Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

"This phrase originates from Rome in Satire X of the Roman satirist and poet Juvenal (circa A.D. 100). In context, the Latin metaphor panem et circenses (bread and circuses) identifies the only remaining cares of a new Roman populace which cares not for tis historical birthright of political involvement. Here Juvenal displays his contempt for the declining heroism of his contemporary Romans. Roman politicians devised a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes of these new citizens: giving out cheap food and entertainment, "bread and circuses", would be the most effective way to rise to power.
…Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties, for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions--everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.
…iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circensus. (Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81)
Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to ROman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power. The Annona (grain dole) was begun under the instigation of the popularis politician Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in 123 B.C.; it remained an object of political contention until it was taken under the control of the autocratic Roman emperors."

Wikipedia: Bread and Circuses

A more contemporary take on the subject by the Grandmaster of Science Fiction, Robert A. Heinlein:

"Bread and Circuses"--From Robert Heinlein
In 'To Sail Beyond The Sunset', the last of Heinlein's Lazarus Long stories, Lazarus discusses a dynamic that I think is rampant today. Food for thought for all newly elected politicians.
From handouts to bailouts to…?
"A perfect democracy, a 'warm body' democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally has no internal feedback for self correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens…which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-respect of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it..which for the majority translates as 'Bread and Circuses'.
"Bread and Circuses is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death or in its weakened state succumbs to an invader--the barbarians enter Rome."
 Bonilogue on Heinlein

Today, Obamacare and "Obama phones" and the Farm Bill and mortgage "forgiveness" and the discharge of student loans and so on are the equivalent of the plebs' bread.

Let us hope we may yet turn away from the approaching winter of the American Era without too much pain and discontent.