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Ancient and modern

How to tell if Jeremy Corbyn is a proper republican

Hating kings and queens is not enough. Is he ready to share power?

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

29 August 2015

9:00 AM

True to his antique, bearded ideology, guru Corbyn is a ‘republican’, a form of government invented 2,500 years ago.

‘Republic’ derives from the Latin res publica — ‘people’s property, business’ (not politicians’). It defined Rome in contrast to its earliest condition as a monarchy, under the control of kings. Romans dated the republican revolution to 509 bc, when the last king, Tarquinius Superbus (‘arrogant’), was thrown out after his son Sextus raped the noblewoman Lucretia. From then on, at least in theory, the people could always have the last word through the various people’s assemblies. One can be quite sure that Corbyn will welcome popular control of the Labour party — in theory.


Indeed, as a true republican, Corbyn will also applaud a second Roman principle: power-sharing. For, such was the Roman fear of one-man rule, the king was replaced by two consuls, neither able to propose a course of action without the other’s assent. Further, Corbyn will surely welcome two other Roman conditions of service: the limitation on his term of high office — one year, to be precise — and the responsibility, with his co-consul, to preside over the election of their successors. True, in the case of a really dangerous situation, Romans could appoint a one-man dictator for its duration; but on seeing the crisis out, the dictator, like Cincinnatus, would at once give up power and return to his plough.

Finally, Corbyn would be committed to the concept of libertas, which meant, for Romans, freedom from the domination of the powerful, and freedom for politicians to shape their careers in any way they felt appropriate. As an MP dismissive of all the leaders under whom he has served, he would obviously protect that liberty among members of his republican Labour party to the bitter end.

There is much rich, age-old wisdom here for the guru to celebrate, and there will be more next week, when the plebeians take centre stage.


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