We take no side in the seething debate within the Republican establishment as to whether Donald Trump is a fascist or a fraud or some unedifying combination of the two, but we are certain that their truly visceral hatred of The Donald has an entirely different source – one which is not so much Republican as republican in the classical meaning of word, being derived from the cold fear which grips the hearts of powerful élite groups when one of its members attempts to win power over the group as a whole by allying himself with the powerless millions outside it.
The Roman republic in its final years is, of course, the famous prototype, with the transition to empire largely brought about by the breakdown of the Roman oligarchy’s collective solidarity. As the expansion of Roman wealth and power made the potential prize of domination commensurately greater, some oligarchs became tempted to reach out to the lower classes for support in their competition with each other. The murder of Caesar in the Senate was merely the last of a series of tyrannicides where ‘tyrant’ was defined not as one who enslaved the people, but as a popular man who undermined the aristocracy by appealing directly to the people. Livy, for example, once described how one Maelius wickedly distributed food to the people from his own, rather than the Senate’s, account, and was in consequence bumped off by Servilius in order to rid the Republic of an incipient tyrant. Read more