Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Goldberg, Libertarians, and Law Enforcement

Jonah Goldberg has written a column on the death of Eric Garner that gives me some insight into the libertarian mindset.  He writes to defend Rand Paul's comment on the subject:
I think there’s something bigger than the individual circumstances. . . . I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so that’s driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police to say, ‘Hey we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.’ . . . For someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.
The choice of words is poor, Goldberg acknowledges, but the point is sound.  Because to Goldberg as a libertarian, police killing law breakers is the end point of the law -- any law.  That is why we should have as few laws as possible.  "The state is about violence. You can talk all day about how 'government is just another word for those things we do together,' but what makes government work is force, not hugs."

Thus to a libertarian like Goldberg, police-community relations, or deep hostility between police and black communities, or excessive force,or even people being killed by police are not in and of themselves important issues.  They are simply inevitable side effects of having a police force at all. This is not to suggest that Goldberg is an anarchist or wants to do away with police forces.  He simply considers it inevitable that when they enforce, they will use force, and that when they use force, sometimes it will be excessive, sometimes people will even be killed.  The best way to avoid it, from the viewpoint of a libertarian like Goldberg, is to keep our number of laws to the bare minimum necessary so that police will have as few opportunities to use excessive force as possible.

I can see some problems in that viewpoint.  For instance, even a libertarian like Goldberg presumably sees a ban on shoplifting (as was the case in Ferguson) as legitimate.  Which would mean that when the Ferguson police shot and killed a shoplifter, a libertarian could only greet it with a shrug.  Officer Wilson was upholding a legitimate law against theft.  A few incidents like this are simply the price we pay to maintain law and order.

Well, speaking as a liberal, I disagree.  It is possible to enforce the law without resort to excessive force.  The amount of force appropriate is and should be proportionate to the crime in question.  Why, earlier today, a deranged man in New York (apparently black) invaded a synagogue, stabbed a student, charged the policeman called to the scene with a knife, and was fatally shot.  I have no complaint there.  The man attempted murder and was posing a serious threat to people around him. The use of deadly force was entirely appropriate.  It is an altogether different matter from killing a shoplifter or a cigarette peddler.  And, yes, the poor state of relations between the police department and many black communities is a serious issue, whether one considers any particular regulation legitimate or not.

It does offer me some insight, though, into why libertarians like Goldberg see the most important issue of freedom and government as confining government within the narrowest possible scope, rather than properly controlling its use of force.  They have simply dismissed properly controlling its use of force as a lost cause and therefore confine themselves to minimizing such instances.

Cross posted at Enlightened Layperson.

Torture Report

Amazing.  The Senate's torture report is out and, despite my one-time obsession with the subject, I feel no urge to post about it.  One thing should be kept in mind.  Horrifying as this report is, it is only the tip of the iceberg.  It addresses torture in secret sites by the CIA.  It does not address far more widespread, though probably more amateurish, use of torture by the military (see Abu Graib).

Maybe if I have a strong stomach, I can get to it later.  But 500 pages (to say nothing of 6000!) is formidable.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Victorious General and Failures of Democracy

So, having taken at least a look at how the Roman Republic started to come unglued, it is time to consider another factor I did not take into account when I reached my preliminary hypothoses on how democracies fail -- the role of the victorious general.  I did not consider the victorious general because, so far as I can tell, the victorious general has not been particularly dangerous in modern times.  Certainly, there have been no shortage of military dictatorships, but so far as I can tell, the charismatic victorious general using his popularity (either with the troops or with the general public) to steamroll accepted procedures has not been all that common.  Far more dangerous has been military defeat and brooding resentments over it.

It is clear, though, that victorious generals could be very dangerous in classical antiquity.  I confess, I have now begun Fortune's Favorites, which makes clear that one military dictatorship sets a very bad precedent.  As soon as one victorious general marches on Rome and seizes power by force, all the others are tempted to do the same.  It was such generals who were the undoing of the Roman Republic.  In Greece, victorious generals seizing power took place much earlier on.  Aristotle, writing well after such dictatorships had ended, speculated on why dictatorships had become so much less common in his day, attributed it to a separation of civil and military authority:
Of old, the demagogue was also a general, and then democracies changed into tyrannies. Most of the ancient tyrants were originally demagogues. They are not so now, but they were then; and the reason is that they were generals and not orators, for oratory had not yet come into fashion. Whereas in our day, when the art of rhetoric has made such progress, the orators lead the people, but their ignorance of military matters prevents them from usurping power; at any rate instances to the contrary are few and slight.
This history was well known by the Founding Fathers when they started this country.  Contrary to what I learned in school, they were not in the least bit worried about the U.S. turning into a European-style hereditary monarchy.  What they were worried about was a military dictatorship, which they considered worse than a hereditary monarchy.  The record of victorious generals in ancient Greece and Rome was not reassuring.  Events in France would soon prove that such fears were not idle.  At the same time, the Founders knew that victorious generals were not necessarily dangerous.  Before the time of Marius and Sulla, Rome had many victorious generals who held high office and respected the Republic.  And they had before their own eyes a shining example in the person of George Washington, whose respect for civilian control of the military was beyond dispute.  Certainly, in school we learned about Washington's popularity and prestige.  Not emphasized was that his popularity and prestige were no different than any other victorious general's. What made him stand out was his refusal to use that popularity and prestige to usurp unconstitutional powers.  So, what made George Washington different from Napoleon Bonaparte?  Was it simply greater restraint on the part of Washington, or are victorious generals only dangerous under certain conditions?

Suffice it to say that when Andrew Jackson became President, he had several traits that made people nervous.  His populist style was alarming to people who saw populist politicians as the undoing of the Roman Republic.  His emphasis on executive power and the President and embodiment of the will of the people smacked of a charismatic dictator.  And his war hero status reminded a lot of people more of Bonaparte than Washington.  Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, rather cynically commented:
The Americans have no neighbors, and consequently they have no great wars, or financial crises, or inroads, or conquest to dread; they require neither great taxes, nor great armies, nor great generals; and they have nothing to fear from a scourge which is more formidable to republics than all these evils combined, namely, military glory. It is impossible to deny the inconceivable influence which military glory exercises upon the spirit of a nation. General Jackson, whom the Americans have twice elected to the head of their Government, is a man of a violent temper and mediocre talents; no one circumstance in the whole course of his career ever proved that he is qualified to govern a free people, and indeed the majority of the enlightened classes of the Union has always been opposed to him. But he was raised to the Presidency, and has been maintained in that lofty station, solely by the recollection of a victory which he gained twenty years ago under the walls of New Orleans, a victory which was, however, a very ordinary achievement, and which could only be remembered in a country where battles are rare. Now the people which is thus carried away by the illusions of glory is unquestionably the most cold and calculating, the most unmilitary (if I may use the expression), and the most prosaic of all the peoples of the earth.
At the same time, Tocqueville was well aware that there was no danger whatever of Jackson becoming a military dictator:
It has been imagined that General Jackson is bent on establishing a dictatorship in America, on introducing a military spirit, and on giving a degree of influence to the central authority which cannot but be dangerous to provincial liberties. But in America the time for similar undertakings, and the age for men of this kind, is not yet come: if General Jackson had he entertained a hope of exercising his authority in this manner, he would infallibly have forfeited his political station, and compromised his life; accordingly he has not been so imprudent as to make any such attempt.
 He goes on to say that the real danger that Jackson poses is the degree to which he undermined federal authority.

Following Jackson the U.S. had many other victorious general Presidents.  William Henry Harrison (defeated Tecumseh), Zachary Taylor (Mexican American War), and Franklin Pierce (Mexican American War) all ran as victorious generals, as was Pierce's electoral opponent, Winfield Scott.  And, of course, there were Ulysses S. Grant (McClellan ran against Lincoln; Sherman could have been elected, but refused), Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Our democracy is none the worse for these.  Eisenhower appears to have been our last victorious general President, and our democracy is none the better for it.*

So clearly there is nothing inherently dangerous about victorious generals; the danger lies in larger body politic.  Furthermore, many modern democracies have fallen victim to military coups or dictatorships without any victorious general to lead them.  Same point.

And I really ought to put in a word about Paul von Hindenburg.  Hindenburg as (at least purportedly) a victorious general and became a popular hero on that account.  He made no secret of the fact that he was a monarchist and did not favor the Republic.  But he also respected the rule of law and pledged to take no action against the Republic unless he could persuade it by lawful means to restore the monarchy.  He kept his word.  That he ended up becoming a sort of semi-dictator had more to do with the economic crisis than any ambition on his part.  That he ended up offering the chancellorship to Hitler was more the result of bad policies, bad advisers, and bad judgment than actual evil intent. Ludendorf, of course, was a different matter altogether.

So why were victorious generals so dangerous in classical times and even as late as the French Revolution, but just not much of a factor in the 20th Century?  Of have they been more dangerous than I realize in modern times?  Another thing I hope to learn more about.

Cross-posted at Enlightened Layperson
*On the other hand, we have had other generals like MacArthur, Patton, or LeMay who I would not trust anywhere near the Presidency.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Can I Say For Liberals?

I have posted before on what I think it is to be liberal.  At the time, I said it was to place (or aspire to place) universal justice over in-group loyalty.  Another way to put it would be that there is a trade-off between breadth and depth of our social ties and (generally speaking) a liberal is one who favors breadth and a conservative is one who favors depth.  Or, most simply put. a liberal is one who seeks to broaden social ties, or to broaden the circle of people we are willing to take into account.  To be conservative (I suppose) would be to seek deeper and tighter social ties, among a more narrow circle. And to be anti-liberal is to resent liberal for seeking draw the circle too widely.

All of this came to mind after reading these recent posts mocking liberals for their concern about the Eric Garner killing.  The basic criticism of white liberals who are offended by police killing black men is (perhaps predictably) that they are phony, shallow, superficial, and inauthentic.  After all, you are professing empathy and solidarity with people you don't really know or understand.  It comes across as smug, superior and patronizing.  It is an attempt by people living in comfort and safety to appropriate for themselves someone else's trauma in order to have more excitement in their lives and to show moral superiority to the blue collar cops, or to people who don't care.

And, yes, I think there is some truth to these accusations.  Some of it is just an attempt to be trendy like boycotting GMO and keeping up with the latest food fashions.  Empathy for people you do not know, who are outside your experience is bound to be more superficial than for people you really do know and understand.  Such attempts do often mean projecting one's own interests and desires onto other people and, as such, comes across as offensively patronizing.  Worse, it can mean trying to force the purported targets of one's sympathy to meet one's own preconceived notions, a thing that can be more intrusive and offensive than simple, outright hostility, let long simple indifference.

So, as a liberal, what do I say in our defense?  I suppose that I would say that the liberal approach for all its flaws, is still better than the alternative.  The alternative, after all, is to say, why should I care, it doesn't affect me or anyone I know.  And I will grant, such a response is genuine.  It is sincere.  It is authentic.  But all that proves in the end is that genuineness and sincerity and authenticity don't count for much, in an of themselves.

Cross-posted at Enlightened Layperson

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Grass Crown: What Sulla Really Wants

Driven from Rome by a deranged Marius, Sulla resorts to a truly drastic action -- he marches his army against Rome, drives Marius and his followers out, and seizes power by force.  To describe this as shocking is a considerable understatement.  Nothing of the kind had ever happened before in centuries of Roman history.  It seems safe to say that it was probably as shocking to Sulla's contemporaries as such an event would be in the US today.  Plutarch shows a distinct ambivalence toward Sulla's actions; McCullough does as well.  One can readily understand why.  The whole episode does credit to no one.  Sulla is, after all, the lawfully elected consul and proper commander of the army in the field.  Marius is aligning himself with a gangster and thug and seems to be motivated solely by ego and a desire for power.  Plutarch also says that at this point Marius began his reign of terror (albeit on a smaller scale than it would later reach), executing Sulla's followers, i.e., the followers of the lawful consul and commander-in-chief.  (McCullough omits this detail).  So his overall behavior is appalling.

But so is the behavior of Sulla, who then marches an army against his own city, an unheard-of thing. Nor does he shine once he arrives.  Plutarch reports that he threatened to burn houses down. McCullough actually downplays this, treating it as a bluff and says that he warned his soldiers not to commit any outrage against the Roman population, even executing one for looting.  And he reasons with the people, pointing out that Sulpicius' measure expelling most of the Senate for debt is hardly compatible with any sort of debt relief and that Marius, though a great man (he takes care to express only praise for Marius) is in failing health and simply not up to the responsibilities of a command.

He then enacts major political changes that certainly appear to be historical, but that Plutarch does not so much as mention.  Remember the post on Roman political institutions?  Sulla made major changes that are revealing, both as to his social vision, and as to why enacting major changes to institutions is difficult -- because they have entrenched power and the capacity to defend themselves.  McCullough reports (probably accurately) that Sulla phased in his changes strategically, starting with the least objectionable to disguise the full impact of what he was doing.  First he suspended the usual requirement of an interval between when a measure was proposed and when it was enacted. Excusable, for a military commander in a hurry to go off and win his war.  Next he repealed all Sulpicius' measures, again perhaps understandable in that they were enacted by violence.  And he enlarged the Senate to make it functional again, a perfectly reasonable measure.  But then his then he begins to move in a more alarming direction.  First, he modifies the Centuriate Assembly (remember, the one divided into classes) to give nearly half of all power to the first class (the richest class).  Next, he limits the tribal assemblies' legislative power to voting up or down on measures passed by the Senate.  No longer can consuls or tribunes propose legislature to the assemblies without the Senate's permission, nor can they modify any proposal.  Finally, he ends the tribal assemblies' authority to legislate at all and vests it solely in the Centuriate Assembly.  In other words, he gets the tribal assemblies to vote away their own legislative power and vest it solely in an assembly controlled by Rome's richest class.  It seems a safe assumption that they would not have done such a thing except in the presence of an army fingering its swords, with no threat openly made, but one clearly implied.

Consider, then what Sulla's new governmental institutions look like.  The Senate, in addition to its old powers, has the sole power to initiate (though not to pass) legislation.  Legislation will be voted up or down in the Centuriate Assembly, where only the richest class has any real power.  This oligarchic assembly will also elect consuls, praetors, and censors, the only executive officials with real policy-making power.  The Assembly of the Whole will be limited to electing tertiary executive officials whose powers are mostly administrative.  The Plebeian Assembly will be limited to electing tribunes.  Tribunes can no longer initiate legislation, but will still have the veto power.  In short, what Sulla is making looks a lot like the narrow and tight oligarchy at the beginning of the Republic.  And this is revealing as to his ultimate vision.  It would suggest that what Sulla really wanted in the long run was not a dictatorship, but a narrow and tight oligarchy of a kind that had not existed in centuries. And Plutarch does not so much as mention any of these measures, although they must certainly have contributed to Sulla's unpopularity.

Finally, Sulla proclaimed a sentence of outlawry on a number of his opponents, including Marius and Sulpicius.  They must flee or be killed.  Sulla lets most of them escape, especially Marius who is too popular to kill, but he puts Sulpicius' head on a spike.  Then he returns to the wars.

Naturally, all these measures make Sulla deeply unpopular.  After the next election, all ten tribunes are opponents.  Of the two consuls, Gnaeus Octavius is a supporter and Lucius Cornelius Cinna an opponent.  Naturally, rivalry between these two consuls escalates and threatens to tear Rome asunder. Here Plutarch is hopelessly biased against Cinna and McCullough hopelessly biased against Octavius, so it is hard to tell exactly what happened.  It appears that Cinna sought to reverse Sulla's measures and Octavius to maintain them.  Both appear to have resorted to force.  It seems most likely the Cinna resorted to force first, since, like the tribal assemblies before, the first class in the Centuriate Assembly would presumably not give up their lock on power voluntarily.  McCullough has him attempt bribery instead -- offer to cancel debts if the Centuriate Assembly will reverse Sulla's measures.  But given that they benefited from these measures, no matter how illegitimate and unconstitutional their enactment, it seems unlikely that Cinna could have hoped to get his way except by force.

Plutarch, on the other hand, describes Octavius as "a most excellent man [who] wished to rule in the justest way" and Cinna as "making war on the established constitution," a charge that would carry more force if Sulla had not just "established" the constitution at sword's point.  Plutarch neglects to mention that Octavius sent armed followers against Cinna, who killed large numbers of citizens, or that he unconstitutionally deposed Cinna and the tribunes of Cinna's faction and sent them into exile. Once again, the whole episode resounds to no one's credit.

In exile, Marius and Cinna raise their own armies and lead them against Rome.  All-out civil war ensues.  Both sides offer citizenship to any non-citizen Italians who will support them.  The Italians respond with a will.  Marius trades on his popularity, but by now he has completely lost his mind and is surrounded by equally deranged ex-slaves who engage in wanton slaughter.  Cinna, commanding a separate army from Marius, refuses to accept the warning from one of Marius' oldest friends (who is also a cousin) and from his own son that Marius is unstable and should not be trusted.  (Does that seem likely?  You would think that if a man's closest friends and his own son tell a distant acquaintance not to trust him, the distant acquaintance would take the warning seriously).  Marius and his bodyguard seize Rome and launch a campaign of wanton slaughter until Marius has a stroke and dies.  McCullough takes care to acquit Cinna of any complicity in the slaughter and portray him as a decent guy.  Plutarch's description suggests that there may be some truth to the belief that Marius was deranged, at least during his final illness.  But he does not dismiss the mad slaughter as simply the work of one deranged man; he full implicates Cinna and Marius' son in it as well.  McCullough believes that the reign of terror ended when Marius died and his bodyguard was killed off.  Plutarch says that it continued.

Clearly in the final chapters, things go from bad to worse quite quickly, as appears to be the case in real life.  Just before his fatal stroke, Marius names the young Caesar flamens dialis, or high priest of Jupiter, nominally a great honor, practically, the end of any political or military career for him.

Unlike First Man in Rome, which ends with a sense of completion and seeming peace, The Grass Crown ends with things very much in the air.  The Mithriditic War is still raging, and Sulla will not calmly accept what his enemies have done.  We are left hanging.

The Grass Crown: Marius Succumbs to the Dark Side

I have compared First Man in Rome to The Phantom Menace for a reason.  Both are the first installment in a saga about how the Republic fell and the Empire took its place.  Both tell how the Republic faced a seeming danger, defeated it, and reached a seeming happy ending, only to discover that this as a mere prelude -- a phantom menace while the real danger continued to lurk.  And both offer a hero you are invited to root for even though you know (at least if you know anything about Roman history) that he will ultimately succumb to the Dark Side.  In the sequel, he does.

At the end of the Italian War Sulla, now a war hero to equal Marius, is elected consul.  But his inauguration is ruined when Marius shows up and gets more cheers than Sulla.  The author does not explore why in too much detail.  Presumably Marius is so popular because he is a war hero.  But Sulla is now a war hero to equal him, and a more recent one, too. Possibly Marius is more popular because he is remote enough to be an elder statesman and not someone the Romans have to deal with in the here and now.  But the author seems to imply that Marius upstages Sulla because he is the more charismatic.  An important qualification is in order here. Charisma is not the same as beauty.  Sulla is by far the more handsome.  He also has a whole lot more sex appeal.  But he is also more cool and standoff-ish.  And (the author seems to imply) Marius simply has the common touch in a way that Sulla never had.  Although Marius means no harm, Sulla bitterly resents being upstaged by him.  And yet the author cannot conceal that, although their falling out did credit to neither of them, Marius was the more to blame in starting it .

Sulla begins his consulship quite reasonably.  War has
devastated Italy.  The economy is in ruins.  Debts are unpayable. Between the expense of the war and Drusus' currency debasement, there has been major inflation and interest rates have skyrocketed. There is widespread outcry to cancel debts.  An earlier politician tried to outlaw interest and was torn asunder by outraged bankers (or at least a mob hired by outraged bankers).  Sulla makes a reasonable compromise.  He recognizes that to cancel debts or abolish interest will wreck Rome's credit system, and that to insist in payment in full will cause universal bankruptcy.  So he allows only simple interest and only at the original rate, a significant concession given the inflation that has taken place.  Although in most lawsuits the parties are required to post bond equal to the amount in dispute, he authorizes the judge to waive bond in suits for debt.  No one is very happy with the compromise, but all recognize it as necessary.  He says that he opposes extending citizenship to the Italians, but will respect the law and allow all citizenship extended to stand.  It is hard to find anything to criticize there.

Then Mithridates of Pontus, taking advantage of Rome's weakened condition, seizes large amounts of the eastern empire and massacres every Roman and Italian in the territory he has captured.  Rome has a war on its hands that it is in no condition either to fight or to finances.  Sulla desperately scrambles to get resources together and grapples with the very real problem of how to finance the war.  Marius, showing increasing signs of derangement since his stroke, demands to be given command and is overruled due to his age and ill health.  He also dismisses practical concerns about how to finance operations.

And then there is Sulpicius.  He is introduced as a conservative tribune, so conservative that he vetoes the sensible suggest to recall everyone banished for proposing such citizenship.  He had zealously fought in the civil war and been implicated in its worst atrocities.  When Pompey the Cross-Eyed Butcher celebrated his triumph but did not have a foreign king to parade through the streets, Sulpicius rounded up Italian children orphaned by Pompey's wars, marched them through the streets in the parade, and then threw them out of the city and left them to their fate.  But Mithridates' massacres change his viewpoint.  If foreigners make no distinction between Roman and Italian, he concludes that his whole perspective was wrong.  Suddenly he assumes the role of a demagogue, railing against Rome's ruling class.

Is this justified?  On the one hand, Rome's ruling class had resisted admitting the Italians to citizenship, leading to a ruinous civil war that left Italy in ruins and culminated in the Italians becoming citizens anyhow.  Then a hostile foreign leader took advantage of Rome being weakened by civil war to seize many Roman possessions and massacre all Romans and Italians in his power.  So on one hand yes, Rome's rulers have clearly let the people down, and the people have legitimate reason to be angry with them.  On the other hand, in refusing Italian citizenship and setting off this ghastly chain of events, Rome's leaders were doing exactly what public opinion wanted them to, so really the people of Rome had no one to blame but themselves.

Sulpicius undertakes several measures.  One is to recall everyone exiled for supporting Italian citizenship, which is certainly reasonable.  One distributes Italians and freedman among all the Roman tribes.  This is popular among the Italians, who are seeing their power made proportionate to their numbers.  It is popular with Rome's urban residents because many of Italians and freedmen are urban dwellers who will increase the city's strength.  But it is unpopular among the rural tribes who see their voting strength diluted.  It is controversial but defensible.  But he also proposes to expel from the Senate anyone with debts over quite a modest sum.  The practical upshot is that the Senate will not be able to muster a quorum.  Remember the important functions of the Senate -- authorizing expenditures, appointing provincial governors, foreign and imperial affairs.  To destroy such an important part of the government without finding anything to replace it is not just radical, it is completely crazy.

A shrewd observer of the scene contrasts Sulpicius with Saturninus, the chief demagogue in the last crisis.  Saturninus rose to power in a time of food shortages.  His primary constituency were the poorest Romans because they were most effected.  His goal was his own power.  Sulpicius, by contrast, can to power at a time of excess debt.  Since the poor have little debt (and most of it in the informal sector), his primary constituency is the middle class.  His goal is not to advance his own power, but to overturn the power of Rome's current rulers.

Unable to seize power on his own, Sulpicius seeks Marius' support.  Marius, who didn't hesitate to crush Saturninus in the last book, agrees on one condition -- that he be given command of the army in the East.  Sulpicius agrees and ads this to his measures. When the measures meet with resistance, Sulpicius sends armed me in to the forum and violence breaks out.  Sulla's co-consul and the co-consul's son are killed.  Sulla goes to Marius' house to try to reason with him and finds Marius in no mood to talk.  There is no doubt left -- Marius has become deranged and cares for nothing but his own command, regardless of who he harms in the process.  Sulla leaves, but prepares to exercise Second Amendment solutions.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Grass Crown: The Growing Antagonism

The main subject of The Grass Crown is Marius and Sulla's growing antagonism and its (at least temporary) destruction of the Roman Republic.  When the story opens, Marius' career seems to be in decline, while Sulla's has not taken off yet.  Marius is popular as a war hero, but but his  popularity, at least with the Senate, grows in proportion to his apparent decline.  They love him at a safe distance only.  Both men on separate occasions confront Mithridates of Pontus, an eastern despot seeking to expand his power and behaving like an eastern despot, i.e., regularly and arbitrarily killing anyone from his closest and most loyal advisers to his family members and making the general point that Rome, for all its faults, is a high trust society by comparison.  Both men are able to intimidate Mithridates and keep him from growing so big as to be a threat to Rome.  Plutarch, by the way, accuses Marius of deliberately seeking to stir up war with Mithridates to revive his lagging career.  McCullough does not appear to take that accusation seriously.

Sulla also reminds us that he is the villain by poisoning Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus, a conservative politician who was Marius' arch-enemy and went into exile rather than take an oath to uphold Marius' distribution of land to his soldiers.*  There is no historical evidence of this whatever, although there were rumors that Numidicus was poisoned by Quintus Varius.  However, Sulla's poisoning of Numidicus serves more purposes than just to remind us that he is evil.  For one thing, it allows the author to contrast the devotion of Numidicus' son,Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius to the treachery of Mithridates and his family and remind us the advantages of Rome.  It also points up the changes in Sulla.  Both Metelli are seen mostly from the viewpoint of Marius and Sulla.  Numidicus, as Marius' chief rival, is shown in most unflattering terms.  Marius extends this hostility to Pius as well, and initially Sulla does as well.  But the innocent and unsuspecting Pius believes that Sulla was reconciled to his father and befriends him as the last witness to his father's life.  Sulla is at first amused, but later comes to think of Pius as a "dear friend" and is even genuinely and unironically indignant at some wrongs done to  his father (quite forgetting that he personally poisoned the man!). Pius is portrayed as a decent fellow, even though he remains devoted to Sulla after sensing what sort of man he is.

McCullough portrays Marius and Sulla as friends and allies, both supporting Drusus' efforts to extend citizenship to the Italians and desperately seeking to head off the civil war they know will follow if the Italians are denied. Plutarch, for what it is worth, makes no mention of either man championing the Italians and says that they had a growing rivalry over who would get credit for defeating Jugurtha of Numidia, that was prevented from boiling over only by the outbreak of the Social War, i.e., the revolt of the Italian allies (Socii) after Drusus was killed.

Plutarch portrays Marius as rather indifferent commander in the Social War, presumably due to increasing age and declining health and says that he worked hard to get back into shape afterward. McCullough portrays Marius as not being in any way malicious toward Sulla, but appallingly insensitive.  While Sulla does us utmost to impress Marius with his ability as a general, Marius is dismissive and assures Sulla that while, yes, he is a good general, Marius is an inspired general. When Sulla asks what if anything happens to Marius, Marius says that will depend on whether Rome can get by with a good general.  Sulla quite understandably wants to punch him in the gut.  Shortly afterward, Marius suffers a stroke and is carried home, paralyzed on one side.  Sulla proves himself an inspired general and wins the grass crown (hence the title), Rome's highest military honor given only to a commander who saves a legion or raises the siege from a city.  Not even Marius had ever won the grass crown.  And while he acknowledges that he was wrong and that Sulla was in inspired general after all, he does not acknowledge that Sulla is a better general than he was, so Sulla remains resentful.  The author also strongly hints that Marius' stroke has caused disturbing personality changes.  It is at this point that she shows him hiring a hitman.  McCullough also gives an appalling and presumably accurate portrait of the atrocities committed on both sides during the war and the hardship it caused.

In the end, Rome extended citizenship to all Italian allies not in revolt.  In the novel, at least, this utterly disgusts Sulla, who sees that it is merely the prelude to extending citizenship to all Italians. And, indeed, each member of Rome's ruling class who is not a Roman of the Romans sees the opportunity for clients if the people of his region are admitted and pushes for their admission.  (Drusus did his cause serious harm by claiming all newly enfranchised Italians as clients.  If he had pointed out all the prospects for clients, he would have gotten a sizeable constituency to support him). Sulla, as war hero, is elected consul.  The rivalry between him and Marius will soon break out into the open.

*McCullough really should have included a section on poisons in her glossary.  She is a neuroscientist who took care to describe the symptoms of each poison in enough detail to make clear that she had a specific one in mind.  Sulla poisons Numidicus with "a nasty brew decocted from peach seeds," i.e. cyanide.  The symptoms of cyanide poisoning are very similar to acute respiratory failure -- dizziness, choking, and gasping for air.  The main difference is that in acute respiratory failure, the blood cannot become oxygenated, so the victim turns blue.  In cyanide poisoning, the cells cannot get oxygen out of the blood, so the victim turns red.  One of the attending doctors shows the strange mixture of incompetence and competence of the time and proceeds to bleed Numidicus and is surprised that the blood comes out of his vein bright red.  This leads him to suspect poison, though not to name a particular suspect.  That is a bit problematic.  The trouble with cyanide (from the perspective of the poisoner) is that it is so fast-acting that once poison is suspected, there is usually not much room for doubt whodunnit.  Who could have poisoned Numidicus?  Probably the guy he was drinking with all afternoon before he got sick.