The continuing Republican disgust with the necessity of vile government over a fractious and well-armed citizenry continues to amaze. Tied to this is the repeated comparisons of our modern secular government with Pagan Rome and its imagined excesses.
Of course, Roman orgies are the product of feverish and repressed sexual fantasies of Christians through the ages, and the belief that the Roman government was completely indifferent to the needs of its citizens is another convenient Christian fantasy. Because they present Christianity as an “upgrade,” both of them serve the conservative Christian cause today as an argument for the primacy of Church over state.
The problem is that as with the orgy myth, the government myth is simply untrue. Just as governments today act in response to emergencies, so did the Pagan Roman state. And if evil Roman state could act in response to disasters, why should the government of a modern nation state, with far more resources available to it, do less?
Classicist Jerry Toner writes that “Imperial intervention during disasters became one of the expectations that people had of government.”
Contrary to Republican claims, Democrats did not invent the idea of a government spending money on its citizens. Just take a look at some examples:
The reclusive Tiberius, therefore, felt obliged to leave his island retreat at Capri when the collapse [of an arena] at Fidenae killed thousands. And the range of actions which subsequent emperors took to alleviate disastrous situations expanded significantly. During a financial crisis, Tiberius lent 100 million sesterces without interest for three years. Losses through fire were sometimes made good by the imperial treasury. Such assistance could be in he form of cash, a tax rebate, the cancellation of debts, or acts such as the advancement of civic status. One law says that in the aftermath of a fire, any Latin worth 200,000 sesterces who spent half that sum in building in Rome would obtain full Roman citizenship. Dio claims that too many cities to record were helped by August and senators after they had suffered earthquake damage. Tax relief was given to cities for five years following an earthquake in Asia, help which was weighted according to the severity of impact, and was administered under the oversight of a senior official.
The emperors would also release state-owned wheat during food shortages and pay for the burial of dead when plague or other disaster left so many dead that local efforts were overwhelmed. Canals were dug and rivers even diverted in an attempt to eliminate flooding. Christian emperors continued these Pagan traditions.
The question becomes, if Christianity is so vastly superior to Paganism, how is it a Pagan government can be superior to what the Religious Right wants today? And why do these ultra-religious Republicans want to roll back what even their Christian predecessors many centuries ago were willing to do on behalf of their citizens?
Is a government helping people really such a bad thing? Can’t we expect as much today as offered by a supposedly evil government 2,000 years ago? Surely no one has forgotten Republican candidate Mitt Romney calling disaster relief immoral?
Republican belief tends to be morally flexible when disaster strikes. While denying it to others, Republicans always want relief for themselves. Then big government becomes their best friend. The moment the disaster is over they are back to denouncing it. For people who claim there can be no compromising, they can be almighty compromising where the federal dollars are concerned. As Jason Easley wrote here in May, Republicans are drowning in their own disaster relief hypocrisy.
But grasping greed is not the same thing as compassion, and if there is one thing the modern-day Republican Party lacks, it is compassion.
And even if it is argued that Roman rulers were merely looking at the bottom line, cannot Republicans find within themselves even a modicum of common sense? We know Walmart can’t, but Walmart doesn’t have to be the paradigm the United States revolves around. Besides, history tells us that even Nero, Christianity’s favorite enemy, provided government relief in the wake of the Great Fire of 64 CE, and the emperor Titus, we are told by Suetonius (Tit. 8), showed “not merely the concern of an emperor, but even a father’s surpassing love…there was no aid, human or divine, which he did not employ, searching for every kind of sacrifice and all kinds of medicines.”
Isn’t that the very least a government should do for its citizens, who, after all, pay the taxes that support the government?
The problem seems to be that there is no profit to be made in this – by private citizens. And so Republicans would prefer to privatize government services so we can all pay some more, in addition to our taxes, for the help we need in various crises. Life, under Republican governance, would become a “pay-as-you-go” or “for profit” enterprise.
And guess who will reap the profits? Republicans, of course. None of that money will flow anywhere but into reliable Republican hands, as the examples of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas have shown.
Meanwhile, nasty old “Big Brother” won’t become “Little Brother” because secretly, Republicans love big government. Big Governments can start the Big Wars Republicans love so much. Big Government can intrude into your bedroom and into your doctor’s office. Hallowed Saint Ronald grew government and you know how they like to invoke his memory. Reagan Republicans, they call themselves.
Without myth, the Republican Party would collapse, because as has often been noted here and elsewhere, the Republican Party has nothing concrete to offer the American people. It has all become smoke and mirrors. The myth of fiscal conservatism, the myth of small government, all now work in conjunction with the myth that, as Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel Action puts it while busily working to persecute millions, “Christians have been persecuted for 2,000 years by radical leftists.”
It’s a great myth, but nobody has ever persecuted Christians in the Western world except other Christians. The Roman persecutions are a myth. In perhaps seven to ten years out of the 300 + Christianity existed before becoming the state religion, the Roman government took action against Christianity.
Christianity, meanwhile, has been persecuting other religions – every alternative to itself – nearly nonstop for 2,000 years and they are the biggest persecutor in history of their fellow Christians – not Islam.
Myth. Smoke and mirrors. Lies. That is the stuff of the Republican Party today. Government isn’t bad. The Pagan Romans knew this. Their Christian successors knew this. How can people today reject what people all through history have always known? That a government must act on behalf of its citizenry in the face of disaster?
Republicans claim the federal government puts the screws to us. Really? If you want to see what privatized relief would look like, think of Walmart. That’s the face of Republican disaster relief. I think an educated public can do the math from there.
 Ray Lawrence, Roman Passions: A History of Pleasure in Imperial Rome (2009) puts it somewhat differently: “There is no real evidence for [orgies]. They are yet another case of the fevered imagination of the modern world, which attempts to sexualize all other cultures past and present.”
 Jerry Toner, Roman Disasters (2013).
 See Toner (2013), chapter 4.
 See, Candida Moss. The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (2013).