Incitatii Bolivariani

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INCITATUS-2… or a modest proposal for Venezuela

(A guest post by friend-of-the-blog Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez)

The Emperor Gaius Caligula Caesar enjoys a hallowed a place within popular imagination. With the possible exception of Nero, whose alleged stint at fighting fire with music has historically received mixed reviews, it is Caligula’s reign that is remembered as the very apex of Ancient Roman lunacy. On one occasion he is said to have “declared war” on the god Neptune, ordering his legions to march into the sea in fully armored formation, and triumphantly bringing cartloads of seashells and dead crabs to Rome as “plunder.”

I won’t even begin to get into his legendary reputation for sexual sadism.

Yet by far the most celebrated of Caligula’s ancient eccentricities, is the story of Incitatus: the Emperor’s favorite horse, whom he elevated to the Roman Senate, and eventually made Consul.

While modern experts are quick to dismiss the historicity of such outlandish tales – likening their author, Suetonius, to a modern yellow journalist – I believe that we should give it the report the benefit of the doubt. After all, we weren’t there, and should we choose to lend it credence, we may well glean some useful context, and mayhap even a potential solution, to the many problems facing our beloved Venezuela today.

Let us assume then that Suetonius was right about the facts, but he still may have erred a bit as to their interpretation. Perhaps the assisted rise of history’s first great equine politician –or “hippoconsul”– was not an irrational act by a schizophrenic Caesar but instead a highly symbolic, and politically calculated, illustration of the prevailing institutional power dynamic. Such a move would certainly make for a stark, and very public, illustration as to the importance of vestigial republican institutions in the era of empire.

“Gentlemen, I have decided to promote an animal from within my household to join you in your illustrious political body. Clearly, he can fulfill your vaunted responsibilities much the same as any of you can and the announcement will be made public tomorrow morning at daybreak. You can bitch and moan if you like, but my mind is made up. Rome has spoken.”

Even the horse’s name, Incitatus, is provocative, quite clearly derived from the Latin “incitāre”: root to the English word “incite” and one that carries an identical meaning. In inciting the Roman Senate into an understandable bout of righteous indignation at being disrespected, their inability to stop him would highlight just how helpless and irrelevant the institution had become. The humiliation would be absolute, and the message so powerful that, over twenty centuries later, we remember it.

Venezuela’s current government likewise shares a fondness for state actions aimed at symbolically degrading those they perceive as foes, and that will in turn illustrate the victim’s utter helplessness to do anything in response. Don’t believe me? Just ask Antonio Ledezma.

This rise of the rote political humiliation as a regular facet of the Venezuelan political landscape was perhaps inevitable. A regime that places far greater value on loyalty than on efficacy must find ways to unmistakably signal the extent to which compliance and attitude are the keys to success, and individual initiative is to be avoided. As a result of this philosophy, obedience has become so engrained within the DNA of the ruling party that if the Venezuelan president were to order a few brigades over to Higuerote to “attack Neptune” there is little doubt that the order would be followed.

Although perhaps we are giving Caligula a bit too much credit. Perhaps he did raise up his animal entirely on a whim, and without any overarching logic, or method to his madness. This is not entirely unfamiliar territory for Venezuelans: the ailing omnipotent leader, promoting a beloved and loyal companion to the loftiest of positions despite the latter’s considerable lack of qualifications for the role.

Or maybe they were on to something. Horses are animals that have been selectively bred over millennia to gallop without hesitation into physical danger, only to placate a fellow on his back. If the state truly does value loyalty over competency, perhaps it should consider going a step further … In this light I suspect that horses may indeed be strong candidates for roles throughout the Venezuelan government bureaucracy in future.

We could start by sending a few select Incitatii to fill the looming vacancies within the CNE and Supreme Court. After all, horses are used to wearing blinders, and so the transition is unlikely to be very difficult.

Following the success of this initial salvo, we could in turn move on to appointing some steeds to positions of leadership within the National Assembly. Given the equine proclivity for behaving like animals, these diputado pioneers would likely fit right in. The perfect revolutionary politicians: their loyalty would be absolute. As a bonus, this new breed of politician would almost certainly be less corrupt and ambitious, instead remaining satiated and grateful at devouring the mountains of paja regularly heaped on all Venezuelan by their national government.

Indeed the only tricky part would be finding out from where exactly on can import some horses.

1 COMMENT

  1. My only concern about a horse is its potential to overshadow the leader in wit and eloquence. On the other hand, I am told the dear deceased leader’s brothers keep some fine horses- the best- which might be suitable.

    • Canucklehead,
      At first I thought you were joking, but that is a serious and valid statement.

      Two concerns
      Would Cubans would write the horse’s speeches?
      Would hungry Venezuelans eat the horse?

  2. With so much intelectual prowess on the hoof, they would be likely to trot out paja profunda as their mane contribution BUT such deputies are fatal y flawed: they cannot rubber-stamp laws with an energetic “Yea”; they can only say “Neigh”.

  3. Well, at least Caligula appointed a member of the species Equus ferus caballus to the Roman senate, probably because he figured the animal had “horse sense”, a quality universally prized but, alas, so often lacking in politicians. I get the impression that our intrepid leader tends to favor Equus africanus domesticus to do his bidding.

  4. “A regime that places far greater value on loyalty than on efficacy”

    And we can make a connection of this Ancient Rome tradition to present-day Sicilian mafia. Thousands of years later and the mafia bosses keep doing exactly the same not very far from where Caligula lived. Just a coincidence? Hardly.

    What is funny about Caligula, though, is that he would not trust even their own relatives for key positions inside the government, his pets would be more loyal. And he was definitely right!

  5. Chavismo’s strengths lie in a impeccable leadership style: Plata O Plomo.

    Everyone knows the choice is clear, blind loyalty to the puppet masters , riches and power galore,
    or face ostracism form power, persecution, humiliation, etc..

    this leadership incentives align well with the societies lack fo strong morals and ethics.

    Chavismo (and castrismo) used our societie’s weakness to their advantage.

    BTW we do not only have asses and donkeys as public figures, everyone in a public role (specially media reps) are well above their Peter’s levels, all in amazement how much money they are being allowed to make, and totally dependant of their handlers.

    Es un Gobierno de Marionetas.

  6. Is not only the huge stuff like setting up parallel institutions like syndicates or Corpo-whatevers after they lose an election despite running the Statist machine at full steam, or taking the responsabilities off from a public office on a speech demonizing their enemies, is how that attitude translates on the day to day running of all public companies that is more damaging, unsufferable and explains the destruction of the capacity of production of said public companies.

    Is a very, very long series of incidents.

    • Yes, this post makes an interesting point. The suggestion of a horse as a Senator seems laughable, but the fact that it seems to make some sense is a daming indictment of all the Chavista legislators. The only thing they accomplish is siphoning off money to their favored constiuents, they never break with the regime on anything whatsoever and offer no useful input on any issues. Even if they are completely uncorrupt, their salaries are worthless drain on the treasury and their security details would be better deployed guarding the streets.

      What am I suggesting? The only thing that makes democracy at all worth it’s costs in Venezuela is the chance that at some point in the future it might allow a somewhat competent somewhat not corrupt government to take over. If that’s not going to ever happen it would be better to simply drop the pretenses of democracy and move to full blown dictatorship or hereditary monarchy. Indeed, a monarchy would at least be interested in the long term well being of the country since it is more or less their personal property. The representatives of the PSUV are primarily interested in siphoning off as much money as possible while they are in office.

      Hell, even China taking over Venezuela and making it a full blown colony run by a People’s Viceroy of the CCP would be an improvement. At the very least they’d insure safety of their oil workers and increase oil output, while building the infrastructure to facilitiate it. That’s more than Chavismo has done.

  7. On the subject of horses, this Govt. has taken an even older equine example to heart to characterize its Mesa de Dialogo–the Trojan Horse.

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