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Belmont Club

The First Emperor

November 10th, 2012 - 7:35 am

Kremlinology was the term once used to describe the methods employed to  “to understand the inner workings of an opaque central government”, the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to “read between the lines” and to use the tiniest tidbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as “First Secretary”, the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper “Pravda” and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.

It has since come to mean the desperate measures one must to resort to get at something called the Truth in opaque regimes, which is difficult because in an opaque regime nothing is as it seems. Two incidents from history, one ancient and one modern illustrate how the official story is not always the real one.

The polity of the Roman Empire had not quite reconciled itself to the new system of despotism when a group of insiders made a confused attempt to play under the new rules. The political factions were torn between the urge to “beat them or join them” — a feeling that the GOP knows today.  The Pisonian conspiracy is the name given to an attempt by a group of prominent Romans to unseat the Emperor Nero and replace him with Gaius Calpurnius Piso. “The conspirators were said to have varying motives; some were imperialists and others were pro-republic” and involved elements of the Praetorian Guard.

It failed when the plot was betrayed by a lower ranking member of the conspiratorial circle. Nero’s revenge on the conspirators was savage. But he faced a delicate problem in the person of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, his tutor and adviser. Men of such prominence had to appear to leave the public scene decorously; for it would cause a scandal to drag them off in chains.

Such men were asked to commit suicide. “In 65 [AD], Seneca was caught up in the aftermath of the Pisonian conspiracy, a plot to kill Nero. Although it is unlikely that he conspired, he was ordered by Nero to kill himself.” For the good of the state. Men like Seneca had few alternatives.  Their large families would be ruined and killed unless they complied.

Tacitus says that Seneca told his family to remember “their maxims of philosophy” and live them out now that they had come to the sticking point. As for himself, Seneca said that he knew that a day like this would come. “Who knew not Nero’s cruelty? After a mother’s and a brother’s murder, nothing remains but to add the destruction of a guardian and a tutor.”  These words might have been spoken in the context of the Mafia. Perhaps all elites are some form of Mafiosi.

A more recent and perhaps better known example of political suicide was the ‘suicide’ of Erwin Rommel. Rommel was one of Hitler’s most famous and popular generals. He was also a secret enemy of the Fuhrer. Following the failure of Operation Valykrie Rommel’s name became linked with the anti-Hitler conspirators. Like Seneca his departure had to be handled discreetly.

Erwin Rommel’s son, Manfred, described the scene when the SS came.

At about twelve o’clock a dark-green car with a Berlin number stopped in front of our garden gate. The only men in the house apart from my father, were Captain Aldinger [ Rommel's aide] , a badly wounded war-veteran corporal and myself. Two generals – Burgdorf, a powerful florid man, and Maisel, small and slender – alighted from the car and entered the house. They were respectful and courteous and asked my father’s permission to speak to him alone. Aldinger and I left the room. ‘So they are not going to arrest him,’ I thought with relief, as I went upstairs to find myself a book.

A few minutes later I heard my father come upstairs and go into my mother’s room. Anxious to know what was afoot, I got up and followed him. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face pale. ‘Come outside with me,’ he said in a tight voice. We went into my room. ‘I have just had to tell your mother,’ he began slowly, ‘that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour.’ He was calm as he continued: ‘To die by the hand of one’s own people is hard. But the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason. ‘ “In view of my services in Africa,” ‘ he quoted sarcastically, ‘I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It’s fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you. They will also leave my staff alone.’

‘Do you believe it?’ I interrupted. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement.’

The official public story was that Rommel had died of his wounds. They even gave him a state funeral, with a big wreath from the Fuhrer. Even Rommel’s family was cowed into silence. The true facts surrounding Rommel’s death emerged only during the Nuremburg trials, after Wilhelm Keitel testified to what really happened.

How many such deceptions have occurred through the ages? Perhaps through the annals of man the official truth has often been at variance the actual narrative of events. This realization has led some scholars to claim that we live in a “world without truth”; that all history consists of lies. This idea is especially popular in the Left, who are forever debunking Christmas, Thanksgiving, Columbus and the Boy Scouts. Perhaps the reason they feel certain that history consists entirely of lies is because they have made up most of them.

But the moral black hole it creates is genuine.  Kelly Monroe Kullberg, in her book Finding God Beyond Harvard spoke of her search for the truth — any truth. For “without a transcendent truth breaking into our world and revealing reality, we’re left to our imaginings, despair and power games. The power brokers thrive in a world without truth, for their invent their own, and few have the moral verve to stop them. A world without truth is a recipe for disaster.”

She had to find out if the truth existed anywhere; for at Harvard the conventional wisdom was that the truth was a mythical beast, like the unicorn, which no one had lately seen.

By and by it dawned on her that the truth was in fact everywhere. It had to be. Otherwise airplanes would not fly, computers would not function nor the planets stay on their courses. “The elegant mathematical forms encoded in nature, the nineteen universal constant that are exactly what they must be” were the stuff that kept the world turning. The truth was omnipresent whenever we looked outside the narrow boundaries of the heart of man.

And why was it absent there? Because men wanted to create their own truth.  We don’t live in a ‘world without truth’ we simply abide on an island of lies of our own construction. Kremlins are made by man and maintained at immense cost. Thousands if not millions of people are constantly busy patching up the walls of that fortress with the mortar of falsehood lest reality leak in.

Outside the artificial walls lies don’t work. They create high prices, shortages, unemployment, military disaster. But inside the walls the lies work miracles.

The opaqueness of regimes — the Kremlins of the world — is a self adopted metric of power. The intensity of falsehood measures the degree to which they can exclude the facts from their own kingdoms of darkness. It’s a temperature, like airconditioning.  For there is no measure of power as impressive as the ability to lie and get millions to accept it as true. Thus the actual function of official journalism has never been to write “the first draft of history”, but to plaster the ramparts with lies.

Perhaps the root cause of the Fall of Empires — whether the Roman or the Third Reich — is they eventually poison the wellsprings of their own fact. They dissimulate until even their statistics and their ‘facts’ are contaminated and the loop closes. They act upon the falsehoods they themselves have made up and thus go off the cliff. All tyrannies die in the end from madness, and each approaches the end with the vague notion that this could not be happening to them. But by then there is nothing to grasp, even their tools have become shadows.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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