Supposedly, when the conspirators were burying their daggers into Julius Caesar’s breast, Marcus Junius Brutus declared, “Sic semper tyrranis!” This is often translated as “Death to tyrants!”, a phrase resonant with Americans, whose nation was born by dissolving the political bands forged by the tyrant George III. For America, “Death to tyrants!” is a call to arms, an imperative for one and all to cut the head from the serpent with the implication that death is a tyrant’s due. True, it has proven to be a double-edged sword, especially when every and anybody can decide who a tyrant is as was evident when John Wilkes Booth shouted the phrase after assassinating Abraham Lincoln, but it is a notion that lies deep in the heart of the American soul.
However, “Sic semper tyrranis!” is more closely translated as “Thus ever to tyrants,” which I maintain could also be seen as a descriptive statement. Brutus, after all, was merely pointing out what was taking place before his eyes, and we know that death isn’t always “ever thus with tyrants.” In fact, I saw firsthand how it usually is for tyrants when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently took measures to limit the success of protesters at the Wisconsin state capitol.
After a week of thousands of peaceful protesters swarming the capitol, Walker announced new measures that, taken together, clearly were designed to impede the ability of protesters to get into the building, lessen their numbers, and shut them off from the outside world. I described these measures to some of Walker’s supporters, and in spite of their libertarian leanings, they began justifying his behavior. More pointedly, they actually made Walker’s decisions, taken individually, seem like reasonable measures to ensure public safety. That’s when I got a glimpse inside the machinery of tyranny. I’m not claiming here that Walker is a tyrant. I’m merely saying that I saw how tyranny works by the ease with which one can rationalize most any behavior, regardless of how transparent its ulterior motives.
It seems to me, then, that it isn’t accurate to always see “Thus ever to tyrants” as “Death to tyrants.” More often, “Thus ever to tyrants” is to defend a tyrant’s most egregious actions as being in a nation’s best interest. Until the people who excuse tyrants get sick and tired of their own attenuated lot in life, tyrants will continue to consolidate wealth and power, stealing it from us, the people, as we smile and thank them for their kindness and concern.