The “Charter 08 Manifesto” initiated by Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists in 2008


There is much currently said, written and felt about the rise of China’s economic and political power in the world. I offer this view from the inside for some perspective on the discussion.

All of the following was written by someone else. I have performed a small amount of formatting and editing to promote clarity.

Charter 08 is a manifesto initially signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists.[1] It was published on 10 December 2008, the 60th anniversary of the [UN’s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopting name and style from the anti-Soviet Charter 77 issued by dissidents in Czechoslovakia.[2] Since its release, more than 10,000 people inside and outside of China have signed the charter.[3][4] One of the authors of Charter 08, Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. [Source]

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I. Foreword

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A hundred years have passed since the writing of China’s first constitution. 2008 also marks the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the [United Nations] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the thirtieth anniversary of the appearance of Democracy Wall in Beijing, and the tenth of China’s signing of the [United Nations] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 1989Tiananmen massacre of pro-democracy student protesters. The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

By departing from these values, the Chinese government’s approach to “modernization” has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse. So we ask: Where is China headed in the twenty-first century? Will it continue with “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system?

There can be no avoiding these questions. The shock of the Western impact upon China in the nineteenth century laid bare a decadent authoritarian system and marked the beginning of what is often called “the greatest changes in thousands of years” for China. A “self-strengthening movement” followed, but this aimed simply at appropriating the technology to build gunboats and other Western material objects. China’s humiliating naval defeat at the hands of Japan in1895 only confirmed the obsolescence of China’s system of government.

The first attempts at modern political change came with the ill-fated summer of reforms in 1898, but these were cruelly crushed by ultraconservatives at China’s imperial court. With the revolution of 1911, which inaugurated Asia’s first republic, the authoritarian imperial system that had lasted for centuries was finally supposed to have been laid to rest. But social conflict inside our country and external pressures were to prevent it; China fell into a patchwork of warlord fiefdoms and the new republic became a fleeting dream.

The failure of both “self-strengthening” and political renovation caused many of our forebears to reflect deeply on whether a “cultural illness” was afflicting our country. This mood gave rise, during the May Fourth Movement of the late 1910s, to the championing of “science and democracy.” Yet that effort, too, foundered as warlord chaos persisted and the Japanese invasion [beginning in Manchuria in 1931] brought national crisis.

Victory over Japan in 1945 offered one more chance for China to move toward modern government, but the Communist defeat of the Nationalists in the civil war thrust the nation into the abyss of totalitarianism. The “new China” that emerged in 1949 proclaimed that “the people are sovereign” but in fact set up a system in which “the Party is all-powerful.”

The Communist Party of China seized control of all organs of the state and all political, economic, and social resources, and, using these, has produced a long trail of human rights disasters, including, among many others, the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), the June Fourth (Tiananmen Square) Massacre (1989), and the current repression of all unauthorized religions and the suppression of the Weiquan Rights Movement.

During all this, the Chinese people have paid a gargantuan price. Tens of millions have lost their lives, and several generations have seen their freedom, their happiness, and their human dignity cruelly trampled. During the last two decades of the twentieth century the government policy of “Reform and Opening” gave the Chinese people relief from the pervasive poverty and totalitarianism of the Mao Zedong era and brought substantial increases in the wealth and living standards of many Chinese as well as a partial restoration of economic freedom and economic rights.

Civil society began to grow, and popular calls for more rights and more political freedom have grown apace. As the ruling elite itself moved toward private ownership and the market economy, it began to shift from an outright rejection of “rights” to a partial acknowledgment of them. In 1998 the Chinese government signed two important international human rights conventions; in 2004 it amended its constitution to include the phrase “respect and protect human rights”; and this year, 2008, it has promised to promote a “national human rights action plan.”

Unfortunately most of this political progress has extended no further than the paper on which it is written. The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change. The stultifying results are endemic official corruption, an undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, crony capitalism, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, pillage of the natural environment as well as of the human and historical environments, and the exacerbation of a long list of social conflicts, especially, in recent times, a sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people.

As these conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we seethe powerless in our society²the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas²becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.

II. Our Fundamental Principles

This is a historic moment for China, and our future hangs in the balance. In reviewing the political modernization process of the past hundred years or more, we reiterate and endorse basic universal values as follows:

Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights
Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief²are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule
Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

III. What We Advocate

Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the world; in China, too, the era of emperors and overlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states. For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an “enlightened overlord” or an “honest official” and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy, and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty. Accordingly, and in a spirit of this duty as responsible and constructive citizens, we offer the following recommendations on national governance, citizens’ rights, and social development:

1. A New Constitution
We should recast our present constitution, rescinding its provisions that contradict the principle that sovereignty resides with the people and turning it into a document that genuinely guarantees human rights, authorizes the exercise of public power, and serves as the legal underpinning of China’s democratization. The constitution must be the highest law in the land, beyond violation by any individual, group, or political party.

2. Separation of powers
We should construct a modern government in which the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive power is guaranteed. We need an Administrative Law that defines the scope of government responsibility and prevents abuse of administrative power. Government should be responsible to taxpayers. Division of power between provincial governments and the central government should adhere to the principle that central powers are only those specifically granted by the constitution and all other powers belong to the local governments.

3. Legislative democracy
Members of legislative bodies at all levels should be chosen by direct election, and legislative democracy should observe just and impartial principles.

4. An Independent Judiciary
The rule of law must be above the interests of any particular political party and judges must be independent. We need to establish a constitutional supreme court and institute procedures for constitutional review. As soon as possible, we should abolish all of the Committees on Political and Legal Affairs that now allow Communist Party officials at every level to decide politically-sensitive cases in advance and out of court. We should strictly forbid the use of public offices for private purposes.

5. Public Control of Public Servants
The military should be made answerable to the national government, not to a political party, and should be made more professional. Military personnel should swear allegiance to the constitution and remain nonpartisan. Political party organizations shall be prohibited in the military.

All public officials including police should serve as nonpartisans, and the current practice of favoring one political party in the hiring of public servants must end.

6. Guarantee of Human Rights
There shall be strict guarantees of human rights and respect for human dignity. There should be a Human Rights Committee, responsible to the highest legislative body that will prevent the government from abusing public power in violation of human rights. A democratic and constitutional China especially must guarantee the personal freedom of citizens. No one shall suffer illegal arrest, detention, arraignment, interrogation, or punishment. The system of “Reeducation through Labor” must be abolished.

7. Election of Public Officials
There shall be a comprehensive system of democratic elections based on “one person, one vote.” The direct election of administrative heads at the levels of county, city, province, and nation should be systematically implemented. The rights to hold periodic free elections and to participate in them as a citizen are inalienable.

8. Rural/Urban Equality
The two-tier household registry system must be abolished. This system favors suburban residents and harms rural residents. We should establish instead a system that gives every citizen the same constitutional rights and the same freedom to choose where to live.

9. Freedom to Form Groups
The right of citizens to form groups must be guaranteed. The current system for registering nongovernment groups, which requires a group to be “approved,” should be replaced by a system in which a group simply registers itself. The formation of political parties should be governed by the constitution and the laws, which means that we must abolish the special privilege of one party to monopolize power and must guarantee principles of free and fair competition among political parties.

10. Freedom to Assemble
The constitution provides that peaceful assembly, demonstration, protest, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights of a citizen. The ruling party and the government must not be permitted to subject these to illegal interference or unconstitutional obstruction.

11. Freedom of Expression
We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision. These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press. The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to “the crime of incitement to subvert state power” must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.

12. Freedom of Religion
We must guarantee freedom of religion and belief and institute a separation of religion and state. There must be no governmental interference in peaceful religious activities. We should abolish any laws, regulations, or local rules that limit or suppress the religious freedom of citizens. We should abolish the current system that requires religious groups (and their places of worship) to get official approval in advance and substitute for it a system in which registry is optional and, for those who choose to register, automatic.

13. Civic Education
In our schools we should abolish political curriculums and examinations that are designed to indoctrinate students in state ideology and to instill support for the rule of one party. We should replace them with civic education that advances universal values and citizens’ rights, fosters civic consciousness, and promotes civic virtues that serve society.

14. Protection of Private Property
We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

15. Financial and Tax Reform
We should establish a democratically regulated and accountable system of public finance that ensures the protection of taxpayer rights and that operates through legal procedures. We need a system by which public revenues that belong to a certain level of government²central, provincial, county or local²are controlled at that level. We need major tax reform that will abolish any unfair taxes, simplify the tax system, and spread the tax burden fairly. Government officials should not be able to raise taxes, or institute new ones, without public deliberation and the approval of a democratic assembly. We should reform the ownership system in order to encourage competition among a wider variety of market participants.

16. Social Security
We should establish a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, health care, retirement security, and employment.

17. Protection of the Environment
We need to protect the natural environment and to promote development in a way that is sustainable and responsible to our descendants and to the rest of humanity. This means insisting that the state and its officials at all levels not only do what they must do to achieve these goals, but also accept the supervision and participation of non-governmental organizations.

18. A Federated Republic
A democratic China should seek to act as a responsible major power contributing toward peace and development in the Asian Pacific region by approaching others in a spirit of equality and fairness. In Hong Kong and Macao, we should support the freedoms that already exist. With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals, and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification. We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish. We should aim ultimately at a federation of democratic communities of China.

19. Truth in Reconciliation
We should restore the reputations of all people, including their family members, who suffered political stigma in the political campaigns of the past or who have been labeled as criminals because of their thought, speech, or faith. The state should pay reparations to these people. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience must be released. There should be a Truth Investigation Commission charged with finding the facts about past injustices and atrocities, determining responsibility for them, upholding justice, and, on these bases, seeking social reconciliation.

China, as a major nation of the world, as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and as a member of the UN Council on Human Rights, should be contributing to peace for humankind and progress toward human rights. Unfortunately, we stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics. Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby not only constricting China’s own development but also limiting the progress of all of human civilization. This must change, truly it must.

The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer. Accordingly, we dare to put civic spirit into practice by announcing Charter 08. We hope that our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, will set aside small differences to embrace the broad goals of this citizens’ movement.

Together we can work for major changes in Chinese society and for the rapid establishment of a free, democratic, and constitutional country. We can bring to reality the goals and ideals that our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years, and can bring a brilliant new chapter to Chinese civilization.


Nuclear Arms in Europe: Who are the Adversaries?

This question arises from a comment made by Daryl G. Press, PhD at a seminar on “Nuclear Weapons and European Security—a good match?” in Stockholm, on 26 January this year.

Additionally, the seminar’s title raises the question of the potential enemy against which Europe remains armed, through NATO and therefore through the USA, with nuclear weapons. The Cold War is over. The quick answer is that the potential adversaries are found in East Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The full sentence uttered by Dr. Press that gives rise to this article’s title is, from my notes: “We need to be publicly frank about who really are the adversaries, otherwise our communications will lead toward hypocrisy.”

The sponsors of the seminar were the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI). The participants and their credentials are listed at the bottom.

Doomsday Clock

To frame the question more fully, here are essential facts gleaned from the seminar and the Internet:

  1. What kind of nuclear arms are there and what are their purposes?
  2. Which are the nations that have nuclear arms, and how many?
  3. What are factors affecting the continued development and maintenance of nuclear arms?

Strategic: weapons with the greatest range of delivery, with the ability to threaten the adversary’s command and control structure, even though they are based many thousands of miles away in friendly territory. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are the primary delivery platforms for strategic nuclear weapons. The main purpose of strategic weapons is in the deterrence role, under the theory of mutually assured destruction.

Tactical, or “non-strategic”: battlefield weapons, used by a theater commander to offset a numerically superior force. They will be targeted based on rapidly changing local circumstances, not pre-targeted like a strategic weapon. However, even the smallest nuclear weapon is considered a “threshold decision” and is under the control of the highest national authorities, not local commanders. (Source)

Active non-deployed: spare and “responsive” warheads, i.e., those warheads that could be returned to the field quickly to increase the number of deployed warheads. All active warheads are filled with limited life components (e.g., tritium) and are maintained through regular surveillance schedules.

Inactive: warheads still intact but with their tritium removed; thus, it would take longer to return them to service upon a decision to do so.

Nations with Nuclear Arms and their Numbers

deployed warheads 2010

Note: “Deployed” include strategic and tactical warheads. “Other warheads” are active and inactive non-deployed warheads.

Although not discussed in the seminar, the seemingly clear distinction between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons is no longer clear:

It is estimated that there are about 2,500 weapons designated as ‘tactical’, of which Russia possesses over 2,000. The United States has fewer than 500, and deploys around 200 of these on the territory of five European countries in accordance with agreements between the United States and its NATO allies. To describe these as ‘tactical’ or ‘theatre’ nuclear weapons (TNW) is misleading outside the context of the Cold War, when over 10,000 were deployed. Though China, France, Israel, India and Pakistan also have short to intermediate range weapons in their arsenals, it is unlikely that these would be classified as ‘tactical’ and considered distinct from these countries’ longer range (strategic) nuclear arsenals. Nowadays it is understood that any crossing of the threshold to use nuclear weapons would have strategic consequences.
(Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy).

Nonetheless, at least two of the four panelists made this distinction due, I believe, to the fact that governments and the communication media still use the terms. There seems to be a lag time between the development of current realities and the ability of the diplomatic and other organizational machinery, and the media, to keep pace. Also, publicly discussing the reduction of the number of strategic warheads provides good political theater for politicians in Russia and the USA.

Using the questionable distinction, it seems that strategic weapons, holdovers in Russia and the USA from the Cold War, are less of a threat than the smaller (but extremely destructive in their potential), tactical weapons. To quote further from the Acronym Institute:

Tactical nuclear weapons are portable, vulnerable and readily usable. They are potentially destabilizing and create additional risks and insecurities, including possible acquisition and use by terrorists. The risk of terrorist acquisition should not be over-stated, and the bombs are protected by a variety of timers, switches, mechanical and electronic locks and procedural safeguards against any attempt to bring about an unauthorised nuclear explosion, but the possibility of detonating at least a radiological ‘dirty’ bomb cannot be discounted.

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev after signing the new START treaty

The latest START treaty deals only with strategic weapons, those held solely by Russia and the USA:

Under terms of the treaty, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half. The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, as well as 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty… It will also limit the number of deployed and non-deployed inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800. Also, it will limit the number of deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 700. The treaty allows for satellite and remote monitoring, as well as 18 on-site inspections per year to verify limits…The treaty places no limits on tactical systems… (Source). [Emphasis added by Pavellas].

NATO’s “tactical” nuclear bombs in Europe are all owned by the United States and are stored under the control of the US Air Force. So, a discussion about Europe’s security necessarily involves discussion of NATO and the USA, which it did during this seminar.

Although the tone of my article, so far, may be seen as toward the negative, the full discussion by the panel’s participants provided many nuggets which I duly offer here:

  • The new START Treaty is a positive development in that it will cause a reduction in nuclear warheads, will restore the idea of nuclear accountability and provides a legal framework for reduction.
  • For nations, it is quietly recognized that tactical nuclear weapons have no military value, but are used primarily for political purposes, e.g., in “signaling” other nations about capabilities and intentions. (This does not address the dangers of nuclear arms in the possession of non-nation entities, such as terrorist organizations).
  • The domino theory of nuclear arms proliferation (i.e., if country A gets them it will induce country B to get them) is contestable by the facts. For instance, North Korea has them, but South Korea doesn’t and says it won’t. But, of course, the USA has promised to defend South Korea.
  • Existing nuclear warheads need to be maintained to be operational, and this is a costly enterprise. The implication is that older warheads will not be maintained fully over time and that there will be a decline in their numbers and capability, everywhere. However, new warheads can be produced by those countries with the means in the “tactical” realm without violating treaties and other public promises.
  • Other perceived threats to humans seem more immediate and needful for attention that the funding of nuclear weapon development, such as: climate change, pandemics and secure national borders.
  • There is increasing transparency (i.e., visibility) of those activities that threaten national and world stability. This transparency aids the work of civil, i.e., non-governmental, advocacy organizations such as IKFF, university research departments and private think tanks, some of  which were represented at this seminar (see below). Timely and publicly available oversight by such organizations can lead to more timely responses to threats to peace and freedom. (I refer the reader to my article Civil Society Must Succeed Where Governments Have Failed)

Seminar Speakers

Pavel Podvig: affiliate and former research associate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Daryl G. Press: Associate Professor of Government, Dartmouth University.

Fredrik Westerlund: Security policy analyst, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI).

Petra Tötterman Andorff: Secretary General, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Sweden (IKFF).

Suggested Resources

Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Strategic Outlook 2010Swedish Defence Research Agency (PDF)

Center for International Security and Cooperation: Publications on Nuclear Proliferation Issues

The Nuclear Dimension of US Primacy (PDF): by Daryl G. Press

Internet Links provided by: The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy

Dismantle the War Economy Committee: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

The Fallacy of Nuclear Primacy, by Bruce G. Blair and Chen Yali

The Future of Nuclear Weapons in NATO, by Ian Anthony and Johnny Janssen

Cicero and Cato vs. Caesar; Caesar vs. Pompey; Caesar Wins All, Then is Murdered

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris is amply reviewed, under this link,  in the New York Times.  My contribution in this article is to bring the book and the times to your attention and to offer a simple timeline of major players at the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. (Click on the following link to get a PDF file of the chart in the image below: Roman Republic Ends; you may use this image if you give me credit at

Roman Republic timeline

The Roman Senate

At the center of the book is the Roman Senate.  Outside Rome are the provinces, and the battles led by Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, among others, to add even more territory to the nascent Empire.

The Roman Senate was different from what we see in the US Senate:

The senate passed decrees called senatus consultum, which in form constituted “advice” from the senate to a magistrate. While these advices did not hold legal force, they usually were obeyed in practice.

The senate directed the magistrates, especially the Roman Consuls (the chief-magistrates) in their prosecution of military conflicts. Only the senate could authorize the disbursal of public funds from the treasury. As the empire (NB: not yet Empire) grew, the senate also supervised the administration of the provinces, which were governed by former consuls and praetors, in that it decided which magistrate should govern which province.

The senate also played a pivotal role in cases of emergency. It could call for the appointment of a dictator (a right resting with each consul with or without the senate’s involvement). However, after 202 the office of Dictator fell out use (and was revived only two more times) and was replaced with the senatus consultum ultimum (“ultimate decree of the senate”), a senatorial decree which authorized the consuls to employ any means necessary to solve the crisis.

The senate operated while under various religious restrictions. For example, before any meeting could begin, a sacrifice to the gods was made, and a search for divine omens (the auspices) was taken.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catilina, from a 19th century fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome.

Meetings usually began at dawn, and a magistrate who wished to summon the senate had to issue a compulsory order. The senate meetings were public, and were directed by a presiding magistrate, usually a Consul. While in session, the senate had the power to act on its own, and even against the will of the presiding magistrate if it wished. The presiding magistrate began each meeting with a speech, and then referred an issue to the senators, who would discuss the issue by order of seniority. Senators had several other ways in which they could influence (or frustrate) a presiding magistrate. For example, all senators had to speak before a vote could be held, and since all meetings had to end by nightfall, a senator could talk a proposal to death (a filibuster or diem consumere) if he could keep the debate going until nightfall. When it was time to call a vote, the presiding magistrate could bring up whatever proposals he wished, and every vote was between a proposal and its negative. At any point before a motion passed, the proposed motion could be vetoed, usually by a tribune. If there was no veto, and the matter was of minor importance, it could be voted on by a voice vote or by a show of hands. If there was no veto, and the matter was of a significant nature, there was usually a physical division of the house, with senators voting by taking a place on either side of the chamber.

The ethical requirements of senators were significant. Senators could not engage in banking or any form of public contract. They could not own a ship that was large enough to participate in foreign commerce, and they could not leave Italy without permission from the senate. Senators were not paid a salary. Election to magisterial office resulted in automatic senate membership. (Source)



All the the constitutional and latent powers of the Senate were used by the various players and factions to further their interests and, for some, their quest for ultimate power. Caesar was a master in this realm. The book shows that certain alliances, and the power they created, were obtained through marriage between influential families, where women were the pawns in these maneuvers.

After reading this book, I accessed the Internet to  get a larger picture of the events during the 40 years of Roman history it covers. What follows is a recapitulation of some of my reading. I choose to juxtapose Cicero and Cato, the scholars and intellectuals (as well as politicians) dedicated to order and process, against Caesar, the soldier-politician dedicated to accruing power to build the empire he intended to lead.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106—43 BCE)

Cicero was an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. Significantly, he was not a soldier; he detested warfare and violence. Although known as a philosopher, he placed politics above philosophical study. The only periods of his life in which he wrote philosophical works were the times he was forcibly prevented from taking part in politics. He was murdered on December 7, 43 BC.

Cicero’s political career was a remarkable one. At the time, high political offices in Rome, though technically achieved by winning elections, were almost exclusively controlled by a group of wealthy aristocratic families that had held them for many generations. Cicero’s family, though aristocratic, was not one of them, nor did it have great wealth. But Cicero had a great deal of political ambition; at a very young age he chose as his motto the same one Achilles was said to have had: to always be the best and overtop the rest. Lacking the advantages of a proper ancestry, there were essentially only two career options open to him. One was a military career, the other a career in the law.

To prepare for the latter career he studied jurisprudence, rhetoric, and philosophy. Cicero proved to be an excellent orator and lawyer, and a shrewd politician. He was elected to each of the principle Roman offices (quaestor, aedile, praetor, and consul) on his first try and at the earliest age at which he was legally allowed to run for them. Having held office made him a member of the Roman Senate.

During his term as consul (the highest Roman office) in 63 BC he was responsible for unraveling and exposing the conspiracy of Catiline, which aimed at taking over the Roman state by force, and five of the conspirators were put to death without trial on Cicero’s orders. Cicero was proud of this, claiming that he had single-handedly saved the commonwealth. Cicero enjoyed widespread popularity at this time – though his policy regarding the Catilinarian conspirators had also made him enemies, and the executions without trial gave them an opening.

Cicero discovering the tomb of Archimedes by the Austrian baroque painter Martin Knoller (1725-1804)

In 60 BC Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus (the First Triumvirate) combined their resources and took control of Roman politics. Recognizing his popularity and talents, they made several attempts to get Cicero to join them, but Cicero hesitated and eventually refused, preferring to remain loyal to the Senate and the idea of the Republic. This left him open to attacks by his enemies, and in January of 58 BC the tribune Clodius (a follower of Caesar’s), proposed a law to be applied retroactively stating that anyone who killed a Roman citizen without trial would be stripped of their citizenship and forced into exile. The law passed. Cicero was forbidden to live within 500 miles of Italy, and all his property was confiscated. This exile provided the time for his first period of sustained philosophical study. After the political conditions changed, his property was restored to him, and he was allowed to return to Rome, which he did to great popular approval, claiming that the Republic was restored with him.

Cicero owed a debt to the triumvirate for ending his exile (and for not killing him), and for the next eight years he repaid that debt as a lawyer. Because he still could not engage in politics, he continued his studies of philosophy.

The triumvirate collapsed with the death of Crassus. In 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, entering Italy with his army and igniting a civil war between himself and Pompey. Cicero was on Pompey’s side, though halfheartedly. He felt that at this point the question was not whether Rome would be a republic or an empire but whether Pompey or Caesar would be Emperor, and he believed it would be a disaster in either case. Caesar and his forces won in 48 BC, and Caesar became the first de facto Roman emperor. He gave Cicero a pardon and allowed him to return to Rome in July of 47 BC, but Cicero was forced to stay out of politics. Most of the rest of his life was devoted to studying and writing about philosophy.

After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, Cicero again returned to politics. Hoping to see a restoration of the Republic, he supported Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian (later called Augustus) in the initial stages of Octavian’s power struggle with Marc Antony. But in this case, Cicero had chosen sides too soon: Octavian and Antony were temporarily reconciled, and Cicero was proscribed as an enemy of the state and murdered on December 7, 43 BC. (Major Source).

Marcius Porcius Cato Utensis


Cato (right) and his daughter, Porcia, who married Brutus, one of Caesar’s assassins (et tu brute?). Image source.

Cato the Younger was a Roman political figure whose opposition to Pompey and Caesar helped hasten the collapse of the Roman Republic.

Orphaned when a child and raised in the house of his uncle M. Livius Drusus, the reformer, Cato early cultivated habits of austerity and made a great show of political and moral probity. After serving as military tribune in Macedonia (67-66 B.C.), he toured Asia to prepare himself for public life. As quaestor, or minister of finance, Cato was notable for his punishment of corrupt treasury clerks and the strict rectitude of his accounts. But he was not free of favoritism. As tribune elect in 63, he prosecuted for electoral bribery one of the men who defeated Catiline for the consulship, exempting the other because he was a relative.

Cato’s fiery speech on December 5 led the Senate to vote for the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators who had been caught in Rome after an unsuccessful attempt at seizing control of the state. As tribune in 62, Cato blocked attempts by Metellus Nepos and Julius Caesar to recall Pompey to deal with Catiline and his army in Etruria.

When Pompey returned from the East, Cato led the senatorial opposition against him. He also outraged Crassus and the equestrians by refusing to allow reconsideration of the tax contract for Asia. The result was the formation of the First Triumvirate by Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar to attain their political ends. During Caesar’s consulship in 59 Cato bitterly opposed the triumvirate’s bills for the redistribution of land and the grant of an extraordinary command to Caesar. So violent were Cato’s tactics that Caesar at one point had him imprisoned only to think better of it later. In the following year the triumvirs rid themselves of Cato by offering him a special command in Cyprus. Though Cato was aware he was being removed from the center of power, his exaggerated sense of duty made it impossible for him to refuse.

When he returned to Rome in 56 B.C., he attempted to block the election of Pompey and Crassus to their second consulship. They therefore prevented Cato’s election to the praetorship, for which he had to wait until 54. To check the rioting and anarchy which developed in 53 and 52, Cato supported the proposal of the senatorial leaders to make Pompey sole consul. Thereafter he continued to back Pompey but only as a counterforce to the growing power of Caesar. Because Cato refused to cultivate the great politicians, he failed to win the consulship for 51.

In the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, Cato chose Pompey and was given command in Sicily, which he evacuated after the arrival of the Caesarian forces in order to avoid bloodshed. He garrisoned Dyrrachium for Pompey during the Battle of Pharsalus and after Pompey’s defeat joined the Pompeian refugees in Africa. There he refused military command because he had not held the consulship but took charge of the city of Utica (whence he derived his surname) and organized its defenses. When Caesar crushed the Pompeians in the Battle of Thapsus in 46 and approached the city, Cato committed suicide.

After his death Cato became a symbol of republicanism in the continuing struggle against Caesar, Antony, and Octavian. But during his lifetime his conservatism and obstructionism served only to strengthen the forces he opposed. (Source)

Gaius Julius Caesar, 102 B.C.-44 B.C.

Julius Caesar paved the way both for the end of the republic and the creation of the empire under his nephew Octavian, or Augustus Caesar. As a general he led military operations in Britain and elsewhere, and as dictator of Rome, he put through valuable reforms. But his actions, including his celebrated affair with Cleopatra, earned the distrust even of his closest friends, who conspired in his assassination.

Caesar (image source) was born on July 13, 102 B.C., to an aristocratic but not wealthy family. During his childhood, Rome was caught in a struggle between the aristocratic party, led by Sulla (137-78 B.C.), and the popular party, which—though its members were aristocrats as well—favored a greater distribution of power. With his aunt Julia’s marriage to the popular party leader, Marius (c. 157-86 B.C.), Caesar became linked with that faction, and he further increased his standing by marrying Cornelia (d. 67 B.C.), daughter of Marius’s ally Cinna (d. 84 B.C.) They later had a daughter, Julia.

Sulla established a dangerous example, one Caesar himself would later imitate, when in 88 B.C. he marched his troops into Rome. This ultimately meant the end of Marius’s power, and Sulla demanded that Caesar divorce Cornelia. Caesar refused, and had to go into hiding. His mother’s family convinced Sulla to relent, and Caesar returned to Rome and entered the army.

While serving in Asia Minor in 80 B.C., Caesar earned a high military decoration for bravery in the battle to take Mitylene on the isle of Lesbos, and went on to take part in a war against pirates from Cilicia. Following the death of Sulla, Caesar went back to Rome in 77 B.C., but soon after earning a name for himself as prosecutor in an important legal case, he traveled to Rhodes for further training in rhetoric. On the way, he was captured by Cilician pirates and held for ransom. After his release, he led a force to victory against the pirates, then—without being commanded to do so—led a successful attack against Mithradates of Pontus (r. 120-63 B.C.). Soon after this, he gained his first elected office as military tribune.

Cornelia died in 67 B.C., and within a year, Caesar remarried. Again the marriage had a political angle: Pompeia was the granddaughter of Sulla, and Caesar wanted to establish closer ties with Crassus (c. 115-53 B.C.), a leading figure in the aristocratic party.

To get ahead in Rome, a politician had to spend money on bribes and lavish entertainments for fellow politicians and the Roman citizens. As aedile, a type of magistrate responsible for all manner of public affairs, Caesar heavily outspent his colleague Bibulus (d. 48 B.C.), sponsoring the most magnificent set of gladiatorial games Rome had ever seen. Later, he obtained a position as governor in Spain, where he made back all the money he had spent—probably by means that were less than honorable.

Meanwhile Pompeia became involved in scandal when a character named Pulcher got into an all-female party at her house disguised as a woman. Caesar promptly divorced her. He was soon elected consul with Bibulus, but by then it was clear that only three men in Rome really mattered: Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey (106-48 B.C.)

The latter had just returned from his defeat of Mithradates, and together the three formed the First Triumvirate in 60 B.C. Pompey even married Caesar’s daughter Julia to solidify their bond, but despite their mutual claims of loyalty, the alliance was an uneasy one.

Death of Caesar by Vincenzo Camuccini

The conflict would be delayed for many years, however, while Caesar went to Gaul. Anxious to gain military glory, he went looking for awar, and he soon had one when the Helvetii, from what is now Switzerland, tried to cross Gaul without permission. He drove them back, then dealt with the Suebi from Germany. Next, as a means of preventing the Celts of Britain from aiding their cousins on the mainland, he led the first Roman invasions of that island in 55 and 54 B.C. In the course of these campaigns, Caesar killed perhaps a million people, but eventually placed all of Gaul firmly under Roman control.

Julia died in 54 B.C., breaking the bond between Caesar and Pompey, and in the following year, Crassus was killed in Asia. Soon Pompey ordered Caesar back to Rome, and Caesar, knowing he would be killed if he went back alone, brought his army with him. By crossing the River Rubicon, a shallow stream which formed the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy, he passed a point of no return, making conflict with Pompey inescapable.

Pompey moved his forces to Greece in order to regroup, while Caesar defeated Pompey’s legions in Spain. The two met in battle at Pharsalus in Greece in 48 B.C., and though Caesar’s armies won, Pompey managed to escape. He fled to Egypt, where he was killed, and Caesar, hot in pursuit, soon had his attention diverted by Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.). They began a romance, and Caesar aided her in war against her brother, Ptolemy XII (r. 51-47 B.C.).

At the same time, Mithradates’s teenaged son Pharnaces (r. 63-47 B.C.), taking advantage of Caesar’s distraction in Egypt, had attempted to regain his father’s kingdom in Pontus. Caesar went to Asia Minor, and destroyed Pharnaces’s army in just five days. Afterward, he made his famous report of his victory: “I came, I saw, I conquered”; or in Latin, “Veni, vidi, vici.

In 47 B.C. Caesar returned to Rome, where he assumed the powers of a dictator, and quickly pushed through a series of reforms. Most notable among these was his effort to reduce unemployment by requiring that every landowner hire one free man for every two slaves working in his fields. He increased the membership in the senate from 300 to 900, and included Celtic chieftains from Gaul in Rome’s legislative body.

Marc Antony Offers Caesar the Crown

Marc Antony offers a king’s crown to Caesar, who refuses it

Caesar managed to combine the authority of numerous political offices, giving himself more power than any Roman leader had ever enjoyed; yet he seemed to want more. He placed his portrait on coins, an honor previously reserved only for the gods, and declared that the month of his birth would no longer be called Quintilis but “Julius” or July. Instead of standing before the senate when he spoke to them, as rulers had always done before, he sat—more like a monarch than a citizen. His junior colleague Mark Antony (82?-30 B.C.) even tried to convince him to wear a crown.

Had Caesar accepted the crown, it would have been such an offense to the Romans’ views on government that he would have been an instant target for assassination. As it was, assassination was not long in coming. Just before leaving for a campaign in Persia, Caesar planned to address the senate on the Ides of March, or March 15, 44 B.C. Unbeknownst to him, however, a group of some 60 influential Romans—led by his supposed friends Brutus (85-42 B.C.) and Cassius (d. 42 B.C.)—had joined forces to assassinate him. As he entered the senate chamber, the assassins jumped at him with daggers, stabbing him 23 times. It would fall to Caesar’s nephew Octavian (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) to avenge the murder, which he did on his way to assuming power and establishing what would become the Roman Empire. (Source)

Three Global Indexes: How “Corrupt” is Your Country? Where Does it Rank in “Prosperity” and “Economic Freedom”?



To be clear about the words in quotation marks in the heading of this article:

The Index of “Economic Freedom” is an annual measure, conducted by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, of 10 freedoms – from property rights to entrepreneurship – in 183 countries. These freedoms will be listed, below.

The Legatum Prosperity Index annually ranks 104 nations according to nine building blocks of prosperity, about which more below as well.

The Corruption Perceptions Index is part of an annual report published by Transparency International (TI) which ranks 178 countries according to the perception of corruption in the public sector.  TI defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, in both the public and private sectors. For the purposes of this article and study I have chosen to call TI’s report the “Transparency Index.”

Each of these organizations is independent of the others and employs different methods of measurement, so I thought it useful to see if there are correlations among and between their most recent findings, published in 2010.

Because the Legatum Institute indexed only 104 countries, I limited my country aggregations and comparisons to this number, less one that doesn’t appear in one of the other indexes. Even so, these 103 countries represent approximately 90% of the world’s population.

Here’s a quick take on how these three indexes tracked with each other, comparing data for each country by two indexes at a time:

You will see properly formatted versions of these three graphs, below. I merely intend to show here that there are strong correlations among the three indexes as shown in these scattergraphs. (The trend lines are automatically generated in the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that created these graphs).

It seems intuitive that, in a given country, greater transparency (or less corruption) would be associated with greater economic freedom and with greater prosperity, and all with each. So, these graphs are mostly a test of how well the indexes are measuring what they intend to measure. My confidence in them is high.

It needs to be emphasized, however, that no causative relationship is implied, or should be inferred, between and among the underlying data in each graph. These are correlations, not causations.

It is also notable that each graph has a different ‘tightness’ of data points around each trend line. This may suggest the degree of relative confidence we can have in the apparent correlations we can see.

There are some major ‘outliers’ in each graph which stand apart from the major clusters of data points. These will be identified and discussed, below.

First, let’s see how Prosperity and Economic Freedom track with each other in CHART NO. 1:


Other than several apparent outliers which will be discussed later, one can see a positive correlation between the two independent measures: the greater the Economic Freedom, the greater the Prosperity, but no causative relationship should be inferred.

I will leave it to the more mathematically and statistically able to calculate, from the source data available under the links in this article, the coefficient of correlation of the data points represented in this and the other two following graphs. Here is an Excel spreadsheet with basic data from which the graphs were developed: 103 Countries-population-Economic Freedom-Prosperity-Transparency 2010

Next, let’s look see how Transparency (the inverse of Corruption) tracks with Prosperity in CHART NO. 2:

The two independent indexes seem to have a positive correlation, with two major groupings: those countries ranking 5.3 and above on the Transparency Index, and those ranking 4.7 and below. Within both these groups, greater Transparency (or less corruption) seems to indicate greater Prosperity in a given country, and vice versa (no causative relationship should be inferred). The larger number of apparent outliers in this graph will be listed and discussed below.

Last, let’s see how Economic Freedom tracks with Transparency (the inverse of Corruption) in CHART NO. 3:

Other than three or more apparent outliers, one can see a positive correlation between the two independent measures: the greater the Transparency (or the less corruption), the greater the Economic Freedom, and vice versa, but again no causative relationship should be inferred.

Legatum Prosperity Index
lēgātum (Latin); a bequest, legacy

Now in its third year, the 2009 edition of the Prosperity Index ranks 104 nations according to nine building blocks of prosperity, which we have identified through extensive research and analysis:

• Economic Fundamentals
• Entrepreneurship and Innovation
• Democratic Institutions
• Education
• Health
• Safety and Security
• Governance
• Personal Freedom
• Social Capital

Key findings (Edited)
1. Prosperous countries which lead the Index do well in all nine sub-indexes, indicating that the foundations of prosperity reinforce each other.
2. Entrepreneurs at the micro level need good economic policies at the macro level. Aspiring entrepreneurs will often hit a “ceiling” limiting their success if a nation’s economy is not fundamentally strong.
3. Freedom cannot be divided. While some nations seek to allow one aspect of freedom while restricting other aspects, prosperous nations respect freedom in all of its dimensions: economic, political, religious, and personal.
4. Prosperity is concentrated in the North Atlantic – for now. Sixteen of the top 20 most prosperous countries sit in North America and Europe.
5. Highly ranked nations include those with a long history of productive economies, effective and limited government, and social capital. Yet several other nations rank high that not long ago were afflicted with poverty, oppression, and unhappiness.
6. Good governance is central to life satisfaction and economic progress.
7. Security and safety function as both a cause and an effect of overall prosperity. A secure nation enables its citizens to flourish without fear of attack or harm, and prosperous citizens provide the financial resources and social capital to maintain safety and security.
8. Happiness is … opportunity, good health, relationships, and the freedom to choose who you want to be.
9. Some countries with ineffective governments still score well on social capital, indicating that healthy networks of families and friends play an essential role in helping a nation function.
10. It’s true that money can’t buy happiness … unless you are poor. Only in the poorest countries do increases in income have a significant effect on people’s life satisfaction.

Index of Economic Freedom

Economic freedom is the (ability) of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself.

We measure ten components of economic freedom, assigning a grade in each using a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the maximum freedom. The ten component scores are then averaged to give an overall economic freedom score for each country. The ten components of economic freedom are:

Business Freedom | Trade Freedom | Fiscal Freedom | Government Spending | Monetary Freedom | Investment Freedom | Financial Freedom | Property rights | Freedom from Corruption | Labor Freedom

Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)

The 2010 CPI draws on different assessments and business opinion surveys carried out by independent and reputable institutions. It captures information about the administrative and political aspects of corruption. Broadly speaking, the surveys and assessments used to compile the index include questions relating to bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and questions that probe the strength and effectiveness of public sector anti-corruption efforts.

For a country or territory to be included in the index a minimum of three of the sources that TI uses must assess that country. Thus inclusion in the index depends solely on the availability of information.

Perceptions are used because corruption – whether frequency or amount – is to a great extent a hidden activity that is difficult to measure. Over time, perceptions have proved to be a reliable estimate of corruption. Measuring scandals, investigations or prosecutions, while offering ‘non-perception’ data, reflect less on the prevalence of corruption in a country and more on other factors, such as freedom of the press or the efficiency of the judicial system. TI considers it of critical importance to measure both corruption and integrity, and to do so in the public and private sectors at global, national and local levels. The CPI is therefore one of many TI measurement tools that serve the fight against corruption.

The 2010 CPI measures the degree to which public sector corruption is perceived to exist in 178 countries around the world. It scores countries on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt).

Outliers (See this Excel Spreadsheet as the reference for the following: Outliers)

Where any country has appeared more than once as an outlier in the three charts, whether in a favorable, mixed or unfavorable position, I have identified these as the countries to examine further to see what we can learn. Here are the Countries, by my ranking:

High (Favorable) Hong Kong
High-Intermediate Singapore
Intermediate Argentina
El Salvador
Intermediate-low Jordan
Saudi Arabia
Low (Unfavorable) Iran

Let’s see what’s so special about Hong Kong and Singapore:

In Legatum’s Prosperity Index, Singapore and Hong Kong rank 17th and 20th, respectively, out of 110 countries. Singapore ranks 5 and 6 in in *Safety & Security’ and ‘Economy.’ Hong Kong ranks slightly lower in of these areas as well.

In the Index of Economic Freedom, Hong Kong and Singapore rank 1 and 2, respectively, in a list of 179 countries.

Here are excerpts from the Global Corruption Report of Transparency International regarding Hong Kong:

  • In Hong Kong as many as two-thirds of businesses believed that they lost opportunities on account of corruption by competitors within a one-year time frame.
  • In Hong Kong, Germany, France and Brazil, fewer than half the surveyed companies reported having a specific procedure for vetting agents and suppliers before entering into a relationship with them.
  • (In Hong Kong) laws or regulations require disclosing how a director’s compensation was reviewed and evaluated, but compensation (is not) linked to the director’s performance.
  • (In Hong Kong) the legal and regulatory framework (does not) provide whistleblower protection.

Here are excerpts from the Global Corruption Report of Transparency International regarding Singapore:

  • Laws or regulations do not require disclosing how a director’s compensation was reviewed and evaluated, but it is recommended by Code of Corporate Governance.
  • Compensation linked to the director’s performance is not mandatory, but it is recommended.
  • There is whistleblower protection for auditors.
  • Singapore has subsidised training related to the adoption of environmental and labour standards.
  • Much work remains to be done in the area of Sovereign Wealth Funds (such as Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and Government Investment Corporation) in governance and transparency.

My rough summary of these two political entities is that there is so much freedom to establish and operate an enterprise, and so much safety and security in daily life, that these far outweigh any corruption. The latter seems to be addressed in principle, if not fully in application.

The Eight “Intermediate” Outliers

These countries are assigned at least one big favorable finding and at least one big unfavorable finding. The findings may have to do, at least in part, with current perceptions in comparison to past conditions. That is, most things may be not so good now, but they were very much worse in the past and there are some new good things. This seems generally true, from my reading, of the Latin American countries: Argentina, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru. Other than in Argentina, there is much emigration. Generally, there is little confidence in governments including the judiciary branch, despite welcome stability.

On the other hand are the countries whose past performance has provided a strong economic and social base, including infrastructure, but where the government seems to be losing its ability to cope with some major current issues. France and Italy seem to fit this description, even though the cultures and circumstances are quite different. One big difference between these two countries is French optimism and Italian pessimism (my interpretation).

Botswana is unique in its position of being an African country where things are measurably and sensibly improving and improved, despite a low standard of living for most people. There is great mineral wealth and much industry, with personal and business freedoms not found in other poor African countries, or in the five Latin American countries, above.

These summary impressions should be tested by the reader looking at the specific findings and comments under the three separate reports and summary charts.

“Intermediate-low” Countries

Jordan and Saudi Arabia are assigned one favorable outlying position, but also two unfavorable outlying positions.

As far as I can determine, Jordan’s one favorable point is in relation to other countries in a group which register much worse in Transparency, but all are low in Prosperity and Economic Freedom. Personal freedoms are low, as are the levels of social cohesion and health.

Saudi Arabia’s mineral wealth provides the basis for the one positive outlying measure, but personal freedom, safety and security, education, property rights (especially for women) and Transparency are low.

The “Low” Countries

These four countries are found in at least two unfavorable outlying positions, with Zimbabwe found in this position in all three charts. Iran, Ukraine and Venezuela are positioned unfavorably in Prosperity and Transparency. Zimbabwe is also positioned unfavorably in Economic Freedom. None of these countries is positioned favorably in an outlying position.

Personal Conclusions

Where one or two of these indexes may be short on observations or might lack objective accuracy about a given country, one or two of the others will make up for this deficiency, in my reading of them. In the event that one may still not be convinced regarding the placement of any country in these indexes, one always has access to a comprehensive and continually updated profile of all the World’s countries in The World Factbook of the CIA.


What is it to be “Caucasian,” and…

…what and where is The Caucasus?

When I was quite young I learned that the word “Caucasian” somehow applied to me and my family as types of humans who were “white,” or at least not “Negro” or “Oriental,” but that was all. I never thought of myself as “white,” or any color, but identified with the ethnicity of the three of my grandparents who emigrated from Greece to San Francisco in the early 1900s. I didn’t know I was “white” until I joined the US Navy in 1954 at age 17.

Previous to this, “white” was reserved in my mind for “White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants,” or WASPs. Dad had explained what Anglo-Saxon meant, but I could never retain the history of the various invasions which Western and Northern European peoples visited upon each other in ancient times. And further, I couldn’t understand what Dad or anyone could tell me about the origin of the word “Caucasian,” other than it came from people living in a remote in-between place in Europe or Asia.

I haven’t thought of myself as “Caucasian” or “white” for quite a while now, just considering myself a human with roots in Europe in the short-term (20,000-40,000 years ago) and recognizing that all humans are rooted in Africa from around 130,000 to 200,000 years ago.

What took me back to thinking about “Caucasian” was my reading of a new book, The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus, by the historian Charles King whose previous book The Black Sea: A History was the basis for an article in these pages on the Black Sea.

King’s new book clarified for me the origin, use, and misuse of the concept of “Caucasian Race,” and about the complicated and terrible history of the original peoples who have inhabited the region named “The Caucasus.” In writing this article I also used Russia: A History, edited by Gregory L. Freeze. Additional resources are under the links listed throughout the article.

“Caucasian” as a “Race”

Female and Male “Caucasian Bodies” (©2010 Zygote Media Group. Inc.)

The concept of a Caucasian race was developed around 1800 byJohann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German scientist and anthropologist. Blumenbach named it after the peoples of the Caucasus region, whom he considered to be the archetype for the grouping. He based his classification of the Caucasian race primarily on craniology. Blumenbach wrote: “Caucasian variety—I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind.”

Blumenbach’s… ideas lead to the widely(-held) conclusion that the purest and most beautiful whites were the Circassians, one tribe of the Caucasian region of Russia, a mountainous area on the Black Sea close to Turkey…

In the United States, the term Caucasian has been mainly used to describe a group commonly called White Americans, as defined by the government and Census Bureau. (Source: Wikipedia).

“Caucasian,” as applied to a “race” of people, is clearly based in discredited anthropological notions and in racist tendencies which are slowly, but certainly, being recognized and addressed. Caucasian, now no longer appearing here between quotation marks, is properly applied to those people, past and present, living in the region designated The Caucasus.

The Caucasus Region

For perspective, here is a chart showing the relationship of size and population of the Caucasus Region to the US State of California and the Kingdom of Sweden.

Click on image for greater clarity

The Caucasus Region is divided geographically, and for the most part politically, north and south with respect to the crest of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, as can be seen in the map immediately below. All the territory north of the crest is in Russia, divided among several political entities. The number of people in both the North and South Caucasus is roughly equal, with the North containing nearly 60% of the total area of the Region.

Caucasus Region, 1994 (Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Dept. of State) Click on the map for detail.

All Caucasia, which embraces not only the Great Mountains of Caucasus proper but also the country to the north and to the south of the Great Caucasian Range, is… designated by the common term “Caucasus.” This is a Latinized form of the ancient Greek name for this region “Kaukasos,” (which)… may in turn be traced back to Old Iranian “kap kah” (or) “Big Mountain.” Ancient Greeks made the Great Mountain Range the scene of the mythical sufferings of Prometheus, and (of) the Argonauts (who) sought the Golden Fleece in the mysterious land of Colchis on the Black Sea coast, south of the Range. Thus, geographically, the term “Caucasus” represents a definite territory located between the Black and Caspian Seas, a wide isthmus separating these seas and divided by the Great Caucasus Mountain Range into two parts — North Caucasus and South Caucasus. (Source)

The Northern Caucasus
What cannot readily be seen, even if you click twice on the above map for greater detail, is that there are now nine Russian Provinces, Russian Republics and Russian Territories (Krais) along the northern borders of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Before there were names for these polities and their predecessors, the original people of the Caucasus lived throughout the mountains (including the “Lesser Caucasus” to the south), their foothills, valleys and plains.

These northern political jurisdictions are, from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea:
Stavropol Krai
Krasnodar Krai
North Ossetia-Alania

Altogether, these nine political entities have a population of 14,672,000 and comprise an area of 254,000 square kilometers, for a population density of around 58 people per square kilometer.

The Mountains—Greater Caucasian Mountain Range

They stretch for about 1200 km from west-northwest to east-southeast, between the Taman Peninsula of the Black Sea to the Absheron Peninsula of the Caspian Sea: from the Western Caucasus in the vicinity of Sochi on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea and reaching nearly to Baku on the Caspian.

The range is traditionally separated into three parts:

Here is a map of the area surrounding the highest peak in the Caucasus and, therefore in Europe (because this region is in Europe, not Asia), Mount Elbrus (Elbruz in the map) which straddles the common border of the Russian Republics Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria :

Mt. Elbrus (“Elbruz”) Region of Mountains (Click twice on image for largest size)

The Mountains—Lesser Caucasian Mountain Range

The Lesser Caucasus Mountains are shared by Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. They lie south of the Greater Caucasus and run parallel to that range. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains extend about 350 miles (565 km) from near the mouth of the Rioni River on the Black Sea to near Azerbaijan’s border with Iran. The range is less rugged than the Greater Caucasus. Peaks rarely exceed 10,000 feet (3,050 m). (Source)

The Greater Caucasus Range runs diagonally from upper left to lower right. The Lesser range runs from the lower left corner, curving up toward the center then back toward the lower right. The Kura River Valley lies between them.

The River Valley Between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Ranges

Starting in north-eastern Turkey, the Kura River flows through Turkey to Georgia, then to Azerbaijan, where it receives the Aras River as a right tributary, and enters the Caspian Sea. The total length of the river is 1,515 kilometres (941 mi).

People have inhabited the Caucasus region for thousands of years, and first established agriculture in the Kura Valley over 4,500 years ago. Large, complex civilizations eventually grew up on the river, but by 1200 CE, most were reduced to ruin by natural disasters and foreign invaders. The increasing human use, and eventual damage, of the watershed’s forests and grasslands contributed to a rising intensity of floods through the 20th century. In the 1950s, the Soviets started building many dams and canals on the river. Previously navigable up to Tbilisi in Georgia, it is now much slower and shallower, as its power has been harnessed by hydroelectricity stations. The river is now moderately polluted by major industrial centers like Tbilisi and Rustavi in Georgia. (Source)

A Brief History of the Caucasian Peoples

I now quote excerpt extensively from Charles King’s Book.

‘Circassian wife and husband, 1860s – during Russian & Ottoman perpetrated holocaust’ (

In the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917) the generic term “highlander” or “mountaineer” was applied to any indigenous person living anywhere except on the steppe (prairie) or in lowland river valleys, people we might now classify as Chechens, Avars, Lezgins or Georgians. The equivalent term in English was “Circassian.” In its narrowest sense, however, Circassian specifically refers to speakers of Adyga languages, the major linguistic group of the northwest Caucasus…

By the time the Russian Empire finally conquered the last of the highlanders, another process of appropriation was already underway: the conceptualization of the Caucasus as a distinct place by generations of Russian and foreign writers, artists, and travelers. The mountains became metaphors for both love of liberty and unspeakable barbarism. Tribal allegiances were evidence of both inchoate national feeling and the inherent primitivism of local societies. The Caucasus was cast as either the fount of civilization (and of its highest representative, the “Caucasian Race”) or the antithesis of civilization itself. Today these visions still play a powerful role in politics, foreign relations, and communal interactions. National self-conceptions are wrapped up in them. Rights to territory are justified by reference to them. Notions of alien, friend and enemy, flow logically from them…

Classifying people—whether based on race, language, culture, or any other criterion—is always more complicated that it might seem. Words signify different things in different contexts. The English term “Caucasian,” for example, today denotes a racial category developed by an eighteenth-century German anatomist to identify the allegedly primordial form of mankind, with light skin and round eyes. Yet the equivalent term in Russian refers to a person having family ties to the Caucasus, with perhaps dark hair and olive skin. Virtually any other identification that might have currency today—Georgian, Chechen, Muslim, Sufi—was imbued with different meanings in the past. The collective categories that would eventually come to be used for ethnic groups, nationalities, and religions in the Caucasus were not present, fully formed when the Russians arrived. They were products of the imperial system itself—negotiated, reworked, and in some cases wholly invented as part of the process of imperial absorption and administration…

Throughout the nineteenth century, as more and more Europeans became familiar with the Caucasus they were fascinated by the physical appearance of the Circassians. The men were said to be tall, dark, and lithe. Their long mustaches, silver-studded weaponry, and close-fitting clothing…enhanced their noble, war-like mien.

[Post-publication addition: click on this link to read a review in the British newspaper, The Independent, of the book Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys among the defiant people of the Caucasus, By Oliver Bullough. For more information regarding the resistance in Dagestan to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, go to this website.]

South Caucasus Countries

These three countries, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, are readily discerned in the first map displayed above.

What is not seen is that the borders and internal areas are not yet settled as to legitimacy, at least according to certain ethnic minorities, and by Russia and a few of its political allies.

Please click on the image for greater clarity

In addition, there are five small Azerbaijani exclaves within Armenia that appeared following the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. Their present status is unclear since the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute in 1992-94 over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. At this time they were unilaterally annexed by Armenia. Their economies are primarily based upon agriculture.

Four enclaves are found in north-eastern Armenia near the town of Kazakh.

  • Upper Askipara begins 1 km west of the Armenian village of Voskepar.
  • Azatamut begins about 1 km from the Azerbaijan border near the Kazakh to Idshevan highway.
  • The other two enclaves are tiny pieces of farmland southwest of the Azerbaijani town of Tatly . They cover 0.12 and 0.06 km².
  • Karki is found north of the Nakhichevan area about 4.5 km northeast of the town of Sadarak. It covers about 7 km².

In 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself an independent republic. If this is recognised by the international community, there may be about half a dozen new international enclaves – both Nagorno-Karabakhian exclaves in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani exclaves in Nagorno-Karabakh. (Source)

Pausing for a deep breath

For you who have read this far, this seems quite a lot to digest about The Caucasus to me as well. But I can’t finish this article until I point out that there is rich history among all the many peoples currently and formerly living in this area that is not quite the size of Sweden. Much of this history will be found under the many links, above. To provide a glimpse into this history, please consider this final chart I created to show the major ethnic and linguistic groups currently found in the Russian (northern) part of the Caucasus. Please click on it to see the detail more clearly, or view it here:

Ethnicities of the North Caucasus.jpg

Chechnya as a Current Example

Many parts of the Region remain unsettled, with intermittent guerrilla warfare in some parts, notably Chechnya after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

Islamic fundamentalism… posed a growing threat not only to the newly independent states of central Asia, but also to the Caucasus (above all, Chechnya)…

… (T)he Chechen conflict enabled (prime minister and candidate for President of Russia) Putin to demonstrate his mettle in an all-out military campaign to establish control over Chechnya and eradicate terrorism… (A)fter relentless artillery bombardment, Russian forces stormed the Chechen capital of Groznyi–from which they had been so ignominiously expelled earlier—and launched search-and-destroy operations against pockets of guerrilla resistance…

The ongoing war in Chechnya, which initially raised Putin’s popularity, began to arouse mounting criticism, especially from Western governments and human rights organizations. Although Russian forces established some semblance of control, they failed to crush all resistance or to end devastating terrorist attacks. And the war took a heavy toll—on the Russian military (around 20,000 casualties), insurgents (around 13,000) and civilians (between 30,000 and 40,000). This carnage eroded popular support in Russia itself [note: year 2005]… impelling the Kremlin to “Chechenize” the conflict by putting pro-Moscow Chechens in charge and relying on Chechen, not Russian, forces. Moscow arranged for Ramzan Kadyrov to succeed his father (killed in a terrorist attack) as the president of Chechnya.; the young Kadyrov quickly earned a reputation for brutality and the ‘disappearances’ of 2,000 to 3,000 fellow Chechens. The repression in Chechnya, even if provoked by criminal acts of terrorism, elicited sharp criticism in Western circles and reinforced criticism of Putin for ‘authoritarian’ tendencies. (Source).

[News of violence in Chechnya, 29 August]
[News of violence in Dagestan, 6 September]
[News of violence in North Ossetia, 9 September]

Location, Location, Location

Unfortunately for the settled peoples in the Caucasian isthmus, this great strip of land linking, historically and currently, the empires of the north and east and south—Russia, The Ottomans, Persia, The Mongols, among others—is a place to go to, or through, in search of new places or new opportunities, or through which to attack competing empires. As a result of various ambitions, the people of The Caucasus have been uprooted, dispersed, tortured, raped, slain and forcibly converted to other religions or ‘nationalities’ over the centuries. For example, there are very few real Circassians left anywhere in The Caucasus, although there are a great many who identify themselves as Circassian throughout the world. The same can be said for other population groups. Note, in the chart immediately above, that in many “republics” there are more Russians than original people, or the Russians are the largest minority. Only in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia are there a large majority of people who can rightfully be called, generically, Caucasian.

I have not written here anything substantive about those Caucasians who identify themselves as Georgian. The Georgians are a whole story unto themselves and I encourage those with an interest to look at these links for further information:

The World Factbook of the CIA

History of the Georgian People (WikiPedia)

Republic of Georgia, by Georgi Kokochashvili

The Democratic Republic vs. the Aristocracy

“… I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you should be tired of it yourself.”

Thus ends the letter of 15 August 1820 from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, the men having achieved, respectively, the ages of 77 and 85. They had not quite another six years to live and died on the same day, exactly 50 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

Jefferson’s effusive salutation is remarkable in two ways, at least. Jefferson was ever the withdrawn, introverted, land wealthy (and cash poor) statesman of both the Colony and the State of Virgina who usually wrote from his head after much deliberation; whereas, Adams was the loquacious, argumentative and extroverted farmer-lawyer of Massachusetts who wrote from the heart quite freely.

Also, the depth of their affection for each other this late in their lives belies the severe break in relations that resulted in a hiatus of over eight years in their correspondence, between 1804 and 1812.

“…we ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”—Jefferson to Adams

This is my second writing about the treasure these men left us in their letters between years 1777 and 1826. My article of 3 February 2010 covered the letters in a general way. Today’s article presents what both saw as an enemy of a democratic republic, the aristocracy, but they never fully agreed on a remedy or how to prevent its ascendancy.

They first discussed this subject while both were diplomats; Adams represented the new United States of America in London (1785 -1788) and Jefferson, similarly, in Paris (1784 – 1789). Jefferson visited Adams at the British Embassy of the USA, commonly called, then and now, Grosvenor Square, London.

(From JA to TJ, 1 Mar 1787): A work upon the subject you mention, nobility in general [i.e., the aristocracy], which I once hinted to you a wish to see handled at large would..require many books which I have not, and a more critical knowledge both of ancient and modern languages than at my age a man can aspire to. There are but two circumstances, which will be regretted by me, when I leave Europe. One is the opportunity of searching any questions of this kind, in any books [in England and France] that may be wanted, and the other will be the interruption of that intimate correspondence with you, which is one of the most agreeable events in my life.

Twenty-six years later, the two began an intense correspondence on the subject that lasted one and one-half years.

(JA to TJ, 9 July 1813): I recollect, near 30 years ago to have said carelessly to you, that I wished I could find time and means to write something upon aristocracy…I soon began, and have been writing upon that subject ever since…Your “άριστοι” [“aristoi—aristocrats”] are the most difficult animals to manage…They will not suffer themselves to be governed. They not only exert all their own subtle industry and courage, but they employ the commonality, to knock to pieces every plan and model that the most honest architects in legislation can invent to keep them within bounds…But who are these “άριστοι”? Who shall judge? Who shall select these choice spirits from the rest of the congregation? Themselves? We must first find out and determine who themselves are. Shall the congregation choose? Ask Xenophon…[who] says that the ecclesia [popular assembly] always chooses the worst men they can find because none others will do their dirty work. This wicked motive is worse than birth or wealth.

Here I want to quote Greek again…[from] a collection of moral sentences from all the most ancient Greek poets. In one.. [is] a couplet the sense of which was “Nobility in men is worth as much as it is in horses, assess, or rams: but the meanest blooded puppy in the world, if he begets a little money, is as good a man as the best of them.” Yet birth and wealth together have prevailed over virtue and talents in all ages. The many will acknowledge no other “άριστοι”.

“Your distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy does not appear to me as well founded.”—Adams to Jefferson

So began five letters from Adams to Jefferson before the latter sent a lengthy and famous response to Adams on the subject of the aristocracy, after which Adams wrote a final letter, the beginning of which states: “We are now explicitly agreed, in one important point, viz. that ‘there is a natural aristocracy among men, the grounds of which are virtue and talents.’ ”

But where did they differ? This will be discussed, further below.

First, we must look at what these men meant by The Aristoi, an ancient Greek construction with which they were familiar as scholars in the writings and philosophies of that time. Immediately below are excerpts from two sources to give us a grounding in what these men were discussing.

Arete and the Aristoi

Arete…means goodness, excellence, or virtue of any kind. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential. Arete in ancient Greek culture was courage and strength in the face of adversity and it was to what all people aspired. [Source]

The concept of arete, or excellence, was one of the Homeric Age’s most important contributions to Western culture…(T)he nobility is the prime mover in forming a nation’s culture, and…the aristoi, or “the best,” are responsible for the creation of a definite idea of human perfection, an ideal toward which they are constantly educated. Arete became the “quintessence of early aristocratic education,” and thereafter the dominant concept in all Greek education and culture; it has remained with us as an educational ideal ever since.

It was not possible to separate leadership from arete, the Greeks believed, because unusual or exceptional prowess was a natural manifestation of leadership. Since each man was ranked in accordance with his ability, arete became an ideal of self-fulfillment or self-realization in terms of human excellence. A noble’s arete, in Homer, is specifically indicated by his skill and prowess as a soldier in war, and as an athlete in peace. War provides the occasion for the display of arete and the winning of kleos, or glory. The aristoi compete among themselves “always to be the best and to be superior to others.” [Source]

Definitions of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy in Modern Times, from a paper by Paul Lucardie at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, to give us a current context in which to understand our subject  [Please click on the table to be able to read it]:

The Letters Between Adams and Jefferson on the Aristocracy

Adams wrote to Jefferson on 2 September 1813: “The five pillars of aristocracy are beauty, wealth, birth, genius and virtues. Any one of the first three can at any time overbear any one or both of the two last,” and goes on to give historical and contemporary examples.

Jefferson counters that he has faith in the enlightenment of men through science, and in the well-functioning democratic principles and machinery they and their fellow writers of the U.S. Constitution established, especially regarding regular elections:

Science is progressive, and talents and enterprise on the alert. Resort may be had to the people of the country, a more governable power from their principles and subordination; and rank, and birth, and tinsel-aristocracy will finally shrink into insignificance… (I)f the moral and physical conditions of our own citizens qualifies them to select the able and good for the direction of their government, with the recurrence of elections at such short periods as will enable them to displace an unfaithful servant before the mischief he mediates may become irredeemable.

The mostly formal style of their writing (Adams occasionally lapsed into a more familiar style) sometimes masks, for the modern eye, the fundamental disagreement between these statesmen on the issue. Adams was the Federalist, perceiving a strong federal (i.e., central) government as necessary to “control” the natural appetites of man toward power and privilege. He had no confidence that those with natural born talent (sometimes called “genius”)  and “virtues,” derived through family traits and education, who ascended as “natural aristocracy” would not become as corrupt as those who ascended through wealth, beauty or name–the latter group being the “tinsel aristocracy” as described by Jefferson.

Obituary for John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (source: /

Jefferson had faith in the common sense of the ordinary citizen to vote out the misbehaving elected officials before they could do irreparable damage. Further, he did not place as much importance on the doings of the central government, observing that the limitless frontier then offered by America made the enterprising man relatively independent of the aristocratic tendencies of those in power in the country’s capital.

[The text is not edited to conform with modern English usage] With respect to Aristocracy, we should further consider that, before the establishment of the American states, nothing was known to History but the Man of the old world, crouded within limits either small or overcharged, and steeped in the vices which that situation generates. A government adapted to such men would be one thing; but a very different one that for the Man of these states. Here every one may have land to labor for himself if he chuses; or, preferring the exercise of any other industry, may exact for it such compensation as not only to afford a comfortable subsistence, but where-with to provide for a cessation from labor in old age. Every one, by his property, or by his satisfactory situation, is interested in the support of law and order. And such men may safely and advantageously reserve to themselves a wholsome controul over their public affairs…

What is unstated by Jefferson in this correspondence is his underlying acceptance, perhaps even approval, of the occasional revolution to cleanse the ruling elite. Jefferson was enthusiastic about the French Revolution to which he was a direct witness, although he acknowledged that its latter stages went to bloody excess. This was a point of contention and public controversy between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans in the election of 1800 between Adams and Jefferson.

Jefferson famously wrote from Paris to William S. Smith on 13 November 1787:

We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

There is much reference these days to the thoughts and intentions of the “founding fathers.” I suggest a reading of these letters would help us all truly understand where the founders stood on issues of freedom and liberty, government and democracy.

You can see all the letters (to everyone) of Thomas Jefferson here.

Thomas Cromwell & Henry VIII of England

wolf-hall-imageCompelling and believable historical fiction continues to encourage me to look further into non-fiction accounts of historical figures, in this case a complex of figures surrounding Thomas Cromwell and his King, Henry VIII. The book is Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.

The book is so highly valued by critics and readers that you can find all you may wish about it by scanning the Internet, including under the above link.

I had heard of Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1540), but had only a few impressions of him: he was an important figure in the history of England, and he was maybe not such a nice fellow. After reading this book, I feel I admire him. [Post-publishing note: I was thinking of Oliver Cromwell, not Thomas, in remembering a possibly unlikable historical figure. Oliver was a descendant of Thomas Cromwell’s older sister].

Of course I had heard of King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547), famous for his many wives and his break with the Roman Catholic Church. But that’s about all that had remained stuck to my gray matter. I know more now, both from the book and from subsequent readings on the Internet.

Another key figure involved in this story was Sir Thomas More (later a Catholic saint), about whom I had read recently in another book, from which I came away with the impression that he was quite a wonderful fellow. Now, I really don’t like him.

Cromwell is the central figure in this novel, an extraordinary man from humble origins (his father was a blacksmith) who rose to the pinnacle of influence with, and importance to, a great monarch.

The book is written in an unusual way: whenever you can’t quite tell who is talking or being talked about, you finally realize that it is almost always Cromwell. Thus, the first part of the book took some getting used to, but after ‘getting it,’ the book flows quite nicely and compellingly.

I now know the factors and motivations behind King Henry’s many marriages, divorces and annulments, two of which ended with the lady’s head severed from her body. (There is still controversy as to whether Henry was legally married to as many as four of the women, but all were “Consorts” to the king, however briefly for some).


Simply put, Henry VIII wanted at least one male heir, related directly by blood (i.e., not adopted and “legitimate;” he apparently had a son outside of marriage whom he didn’t consider an heir), on whom to bequeath his crown. Cromwell, a lawyer, helped Henry through the inevitable break with the rules of the Church in order to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who bore one female but no males during their 24 years of marriage.

With Cromwell’s behind the scenes maneuvering and the King’s own decisions based in the work of Cromwell and members of Parliament, the King was lawfully declared the supreme authority in the Church in England, as well as in secular matters.

Many people lost their lives, most in horribly brutal ways, over the legal and ecclesiastical controversy, not the least of whom was Thomas More who was once the Lord Chancellor of England, later superseded by Thomas Cromwell. Before Thomas More was ousted and subsequently executed (the King was merciful and commuted his sentence of death under torture to a mere beheading), he was himself responsible for the torture of many “heretics,” reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.

Cromwell was a world traveler who spoke many languages, including Italian. From the two or more mentions of Machiavelli in Wolf Hall, I made the inference that Cromwell learned some of his statecraft from Nicolò Machiavelli, directly or indirectly. One of the characters in the book not-so-playfully taunts Cromwell as being “Italian.” Cromwell was 42 when Machiavelli died.

The countless tortures, murders, impoverishments and intrigues engendered by Henry’s desire for a male heir, and by his personal appetites, have ever since been grist for the literary mills of historians and story tellers.

So, maybe you are asking whether Henry VIII ever begat a male heir? And what ultimately happened to Thomas Cromwell, “the most faithful servant he (the King) had ever had”?

Well, if you want to know the rest of the story, you’re going to have to find out on your own.