Hail Harperius photo

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: 

From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back into bondage.”

So sayeth the historian, Alexandrus Tylerus, foretelling the rise of the Tyrant, Stephanus Harperius, whose relentless campaign of duplicity and deception duped the populace into electing him Dictator of Canadania, whereupon, like his idol of yore, Octavian Augustus Caesar, he promptly shut down the democratic Assembly and crowned himself Emperor.

Herewith a brief history of the tragic events, lamented by posterity, a parable to the masses that where apathy dwells there evil enters.

Born in the central city-state of Torontopolis, the Tyrant was the first of three sons of Titus Arsus Harperius, an oil accountant at the forum Olitarium Imperialis. He so took after his father that he was known as Titus Arsus II. Sadly, his unwavering belief in his superiority made him an unpopular child who could never play well with others. This affliction dogged him all his days, making him a lonely and angry figure whose substitute for love was power over others. Nor could he find employment as a young man, until his father secured for him a rather lowly position in the dispatches section of the Olitarium. His lack of social and marketable skills made him well suited for nothing at all, and thus he resolved to enter politics at the first opportunity.

Moving to the far-flung province of Alberticia and assuming a new western identity, the Tyrant commenced his training as Homo Politicus at the Calgarian Lyceum. It was there that he encountered the notorious sophists, Tomus Phlemagus, Tedius Moronicus, Barrenus Cooperius, and Erronius Nobbus, followers of the philosopher Leonides Straussius. After the fashion of the Greeks, Plato and Aristotle, Straussius argued that society consists of a great rabble too dim-witted to make informed decisions about politics. Thus, they must be herded by philosopher kings, a white male ruling elite, who must deploy “the Noble Lie” — a tissue of lies in fact — to conceal certain truths the people could not accept. The philosopher kings must speak and write in code using cryptic language and obscure metaphors, conveying one message for the few worthies intelligent enough to decipher them, another for the ignorant hordes.

The chief truth to be concealed is that the gods are mere fictions conjured up by the rulers to shroud their interests in the authority of the supernatural. Religion was the most useful tool in fact as it laid at the feet of the gods responsibility for anything that went wrong, and a promise of eternal rewards in the heavens for obedience to the rulers on earth.

A simple formula followed: nationalism to create external and internal enemies, to unite ‘us’ against ‘them’; a state of perpetual war to inflame fear and justify suspension of civil liberties; censorship and suppression of dissent; simplistic populist platitudes to turn the masses against their own interests; focus on crime and punishment to deflect attention; destruction of opponents and if necessary, fraudulent elections to replace democracy with autocracy.

The Tyrant had found at last his life’s ambition, cloaked in nobility even! Rule by stealth: it was as if the entire philosophy were created for him alone! He immediately joined the exclusive and secretive male club, Civitas. There and then did he take the Hypocritic Oath, to speak whatever deception and practice any swindle necessary to achieve his aim of total power.

The Tyrant’s plan unfolded thus: after insinuating himself into several political factions, he joined the “Populares” led by Priesthus Maniacus, claiming to represent the social reformist commoner Plebeians, who dominated the Assembly. They aligned themselves against the ‘Optimates” who represented the conservative Patricians in the Senate. It was not long, however, before he stabbed Maniacus in the back, and left the party to lead a new national coalition of citizens (though in reality it represented only the Civitas citizens). There he agitated for a wall of fire to be lit around Alberticia to stop Rottawa from redistributing its wealth to other provinces.

When at last dissent in the ranks unseated the new Populares leader, Stoogious Dazius, Harperius set about destroying his other rivals, Peccadillus Macaenus, Climactus Inclementius, and Bellisima Strontium. Though he longed to adopt his idol Augustus’ practice of having competitors flung into the river with weights tied around their necks, he instead issued such insidious threats that they obliged him by falling upon their own swords.

Upon assuming leadership of the Populares, Harperius began courting the populace with false promises to lower taxes, curb the Patricians’ power through reform of the Senate, let into government the provinces of Canadania’s western flank, and subdue the Gauls threatening secession in the east.

He was defeated by Paulus Maritimus of the Caucus Liberalus, however, whereupon he proposed a Triumvirate with the Tribune of the Gauls, Gillius Deceptus, and the popular Plebeian, Jaccus Laetonius, though in the end they refused the Alliance.

Harperius then conducted a relentless campaign to smash the Caucus Liberalus, bribing members of the Assembly such as the ailing Chuccupus Cadmium to vote against them.

So at long last, Maritimus fell and Harperius was elected Consul. Immediately there signs that his ambitions were much loftier, however, when he paid tribute to “the golden circle of the Crown, which links us all together with the majestic past.” He thought it no coincidence that his own name, Stephanus, means ‘crown’, and convinced himself that the Fates had even greater glory in store for him.

Yet absolute power deluded the Tyrant still as he commanded the allegiance of only those whom fear rather than affection kept in his party. And even these he would give a chance to declare themselves by agreeing with one of his rivals, then he would crush them and confiscate their estates. The Tyrant embarked upon ruthless pogroms against any who dared dissent or even perform their legal duties by pointing out problems in his administration. From grain inspectors to centurions to emissaries, any who complained would be dismissed from their posts and sent into exile, never to be heard from again. It was a Reign of Terror that surpassed even Caligula’s, and later the Tyrant would even surpass himself. It was the massive economic catastrophe caused by greedy money-lenders early in Harperius’ Consulship that almost precipitated his demise. Instead of responding to the disaster, Harperius and his lieutenant, Janus Ekonomichrysus Flahertus, were determined to destroy the Caucus Liberalus once and for all, proposing a decree to rescind public funds from political parties. While they were at it they revived the old Roman Oppian law to make it illegal for women to possess as much wealth as men, using the confiscated income of women to help defray the costs of the several wars Harperius would wage. When the opposition leaders Studius Dionysus, Gillius Deceptus and Jaccus Laetonius moved to replace him with a Triumvirate of their own, he padlocked the doors of the Assembly until finally the coalition dissolved.

Suspending democracy became a habitual pleasure for the Tyrant; he shut down the Assembly and set curfews against protesters at the slightest rumble of criticism, especially of his war in the east that had dragged on for ten years with no sign of victory. Fearing that his war-weary legions would march on Rottawa under General Manlius Agrippa, Harperius’ advisors told him that he had to get Agrippa. When Harperius went personally to review the legions in Afghanistania, his Praetorian Guards arrested Agrippa and lashed him to an oar on the Tyrant’s ship to live out his days as a galley slave.  During a severe storm that savaged the fleet on the return voyage, Harperius himself bailed out General Motus, whom he then promoted. Any possible insurrection in the ranks was thwarted by rotating command between Generals Gloudius Maximus, and Nefarius Purpus.

Although Harperius had been elected partly on his promise to reform the Patrician Senate, in the end he stacked it with his cronies such as the demagogue, Megaphonus Dufus, a former gladiator in the Coliseum, Jacqass Dementius, and a wealthy Patrician, Faustus Maximillion.

Harperius’ chief objective vis-à-vis the populace was to instill among them such apathy that they would believe anything he said but would not care what he actually did. Under the Straussian maxim that the bigger the lie, the more people are apt to believe it, he spun fantastical tales of his own prowess in management of trade, commerce, and government, reframing every policy failure (and there were many) as a success. He made laws and broke them with impunity. With his motto ‘carpe per diem’, he abolished the census in order to limit the amount of grain and gold he was obliged to distribute to the growing population. He reduced the taxes of the Patricians and increased those of the Plebs.

With his practiced art of deception, Harperius convinced the Plebs that they were entitled to little or nothing from the state, that their taxes should only be spent on security (for him), though he refused to account for expenditures from the public purse. The Plebs were encouraged to express their frustration and aggression at the gladiators in the violent Games held frequently, especially when the grain measure was down.

The Tyrant then undertook a program of hate-mongering, creating ‘enemies of the people’ to distract them from his systematic draining of the treasury. Meanwhile, he appealed to the bigotry of the mob by stepping up his persecution of sodomites(despite the alleged proclivities of his most intimate minions, Jason Kennicus and Judas Barebacchus)No doubt the widespread rumours that his wife, Laurenia, had begun to worship at the Temple of Sappho stiffened his resolve. But still Harperius had not attained total power. To this end, he made it clear that he held the Assembly in utter contempt, and appealed to the people for the last time to appoint him Dictator for Life, like Julius Caesar before him. He had the heads removed from various statues of gods in the temples and replaced with his own.

Though he offered the general populace nothing but more dungeons and war birds, he distributed bribes among the voters: citizenship for the immigrants from the Persian Empire, Asia, and Africa; lower taxes for the Plebs; religious freedom for the persecuted minorities; continued freedom for women to abort unwanted pregnancies; and more wars for the legions and weapons craftsmen.He hurled the most obscene epithets at Menshevikus Ignatius of the Caucus Liberalus and Jaccus Laetonius of the new democrats, spinning ignoble lie after ignoble lie. Thus the apathetic populace was finally duped into entrusting him with power.

Once Dictator, Harperius’ power knew no bounds. He immediately declared himself Emperor. What followed was a descent into an Age of Darkness, an orgy of book burning, witch-hunts, outlawing of abortion and homosexuality, assaults on the rights of women, suppression of religious minorities, the closing of schools and hospitals, looting of the public treasury, redistribution of wealth to the Patricians, war, famine, pestilence, and a host of other measures to destroy the democratic system of our forebears.

The Greeks, Plato and Aristotle described a tyrant as, “one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics — against his own people as well as others”. As our recent world history so forcefully demonstrates, once in power, a tyrant will not be removed save by bloody revolution.

Yet of all the terrible events here told, the greatest tragedy of all is that the Plebeians could have avoided tumbling from apathy back to bondage simply by marking their X’s next to someone else’s name.

Griselda Grumpfuttock

Griselda Grumpfuttock is a riddle wrapped in a girdle inside an enigma swathed in secrecy within a cloud of cigar smoke tinged with a whiff of dark chocolate.