Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rumination on Livy

So the other night I was reading some Livy and I came across the following passage, pertaining to the incompetence and arrogance of two particular magistrates (translation mine):

"Yet these men, condemned ahead of time and cut to the core by so many judgments, came to the judgment of the people and believed that they were no longer in harm's way and had paid sufficient penalty, because they had been stripped of their office two months early; and they did not understand that simply the power to harm had been stripped from them, and punishment had not yet been imposed..."(Ab Urbe Condita, Book V, Chp. 11)
It seems to me that such an attitude exists among so many of our modern-day public officials, most notably those in Washington, D.C. What else can explain the mantra of "Looking Forward," so frequently mouthed by those in power, especially in regard to Bush Era torture and detention policy.

We are told that because the Bush Administration is no longer in office - that is, the power to harm has been stripped from them - the problem has been solved, and there's no need to dig around and actually punish anyone for anything. Why, they're no longer in authority, isn't that punishment enough? But, as this passage notes, the separation from the ability to do harm and punishment for harms committed are two separate issues. To be sure, the first is necessary, without which thing there can be no hope of redress, but only the second action establishes the precedent that wrongs will be made right, regardless of the political stature.

This is why I find it fair to say that the Obama Administration is not the sharp break from the Bush Administration that some would like. Yes, there has been tinkering around the edges - tinkering that has aroused deranged opposition all the same - but the main structure and system remains largely intact.

1 comment:

Joe Stockley said...

Funny how the present echoes the past.