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This chapter explores the crises of the Roman and American republics. Understanding these crises requires that we view politics as an arena of identity contestation rather than simply interest articulation. What changes in both Rome and the United States is that participants came to see each other as Strangers, no longer sharing the same background assumptions, the same sense of the past, nor the same anticipation of the future. Borne of distrust, norms of getting things down turned into norms of obstruction. This had implications for how politics was experienced. The changes in these norms not only disabled these institutions, making them unable to actualize a future, but also made possible alterations in the political framework that might have been inconceivable before. In particular, one sees the elevation of individuals who offered solutions by promising to bypass those ineffective and unresponsive institutions. That is, as institutions and processes become distant abstractions that no longer answer to fundamental questions of the future of the community, the individual becomes the tangible personification of politics, answering these questions in a singular voice.
The story of the final months of Caesar’s life has been dominated by the question whether he wanted to be "king." That is to focus the question in a way that privileges the perspective of his assassins. Caesar himself was preoccupied at this time with massive preparations for a war of vengeance against the Parthians on a truly extraordinary scale. The knock-on effects of the mobilization effort were themselves extremely disruptive, causing an explosive intensification of the political game at a time when the Dictator was about to absent himself from the capital for several years. He had gravely alienated the urban plebs, encouraging the conspirators’ expectations (falsified in the event) that they would have popular support. The Caesarian coalition was coming apart, as shown by the remarkable clash between Mark Antony and Dolabella on the eve of Caesar’s scheduled departure. Caesar made little to no effort to create a new political system out of the ruins of civil war during the short period that he spent in Rome before his intended departure on an expedition that would keep him abroad for several years, much less to oversee a transition to a whole new kind of politics.
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