Jim Sleeper: Arguing the World It's Not Just a Scandal, It's a Syndrome

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jim Sleeper, a former editor at Newsday and columnist for New York Daily News, is a lecturer in political science at Yale.

...Thucydides chronicled it in ancient Athens. And in Edward Gibbon’s telling, the Roman republic succumbed to its first emperor, Augustus, because he understood that “the Senate and the people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom.”

The founders of our own republic, reading Gibbon’s account (then hot off the presses), worried that their new republic would end not with a coup but a dictator’s smile and swagger if the people became so tired of the burdens of self-government that they could be either jollied along or intimidated into servitude, or both.

Ben Franklin warned that the Constitution “can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall have become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

How might that happen? “History does not more clearly point out any fact than this, that nations which have lapsed from liberty to...slavish subjection have been brought to this unhappy condition by gradual paces,” wrote founder Richard Henry Lee.

And Alexander Hamilton founded the New York Post in 1801 because he saw a need for information and commentary to help Americans “decide the important question,” as he’d put it in 1787, “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”...

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