Our politicians are desperately keen to turn the toast of the people, Nigel Farage, into toast himself. But is that wise? Time to consider the career of the Roman general Marius (157–86 BC).
Noble families — i.e. those who had held high office — dominated Roman politics. Marius did not come from a noble family, but it was wealthy, and it did have good connections, which Marius later improved by marrying an aunt of Julius Caesar. Thanks largely to his considerable military prowess, he worked his way up the slippery pole, and made his mark in 107 BC when he became consul on a people’s programme, and six times subsequently.
First, he made it clear that he was no toff. The historian Sallust gives him a cracking speech on the subject: ‘Compare me, the outsider, with these high and mighty ones. What they have learned out of books I have learned on the battlefield ... It is for you to judge whether words or deeds are more to the point ...The privilege they claim on the strength of other people’s merits they will not allow me in right of my own merits, just because I am a newcomer to the nobility of office. Yet surely it is better to have ennobled oneself than to have disgraced a nobility that one has inherited...’, and so on.
Second, a life in the army was a pretty good one, but the poor had always been debarred because they could not afford the kit. Marius not only started to recruit among them, providing the kit too, but he also kept them in arms, offering them a ‘pension’ of money and land after 16 years’ service. He therefore began the process by which soldiering would eventually become a full-time career.
Marius was no populist revolutionary. He was a people’s hero, and the establishment knew what they were doing when they embraced him. Today’s establishment must find a way of embracing Farage. Butter him up e.g. with a job negotiating immigrant numbers, vel sim. That’s what you do with toast.