“The Worst Sort of Tyrant: The Philosophic Doctrinaire”

The other day, I mentioned Charles Oman’s Seven Roman Statesmen of the Later Republic and his description Tiberius Gracchus. Here is the brilliant conclusion to his chapter on the revolutionary “justice” reformer. I had considered making a sarcastic comment about how this has absolutely no application to anything contemporary, including within the church. But instead I will just say that this absolutely has a lot of application to many things contemporary, especially within the church.

Due to his subversion of the Roman constitution, Gracchus (and many others) were killed by a mob led by Publius Scipio Nasica. We’ll let Oman take over from there.

Thus miserably perished a young man of excellent intentions and perfect honesty, who thought himself destined to be the regenerator of Rome, and merely succeeded in launching the state upon a hundred years of bitter civil strife. No man is fit for a party leader who combines an emotional temperament, an impatience of opposition, and a complete inability to look at contested questions from his opponent’s point of view as well as his own. It is probable that Tiberius was attempting an impossible task: without the introduction of Protections agriculture was doomed in Central Italy, and Protection could not be got, because it was against the interests of the urban multitude. But the agrarian question had to be fought out, and the contest, if waged with the usual gravity and self-restraint of ancient Roman politics, need not have ended in confiscation without compensation on the one side, or riot and massacre on the other. For the course that events took Gracchus himself must bear the responsibility: his enemies were greedy and narrow-minded, but he himself was harsh, reckless, and provocative beyond measure. When, in a moment of pique, he struck out the compensation clauses from his bill, he challenged the possessores to a fight to the death. Morally speaking there can be no doubt that they were entitled to some sort of amends for being evicted, without warning, from estates which they and their fathers had occupied for several generations. Having ruined many men of mark and impoverished many more, Tiberius had secured for himself an enmity that was bound to end either in his death or exile, or in his being compelled to seize autocratic power. His means were even worse than his ends: no statesman has a right to pull down the constitution about the ears of the people, the moment that he finds himself checked in his designs. However bad a constitution may be, the man who upsets it, before he has arranged for anything to be put in its place, is a criminal and an anarchist, if he knows what he is doing, a mischievous madman if he does not. It would seem from the general bent of the reformer’s character that it is to the latter class that he must be consigned. He had many private virtues,–but so had Robespierre: a man may be eloquent, incorruptible, and thoroughly convinced of his own good intentions, but if he is sufficiently reckless, vain, and autolatrous, he may blossom out in the the worst sort of tyrant–the philosophic doctrinaire. Looking at the emotional and impatient character of Tiberius, it is quite possible to conceive that, if that scuffle on the Capitol had had another result, he might ultimately have become that which his enemies declared that he wished to be–the tyrant of Rome.


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