Can’t put my finger on the movie at the moment, but in this (SciFi?) yarn there is a scene something like this: the up and coming minions deliver the hero to the evil overlord, who says ‘nice work’ and then orders his guards to kill all the surprised-looking henchmen.
Why the surprise, O ye freshly-dead former minions? Were you not paying attention? Did you not notice the tactics your overlord uses? If he’s deceitful, violent, evil and enjoys the exercise of raw power, why would you suppose you would not get machine-gunned when he was through with you?
Similar scenes abound in movies and literature: the loyal servant of the evil master get axed right when he’s thinking he’ll get praised or rewarded. It’s almost like poetic justice or something.
Tacitus tells of Sejanus, a wiley, ambitious and ruthless schemer who works his way into the confidence of the Emperor Tiberius, becoming the captain of the Praetorian Guard. From this lofty perch, Sejanus used his power to, on the one hand, do Tiberius’s dirty work of offing potential threats to the throne and anyone else who had displeased the Emperor, and, on the other, purging Rome of any rivals to Sejanus himself. Sejanus figured that, if he played his cards right, he would end up emperor himself.
You can guess how that turned out: eventually, Tiberius identified Sejanus as a threat, and he got executed and his body thrown down the Gemonian stairs, where the crowd tore it to pieces. His family, including two young children, were also executed. (Aside: Imperial Rome – paganism at its finest.)
And on and on it goes: the climb to favor followed by a fall and death of those who the throne finds useful for a time is a dreary constant of history. One effect of the near-total ignorance of history evident in American political life is the failure of various individuals and interest groups to suspect that they might be next on the chopping block.
But this can’t happen in America, right? We don’t do such things! Right. As our governments become more ‘efficient’ and less constrained by pesky laws and customs, they grow to more and more resemble empires. More than at any time in my 55 year life, trial balloons are being floated to test the public’s reception of the heavy-handed crushing of rights in the name of getting stuff done and keeping people safe: everything from Woody Allen wanting Obama to just be king for a while, to Melissa Harris-Perry arguing that our children are community property to be raised as the state feel fit, to the HHS mandate and the executive right to execute anybody at any time anywhere with no appeal or review. Taken together, doesn’t that describe a People’s Republic or a Caliphate pretty well?
Empires are mafias scaled up – the Don provides peace and order, after his fashion, in exchange for a cut of all action and the tacit agreement of the ruled to look the other way when he needs to off some people. They had it coming anyway, the troublemakers. Outside the Family, the world breaks down into roughly the courtiers and the sheep. Courtiers try to prove their worth and loyalty, mostly by eagerly doing the dirty work, with Sejanus’s hope of maybe becoming Family someday. The sheep try to lay low and hide from the wolves.
But Yazhov never saw it coming until it was too late. Even though the success versus die trying rate for courtiers seems to be very, very low, they never seem to realize that it is only a matter of time. I’ve got to wonder if this ever occurs to gay rights activists – do they really imagine that the powers that be love them, somehow, and will fight for their alleged rights for purely principled reasons? Does it not occur to them that the second they or their demands cease to be useful to the holders of power, they will be cast out without even a shrug or a second thought? Do they wonder about how, as we slip into Empire at home as well as abroad, and slip back into paganism, the rights they seek will be protected by nothing more than the whim of the Emperor? Emperors are pretty fickle, and tolerate uppity people only exactly as far and as long as they are useful. Then the line that runs through Sejanus and Robespierre and Yazhov and million others will run through them as well.
Then, the irony kicks in: the same Church that is now saying: “We love you, fellow children of God, but we cannot in truth give our assent to what you want, because to do so would be to deny your humanity” will revert to saying what it has said for centuries: “We love you, fellow children of God, and will defend your rights against those who would deny your humanity. “