Plato said that under tyranny of the master passion, a man becomes in his waking life what he was once only occasionally in his dreams.
In his victory speech of 21 May 2022, Anthony Albanese declared to the Australian people that the government he leads “will respect every one of you every day.”
One year later the insults began to fly.
Perhaps the most vexatious comments were made in a speech given at the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration on 29 May 2023 where he referred to opponents as “Chicken Littles of the past,” a comment which he later doubled down on in a radio interview with Nova FM on 30 May 2023, declaring the need to “be straight with people.”
I confess to being confused. Was he being straight with people when he told them he would respect every single Australian on the night he won the federal election? Or is he being straight with people when he ridicules those who oppose his edicts on the Voice?
He cannot have it both ways. Or can he?
Had historians been on the Prime Minister’s staff, they could have guided him back 2000 years to review what Julius Caesar had done in his attempt to take the temperature of the people when contemplating his next big move.
Caesar was ruthless in his pursuit to become sole ruler of Rome. He aimed for kingship. But the Romans had ended monarchy in 509 BC when the last king, Tarquinius Superbus, was banished and the Republic was born.
Rome would never again be ruled by a king. Any move to usurp the authority of the Senate would be seen by the people as treachery.
At the annual festival of the Lupercalia in 44 BC, Mark Antony, Caesar’s most trusted confidante and fellow Consul, attempted to place a laurel wreath on Caesar’s head as he sat on a gold chair in front of the rostra overseeing festivities. The historian, Appian, narrates the would-be king’s handling of the situation:
“When they saw this, a few people clapped but the majority booed, and Caesar threw away the diadem. Antonius replaced it, but Caesar again threw it away. While they were having this altercation with each other, the people remained quiet, nervous of which way the episode would end, but when Caesar carried his point, they roared their delight and applauded him for not accepting the diadem.”
Despite public opinion being against Mr Albanese’s proposal, and suggestions from various political quarters to withdraw, delay or compromise on the Voice referendum, he is refusing to do so.
Now, the comparison I’m about to draw will undoubtedly elicit gasps of horror from the reader. But I assure you it is merely to make the point that hubris is the common denominator of political leadership no matter the skill of the leader or millennium.
Caesar considered the Republic as insubstantial and admonished its very existence. The historian, Suetonius, wrote of Caesar’s arrogance:
“The Republic is nothing – just a name, without substance or form; Sulla was a fool when he gave up the dictatorship; men should now have more consideration in speaking with me and regard what I say as law.”
Today’s political left continually declares how progressive they are, hence, any talk of dictatorship in the modern West would be laughable – surely?
Mr Albanese told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on 14 August that if he were dictator, he would ban social media. Yes, this was a hypothetical question put to him, saying that he doesn’t support dictatorships. But two ominous points emerge:
- Perhaps he should have declined to answer such a hypothetical and sinister suggestion given that we are a democracy.
- The fact that he highlighted social media, the very tool used to communicate and share thoughts and deemed to be the right of free people, is authoritarian in its very uttering.
Add to that, his comments to faith groups on 22 February 2021 that individualism is a “dangerous fantasy,” and an “indulgence ill-suited to the current reality,” and it reveals a leader stuck more in the ancient past than in the progressive present.
Here ends the one mirroring example of two very different leaders in very different times. Gasping can now cease!
Caesar was a master strategist, so when it came to public admonishment, personal insults would not do for the man who would be king. A peek into his playbook would perhaps serve Mr Albanese’s cause better.
Julius Caesar met his end with a brutal slaying by 23 stab wounds in the Roman forum. Australia in 2023 exists within the boundaries of law, not violence, so time will reveal the political fate of Anthony Albanese following the outcome of the referendum.
Politicians love to tell the people how much they value their vote and respect their opinions. It would augur well if they recognised that winning respect is not achieved through coercion and insults.
That, they must earn.
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Gerardine is a Roman historian, with specific interest in Rome’s foundation up to the end of the Republic. She advocates that history gifts us with wisdom for the mind and nourishment for the soul, and keenly defends the ancients’ legacy of civic society, law, and government.