prominent politician that died of natural causes during this time period.  If you were elected into high office, it was likely you would die of murder, in battle, or of suicide.

Caesar’s dad died when he was a teenager and in the Greek tradition, he needed a male protector to help him ascend into adulthood.  Enter Gaius Marius, a wealthy and powerful man that was Caesar’s uncle by marriage with political and military connections.  Marius was a champion to the poor and underprivileged; particularly the plebs like our good friend Tiberius Gracchus.  He had a significant influence on Caesar as a young man.  Marius helped Caesar to grow into a very confident young adult.  Caesar was already dressing differently and making a point to set himself apart from his contemporaries.  In fact, he was already very vain as a teenager.

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Tiberius Gracchus 168BC – 133BC

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This post is part two in a timeline series of posts.  The goal of this post is to examine the impact of Tiberius Gracchus on the republic of Rome.  His life would forever change the complexion of Roman politics as he was the first person to really recognize and leverage the power of the “mob mentality” upon the Senate.  We will also draw some parallels to our American republic as there are some definite similarities.  In the end, as you will see, it is very difficult to ever discern whether a human being’s actions are rooted in evolutionary morality or their self-serving lust of power guised as such.  Although all evidence points to the latter, I have this naïve hope that human beings will one day treat each other ethically, coexist peacefully, and be prosperous.  In that spirit, I choose to believe that Tiberius Gracchus was a man of nobility and magnanimity.  But in truth, we’ll never know and logic tells us that this is unlikely when considering his species.

Timeline Part 2 – Tiberius Gracchus 168BC – 133BC

Like many of his era, his birth year cannot be confirmed.  Tiberius was born sometime in the 2nd century BC.  He was old enough to fight as a junior officer in the third Punic war (149 to 146 BC) pitting Rome against Carthage.  Tiberius was born into political power and influence as was any Roman you will ever read about.  If you were not born with the proper pedigree, you had no chance of being “somebody” in the Roman historical record.  And if you were, your chance of being somebody usually rested on your military success.  Your political success was also hinged upon your military success.  So to recap, your chance of being written about in Roman history rested on 3 basic criteria occurring in this specific order:  1)born into the right family  2) successful military career  3) successful politician.  Each criterion’s opportunity was predicated upon the previous criterion’s occurrence.  Most people were disqualified at step one which is out of their control.  My friend Kirk and I have always referred criterion #1 as “the lucky sperm club” of which, unfortunately, neither of us are members.  Let’s begin with Tiberius’ military career to understand his rise as a politician.

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Loss Gravitas

The Hamburg plant is closing June 8, 2010 and 126 people (white & blue collar) will be let go.  They will be released into the Michigan unemployment ranks in one of the toughest job markets our state has seen for a long time.  This is another bellwether event for our state and our union:  a plant, after existing for 40+ years of prosperity, has lost its way.   Design engineers, manufacturing engineers, quality engineers, managers, administrative clerics, CNC operators, supervisors, human resource personnel, maintenance managers & technicians, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, et al, will be unemployed.  There were over 240 people that worked at this plant as little as 2 years ago and that is a more accurate number of people unemployed as a result of this closing.

The employees of this plant are productive members of society.  These people exemplify what hard work in our American factories and markets mean to the health of our society as a whole.  There was never a time when there wasn’t a struggle at the Hamburg plant, but as I have said about markets and life before, there is always a struggle.  But, this time it’s different.  This time, the struggle will end for this plant that has seen 20% margins for decades.

Why did the plant die?  What are the internal and external factors that rang the death knell for this plant?  Our markets today are subjected to a confluence of events that make it impossible to name one cause to any one event.   We have to look at the prevailing head winds facing our manufacturing industry in America and our economy in general to understand the basic root causes.  That is to say, things like the export of labor to “low cost” nations.  And, the global purchasing strategies of our global business models that leverage the lowest possible price for any and all components in any given bill of materials.

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The Communist Manifesto

I’ve spent a good part of my life talking about how great it is to live in America and how Communism is bad.  I studied sociology and knew that there were different political systems and different economic systems, but I never really ventured to study them in depth.  I never contemplated a bigger meaning of it all or how it all fits together.   One day, while talking smack about Communism and the Communist Manifesto I was asked “have you ever even read it?”  Ah, such a simple question.  It was hard to make an argument about something I hadn’t even read.  The answer was obviously no;  I had not read the Communist Manifesto.  Now that I have read it, I’d like to give my take on it.

There is a fundamental flaw in the Communist Manifesto in that it is not a stand alone idea.  It is not an idea conjured from a blank sheet of paper.  It is born as an “Anti-Capitalist” philosophy.  In order to succeed, a philosophy should fundamentally parallel a natural process in some manner and be able to stand alone.  This is no different than the evolutionary principles of natural selection in the wild:  those which are not best adapted to succeed eventually die off.  A sociopolitical philosophy based entirely on unnatural principles while intoxicated with a hatred of Capitalism is one that is destined for failure.   It’s not entirely difficult, however,  to see the seductiveness of a “new” concept when the discord of the “old” concepts are described so accurately and succinctly.  But, the Communist Manifesto does not do much more than describe the struggles of previous ruling class / working class dichotomies.  I find weakness in this document in its utopian sales pitch even as I cannot find much argument in the cycle of proletarian uprisings and revolutions that are evidenced within it.  My belief is that the struggles and revolutions of all the societies that have gone before us are perhaps better viewed as part of our natural evolution as human beings.  An analogy comes to mind to describe what I think I would say to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels if they were alive today:  don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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Media Bias

My dad watches Fox News.  He hates MSNBC.  Therefore, you have enough information to know how he votes.  Why?  Because the media is biased and you know it.  This post is not against Fox News exclusively, it’s against the news media in general.  They’re feeding the American people information with an agenda and the American people are eating it up.  This is because people like to hear what makes them feel good.  If you’re a Republican, you like the way Fox gives you the news because it makes you feel good about your view points.  If you’re a democrat, you like to watch MSNBC news because it makes you feel good about your viewpoints.

What if the owners of the media groups and the executives in charge wanted to cull certain thoughts you use to form your opinion?  What if they wanted you to think a certain way in order to get you to act in a certain way?  Is that just hogwash conspiracy theory?  Am I a lunatic out on the conspiracy fringe?  I don’t think so.  I think  you can ask yourself logical questions and realize that the news channels are feeding you slanted views.  Just like no one has time to make a good meal anymore, no one has time to get to the bottom of the story anymore.  If you decide to turn off your brain and take whatever they’re giving you, you deserve what you’ll get.

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