A current bit of political blogphoria has been engendered by Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-Brooklyn & Queens) provision of sphincteral redundancy to the “Republic party” (e.g.). I had a slightly different idea as to what might be the appropriate way to show gratitude for
Frank Luntz’s Joe McCarthy’s gift of the term “Democrat party” to our public discourse.
In 133 BC, the monarch of Pergamum (modern day Bergama, Turkey), a wealthy Greek city which controlled much of western Asia Minor, left his entire kingdom to Rome. This was the culmination of the cowing of eastern Mediterranean potentates by the Romans that had resulted from Rome’s razing of Corinth in 146. At this stage in its history, Rome did not actually want to administer its overseas conquests; they were granted nominal autonomy as long as things stayed peaceful and sufficient tribute flowed into Rome’s coffers. Thus the sudden outright acquisition of a good chunk of territory just oozing with wealth left the Roman elites both drooling at the prospects for plunder and a bit puzzled at how best to exploit those prospects. At first they just let Pergamum go to seed, but when anarchy set in, they finally sent out an army to restore order. By 123, they had come to the conclusion that the best route was probably to restore the administrative order that had existed under the monarchy — including the policy of pretty much taxing the hell out of everyone.
Pragmatic and cynical in equal measure, the new tax regime worked by actively fostering greed. Lacking the huge bureaucracies that the monarchs of the East relied on to squeeze their subjects, the Republic turned instead to the private sector to provide the necessary expertise. Tax-farming contracts were publicly auctioned, with those who bought them advancing in full the tribute owed to the state. Since the sums demanded were astronomical, only the very wealthiest could afford to pay them, and even then not as individual contractors. Instead, resources would be pooled, and the resulting companies administered, as befitted huge financial concerns, with elaborate care. Shares might be offered, general meetings held, directors elected to the service of the board. In the province itself a consortium’s employees would include soldiers, sailors, and postmen, quite apart from the tax-collecting staff. The name given to the businessmen who ran these cartels, publicani, harked back to their function as agents of the state, but there was nothing public spirited about the services they provided. Profit was all, and the more obscene the better. The aim was not only to collect the official tribute owed to the state, but also to strong arm the provincials into paying extra for the privilege of being fleeced. If necessary, commercial know-how would complement the thuggery. A debtor might be offered loans at ruinous rates and then, once he had been leeched of everything he owned, enslaved. Far distant in Rome, what did the shareholders of the great corporations care for the suffering they imposed? Cities were no longer sacked; they were bled to death instead.
Ostensibly, Rome’s subjects did have some recourse against the depredations of their tormentors. The taxation system may have been privatized, but the province’s administration remained in the hands of the senatorial elite—the class still most imbued with the ideals of the Republic. These ideals obliged governors to provide their subjects with the benefits of peace and justice. In reality, so lucrative were the bribes on offer that even the sternest principles had the habit of eroding into dust. Roman probity fast became a sick joke. To the wretched provincials, there appeared little difference between the publicani and the senators sent to govern them. Both had their snouts in the same loot-filled trough.
— Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, 39-40.
Thus, by way of offering a tip of the hat to the Halliburtons and Bechtels of ancient Rome, perhaps the appropriate term might be “‘Publican Party” rather than “Republic Party”.
One might also justify this choice by noting the current resemblance the Republicans bear to a headless chicken, and (in a chimerical twist to the metaphor) that it might be a small mercy to allow them to keep their tail — for tucking between their legs.