The merits of Cincinnatus

Doug Bailey writes at Stuff:

A few years ago, former British Foreign Secretary, now Lord, Douglas Hurd, spoke to a Wellington audience about the erosion of western parliamentary democracy. One cause of that decline, he said, was the raw and untested character of an increasing number of MPs.

“Where once the ladder to Parliament lay at the end of a career in commerce, public service, or the union movement, today it runs direct from the University Common Room.”

A problem not just in the UK.

A stint in student politics, a journeyman apprenticeship as a go-fer in the office of some well-placed MP, then sponsorship to a party’s administrative cadre, followed by nomination to a seat as safe as internal manoeuvring will allow. And then the succession of political prizes: election, recognition on the back benches, a junior ministry, and, for the stayer, the particularly able or the outright ruthless, the premiership – first (but most definitely not) among equals.

More and more MPs are following this path.

And what of ?

In the early days of the Roman Republic the Senate, confronted by military disaster, appealed to Cincinnatus, a colleague fallen on hard times. Going to his small farmstead, they offered him the position of dictator. He accepted, took military command and won their victory. Two weeks after assuming power he resigned and returned to his fields. A few years later, threatened this time by a coup, the Senate once again offered Cincinnatus the dictatorship. Again he accepted and again, having resolved things, he downed tools and went home.

In the process he became legend, not for his prowess as politician and general, but for his consistent placement of service to the Republic above self-interest. His was an ethos that we recognise, still hope for in our politicians and applaud when we see it. 

To some degree Washington is our modern Cincinnatus. He could have kept power for a very long time, but decided eight years was enough, setting a precedent only one US President has broken.

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