Remember March, the Ides of March remember: did not great Julius bleed for justice’s sake?”
-Brutus, Julius Caesar, Act V
On March 15, 44 B.C., Brutus, Cassius, and a cohort of co-conspirators committed the greatest act of political bravery any patriot can perpetuate to ensure their fellow citizens’ liberty from one of the worst would-be tyrants the world has ever seen. Like our own Founders in signing the Declaration, they risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors. For their valor, they paid with all three. Brutus and Cassius lost their lives at the Battle of Philippi, and were immortalized in infamy by their countryman Dante Aligeri as suffering eternal perdition in the deepest depth of Hell alongside Judas Iscariot and Satan himself. But through their courageous act, they marked themselves as among the first Americans – not according to geography or legality, but rather with respect to their temperament and ideology.* These were men for whom Patrick Henry’s proclamation “Give me liberty or give me death” were words they lived and died by.
In this time that tries men’s souls, when summertime soldiers and sunshine patriots will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, we should remember the Ides of March. The necessary precautions which we take as individuals and a society to curve the spread of the Chinese Flu must be weighed against our duty as citizens of a free Republic to preserve its Constitution and the inalienable rights and democratic governance enshrined within it, even should that come at the cost of risking our own lives, fortunes, and sacred honors.
Already there are those calling for our most fundamental freedoms to be stripped. In a recent Atlantic article John Inazu called, for all intents and purposes, to suspend the Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, thereby prohibiting religious congregations from actually congregating. While seemingly pragmatic from a secular perspective, it ignores two important principles. Firstly, that our individual rights preexist government, and that government exists solely to secure such rights. A government which censors speech, prosecutes the press, prohibits assembly, or denies the free exercise of religion is no government at all. Per Aquinas, “Lex iniusta non est lex.”
Secondly, while many nominalists of various faiths will willingly abstain from assembling on Sabbaths or Holy Days of Obligation or the equivalents thereof, for the most devote there exist no exemptions for not worshipping their deity on the designated day and in the prescribed manner. If He exists, then their first duty is rightfully towards God; their second to the Republic. And insofar as the legitimacy of the government derives from the consent of the governed, how can people of faith be co-signatories to any social contract in which the State assumes authority over and against the Divine. Per Peter, “We must obey God rather than men.”
What worries me most, however, is not the less likely imposition of Martial Law or other flagrant attacks on the Bill of Rights, but rather an equally unconstitutional measure which could serve to erode those rights long after this crisis has abated. Should another wave of the Wuhan Virus hit in late October or very early November, the current Caesar might see such as the perfect opportunity to declare a state of emergency and suspend elections, either temporarily or indefinitely. This would immediately trigger the long-feared Constitutional crisis. Per Article II, “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” For as much power as the Congress has abdicated to the Executive Branch, this is one they would surely loathe to, or at least the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, seeing such as the political ploy it’d be. Because the sole discretion to set the date of the Presidential election falls to the Legislative Branch, any attempt by the Executive to usurp such would need to be adjudicated by the Judicial.
It’s herein that Majority Leader McConnell’s rank politicization of the Supreme Court will have eroded its legitimacy. Were a narrow majority of the Justices, voting along ideological lines, to uphold a plain violation of the Constitution in order to perpetuate the party in power, twisting the mechanisms of democracy towards undemocratic ends, then the American Republic would continue to be so in name only. As when the Roman Senate named Octavian “Augustus,” awarding him the tribunicia potestas and the title “Princeps,” investing in an autocrat all the powers of a monarch without ever acknowledging as much, so too will the American government have at its head a king for the first time since the tyrant George. For irrespective of crowns or titles or the symbols of power, it’s in the reality of so much power invested in one man wherein tyranny resides.
It happened in Rome; it can happen here, whether through the scenario imagined above or a similar one. The preservation of our Republic falls now not to soldiers on distant battlefields, but to each and every citizen, willing to risk our lives through infection or other hazards in order to exercise our enfranchisement. Towards that end, we wintertime warriors and dark-of-night patriots should look to the example of Brutus and Cassius, the later of whom offers us a word of encouragement: “If I know this, know all the world besides, that part of tyranny I do bear I can shake off at pleasure… And why should Caesar be a tyrant then? Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf, but that he sees the Romans are but sheep.”