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Michael Parenti On Ancient Rome, the Bush Administration and Nader’s Presidential Bid

StoryFebruary 23, 2004
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We speak with renowned author, political analyst and activist Michael Parenti. His latest book is “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome.” [includes transcript]

From Iraq to Afghanistan to Haiti and beyond, many parts of the world are in turmoil. The US occupation of Iraq has seen more than 540 US soldiers killed in less than a year. Perhaps as many as 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died. In Afghanistan, where the US military has a sizeable presence, the situation remains unstable and violent. In Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the US of seeking to overthrow his government. Cuban leader Fidel Castro charged recently that the Bush administration was planning to assassinate him.

In Haiti, the armed gangs who are now occupying almost half the country and threatening to overthrow the government, are being led by some of the leaders of the paramilitary death squads that terrorized Haiti in the early 1990s. This November’s presidential election is certainly one of the most significant in recent history. Some international observers say that the whole world should be able to vote in the elections because US policy has such a dramatic impact on countries across the world.

  • * Michael Parenti*, author and political analyst. His newest book “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome” has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by Michael Parenti, who has taken these large issues on. He is the author of many books, and his latest is called “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome.” It has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Welcome to Democracy Now!.


AMY GOODMAN: I would like to try to look at where we stand today, the state of the world, and why at this point you have decided to write this book about ancient Rome. How do you see the two fitting together?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Well, I discovered that ancient history is not so ancient. Many of the same issues attain an overweening, ruling aristocratic class that believes that everything belongs to them. They have an entitlement to the resources and labor of society. They have a right to plunder the rest of the world for self-enrichment, and I think we see the same thing today. I’m not one of those critics that believes U.S. foreign policy is confused, or stupid, or misinformed, or well-intentioned but it goes awry. I think it’s a brilliant policy filled with many brilliant, terrible, horrible victories. And that’s what we’re describing now. It’s systematically undermines any movement, any country, any leadership, any popular group that tries an alternative way of self-defining, self-developing, using the resources, the markets, the labor of their society for their own needs, rather than for a multi-corporate global system, a neo-liberal system, which seems to be the goal of this reactionary clique in office today.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you what you think about Ralph Nader running for President of United States?

MICHAEL PARENTI: More than 20 years ago I coined — I believe I coined the phrase, “two-party monopolies” in my early edition of “Democracy For the Few.” Ralph Nader is right; it is a two-party monopoly. Everything he says it about the influence of corporate America is true. I believe his presence will move the center of political gravity a little further to the left. I voted for him last time. I wouldn’t vote for him this time. I wish wasn’t do it being it, despite everything I say. I believe we are at a pivotal point, a very crucial pivotal point, and there are times when you have to pursue coalition politics against the forces like the kind we’re facing in the white house today. These guys are playing for keeps. They’re breaking every rule in the book. They carry out role call votes where they’ll a vote open for 15 hours to shift it over it their way. They’re redoing census and gerrymandering in states at any time they want. They’re stealing elections. So, we’re really facing a very crucial, and very dangerous enemy. And I think Ralph’s presence, the use of scarce resources, volunteers and all of that, I think that is not what we need right now.

AMY GOODMAN: You said we’re facing…

MICHAEL PARENTI: It hurts me to say it, because I really admire Ralph Nader and I consider him a friend. I don’t think I’m going to vote for him this time.

AMY GOODMAN: You said we’re facing a dangerous enemy. Would you say George Bush is the enemy?

MICHAEL PARENTI: That’s exactly who I had in Mind. George Bush, his associates, and the ruling clique he represents. The national security state is being totally unleashed to go on out there. In fact, the C.I.A. sounds more reasonable than George Bush. That’s got to be something when you can make the C.I.A. sound more balanced than Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you write a book today, at this period which you consider extremely grave, write a book on ancient Rome?

MICHAEL PARENTI: It’s a fascinating time, and it’s very relevant. It’s about the very same kind of struggle. John Edwards talks about the two Americas, you could talk about the two Rome’s. It was the same thing. What has come down to us in history is a view of ancient Rome that is totally indebted to the roman ruling class. Most historians today accept the view of Rome that the assassins had, the view of the rich aristocracy, which was to denounce any reformer as a demagogue, and to denounce the agitations of the people as the expressions of a mob and a rabble. And my investigation shows that the roman people weren’t a mob or a rabble. They were masons and carpenters, construction workers and dockers, teamsters and shopkeepers- all sorts of hard working people fighting for things like overthrowing a Kingship, instituting a republic, calling for debt cancellations against usury, calling for decent rents, rent and land controls, and land redistribution… Issues that are very much alive today. So it would be a good journey through time to see these same kinds of very vital issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was Julius Caesar, Michael Parenti?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Julius Caesar was an aristocrat who sided with the Roman people. He’s not my hero, but he was one of a long line of what we’ll call populare’s, which were popular leaders who tried to institute these reforms that the people were fighting for. The Gracchi brothers, Claudius and others. Caesar was the last. All of them were assassinated. That’s the way ruling classes work. If the elections don’t go their way, they will just assassinate the winner and escalate. We see the same things happening in Haiti today.

AMY GOODMAN: How was Julius Caesar assassinated?

MICHAEL PARENTI: He was assassinated by Brutus and Cassius, who were not very nice people; I examine them further. Brutus was a ruthless money lender who charged 45% interest, destroyed a whole community that couldn’t meet its debts, and extorted money from others. They killed Caesar because he was making these kinds of reforms: Imposing luxury taxes on the filthy rich, demanding that they use at least one-third of their labor force to be free labor, instead of slave labor. Trying to roll back slave labor and use free labor. He was doing things like this, and any ruling class in history, when it’s faced with reforms, defines these reforms as thievery and dangerous leveling, and sees them as undermining society. And they will go after the reformer, usually by demonizing him/her, calling him/her power hungry, usurper, this, that, and eventually resorting to acts of violence to settle the issue. May I also say that Rome is just fascinating on its own terms. Not just the parallels to today. These people were interesting to deal with…

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to be done?

MICHAEL PARENTI: …a lot more interesting than John Kerry or George Bush…go ahead

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Parenti, what do you think has to be done this year? What do you think needs to be done to turn this country around, since clearly that’s what you would like to see?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Massive demonstrations, agitations at all levels on all of these basic issues, and more and more pressuring of the mainstream media to expose the kinds of nefarious things that are being perpetrated by the white house, which not only are bad for the country, but as one of your opening reports pointed out, may even jeopardize the very survival of our globe with global warming. I also believe electoral strategy is not irrelevant. Elections do matter. It does matter who gets elected, contrary to what some people on the militant left will say. It does matter who gets elected. And…

AMY GOODMAN: You might have been described in that place before, the militant left?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Yeah. I think of myself as a militant leftist, and I disagree with other people on the militant left who say it doesn’t matter who gets elected. I mean, I have heard people in A.N.S.W.E.R. say this.

AMY GOODMAN: Do those who say that John Kerry voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, supported NAFTA, supported…

MICHAEL PARENTI: He still does.

AMY GOODMAN: …supported the USA Patriot Act.

MICHAEL PARENTI: Ralph Nader said it correctly. He is better than Bush, but there’s a lot wanting. As a candidate, I think he will be a very poor candidate. I have never seen John Kerry give anything but an engineered response. “Hello, New Hampshire.” The guy is wooden. He’s another Al Gore.

AMY GOODMAN: John Edwards?

MICHAEL PARENTI: John Edwards is vastly better. I have been supporting Dennis Kucinich. If Dennis pulls out of the race, I will definitely go with John Edwards, yeah. I think he would actually make ultimately a stronger candidate than John Kerry.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans for this year? How do you plan to be engaged?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Doing the things I do. Going around the country speaking, organizing, agitating, endorsing, doing fund-raisers for groups, going out on demonstrations, writing letters and making phone calls, and listening to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you be outside the Republican convention protesting this summer?

MICHAEL PARENTI: Probably not. Ralph Nader is not the only one who is 70 years old, so am I. And I have been arrested and beaten up about four times by the police now. You never know, maybe my son might persuade me to go with him there.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Parenti’s son is Christian Parenti. Well I want to thank you for being with us. Michael Parenti is the author of “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome.” Among his other books. That does it for today’s program.

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