How to Win an Election: Lessons from an Ancient Roman Rebel

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The ancient Greek historian Thucydides once wrote, “Human nature is constant”. An election is a messy process and something that we have tried to get right for thousands of years. In some ancient Greek city-states, election by lot was a method of choosing public officials. It was used especially in the Athenian democracy, from which most information about the practice is derived. This practice provided the regular turnover of officeholders. As a result, for better or worse, the operations of government were not in the hands of experts, but in the hands of the people.

Only those who had presented themselves as candidates were chosen by lot to fill public offices. Military officers and some financial officials were selected by voting. But for the most part executive functions were broken down into small tasks, of which each was entrusted to an annual board of 10 members chosen by lot. The rationale of this system was the equality of all citizens. The good news in this system is that it provided at least some practical political education for its citizens. Saying “I’m not into politics” seems to not have been an option as they would have been demanded to take part in it eventually. As Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

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In ancient Rome, although any adult male citizen could cast a ballot, the richest people had disproportionate influence. Social and political patronage was key, and campaigns were followed by bribery and abuse. However, the electoral process was generally fairly reasonable and orderly. In 64 BC, a 42-year-old political outsider named Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for consul – the highest office in the republic. Marcus was young, intelligent and popular, but the fact that he was not a member of the aristocracy would normally have excluded him from consideration. However, the other candidates that year were so unappetizing that, according to his younger brother Quintus, even the stiff and dull Marcus actually had a small chance of winning if he could run a successful campaign. Still, the odds were against Marcus. Not one to mince words, Quintus said, “since you are seeking the most important position in Rome and since you have so many potential enemies, you can’t afford to make any mistakes. You must conduct a flawless campaign with the greatest thoughtfulness, industry and care.” Quintus then proceeded to write his campaigning advice to his brother in Commentariolum Petitionis, a short handbook on electioneering as a guide for Marcus Tullius Cicero’s campaign for consul of the Roman Republic in 64 BC.

Cicero, copy by Bertel Thorvaldsen 1799-1800 of Roman bust

It is interesting to note what kind of a man was Quintus Tullius Cicero. To say that Quintus had an impulsive temperament would have been putting it rather mildly. He had frequent fits of cruelty during military operations, a behaviour frowned on by Romans of that time as the Roman ideal was to control one’s emotions even in battle. Quintus had a penchant for old-fashioned and harsh punishments such as putting a person convicted of patricide into a sack and throwing him into the sea. Traditionally, the felon would be severely scourged, then sewn into a stout leather bag with a dog, a snake, a rooster, and a monkey, and the bag was subsequently thrown into a river – understandably, this was not a popular practice. He gave out this punishment during his propraetorship of Asia.

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“Cicero with his friend Atticus and brother Quintus, at his villa at Arpinum” by Richard Wilson (d. 1782)

In one of his letters to his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus (written in 51 BC) Marcus wrote that that he dares not leave Quintus alone as he is afraid of what kind of sudden ideas Quintus might have. So by the sound of it, Marcus has had to spend his life worrying about the erratic Quintus. Why, then, would Marcus take guidance from the family’s black sheep?

The answer is that Quintus, complicated as he was, was a very experienced politician. Quintus was praetor in 62 BC, and propraetor of Asia for three years from 61 to 59 BC. In the Gaelic wars, he was a legatus under Caesar, accompanying him on his second expedition to Britain in 54 BC and surviving a siege of his camp during a revolt. He served under Marcus, his brother, when Marcus was governor in Cilicia in 51 BC. It is understandable, then, that his advice for Marcus was a product of his own long and disinguished experience and still being used by politicians today. Quintus tells his brother that, to win an election, he must creep and crawl to voters, promising impossible things, pretending friendship where there is none and lie, lie, lie. Those were slimy and unpleasant advice but, as evidenced by millions of politicians in the space of thousands of years, they work.

1. Promise everything to everyone.

One of the biggest complaints about modern politicians is their failure to keep campaign promises.  But Quintus blatantly states that the making and breaking of promises is just part of the whole political process. The best way to win voters is to tell them what they want to hear: “Remember Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said he would promise anything, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him.” People will be much angrier with a candidate who refuses to make promises than with one who breaks them as soon as he was elected. “… if a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends. Events are always happening that you didn’t expect or not happening that you did expect. Broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal.”

That approach is based on a theory about uninformed voters which rests on the simple notion that human beings make every decision proceeding from their own self-interests. Comprehensive knowledge of the political process is of no use to them. Voters have to deal with too many other problems to listen attentively to politicians unless it directly affects their everyday lives. Politicians then need to ensure that they tell voters exactly what voters want to hear in a concise and understandable way.

This does not mean that politicians should tell you what you want to hear willy-nilly. To determine what to tell voters, ideally a politician must know who the voters are and what they want. Then he needs to identify problems which are of common concern to all voting groups within the relevant election district. Based on analysis of that information, an election message is developed which then evolved to promises that they would break on a later date.

2. Pretend you have friends and call in all favors.

If you have helped friends or associates in the past, an election period is a good time to let them know that you are expecting them to pay you back. “Make it clear to each one under obligation to you exactly what you expect from him. Remind them all that you have never asked anything of them before, but now is the time to make good on what they owe you.” If someone isn’t in in your debt, you can remind them that if elected, they would be rewarded as long as they support you now.

Despite Marcus being a novus homo (“new man” – an ancient Roman term for a man who was the first in his family to serve in the Roman Senate), Quintus says that Marcus can still win over “a man who is well born, and most devoted to humane studies, You will have the best and the brightest . . . on your side.” One of the pamphlet’s most egregious distortions of Marcus’s recorded views is the treatment of amicitia (“friendship”). Marcus himself wrote a book on the subject of friendship, treating it as a pledge of honor binding men together. Quintus tells him to feign friendship where it does not exist and lie to friends when convenient, effectively striking at all that Marcus himself has professed belief in.

3. Know your opponent’s weaknesses and exploit them.

Quintus practically invented opposition research, “Consider Antonius, who once had his property confiscated for debt … after he was elected as praetor, he disgraced himself by going down to the market and buying a girl to be his sex slave.” A winning candidate assesses his opponent and then focuses relentlessly on his weaknesses, all the while trying to distract voters from this opponent’s strengths.

4. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Quintus tells his brother, “You desperately need to learn the art of flattery — a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.” A candidate must make voters believe that he thinks they’re important. Shake their hands, look them in the eye, listen to their problems.

The ability to listen and process what you hear into something advantageous to you is an asset. A political party must first find out what voters wish for and then repeat those wishes back to them in the same language. In general, it is important for a political party to understand that the most effective political rhetoric is marketing in which the central idea is to promise what the customer (voter) demands and not to wax poetic about the aspirations of the seller (politician).

5. Give people hope.

“The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.” Voters who are persuaded that you can make their world better will turn out to be devoted followers — at least until after the election, when you will inevitably let them down.

In the USA, Barack Obama’s Campaign of Hope in 2008 demonstrated how far a positive message of hope could go. In New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern’s Let’s Do This campaign saw her coalition’s rise to power that ended the National government’s nine years in charge. Both elections saw an increased voter turn-out and greater engagement from the youth vote.

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“The Young Cicero Reading” by Vincenzo Foppa (1427 – 1515)

7. Get the youth on your side.

Despite what older, worn-out and out of touch politicians try to tell us, the youth are the future. Therefore, helping them to see value in the political decision-making processes and discussions is is very much in a country’s best interest as it helps countries to consider the long-term needs of all their citizens. Quintus highlights their value in other, more self-serving, ways when he writes that “it will help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.”

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“Cicero Denounces Catiline” by Cesare Maccari (1840 – 1919)

Marcus Tullius Cicero was elected consul for the year 63 BC. He may not be well-known in modern times for his political career, but his prolific writings have been instrumental in the development of modern political thought. His De Re Publica (“On the Republic”) is still an influential text for discussions and analyses of governments and constitutions to this day. However, all is not lost for Quintus. Although out of the two brothers, history seems to favour Marcus by preserving and quoting him. It was Quintus’ advice that was ingrained and followed by politicians and powerful people even 2000 years later. Quintus would have be delighted.

A Balanced Partitioning: Gender Roles and a Society where Sexism Doesn’t Exist

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I am currently working on my part for the fourth Time Maps book called “Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture”. Therefore, my research will play a considerable role in my blog narrative for a while. I will start with an often misused word: “The Matrix”.

The root “matri” denotes the womb, so words such as matriarchal and matrilineal refer to social structures where women have major roles. The word “matrix” is also from the same root, and denotes an all-encompassing context, or a source of generation – again like a womb. So let’s look at some words with “matri” in it:

Matriarchy is government by women, also called gynocracy. A matrilineal society is one in which descent is defined through the female line. In ancient times matriarchal and matrilineal societies were much more common than they are now. This usually relates to rights of inheritance and definitions of clans or extended families, but one can also find traces of it in ancient Egypt, where for long periods the right to the throne was through the female line. It makes sense really, since one usually knows who a baby came out of, but one cannot always be sure who put it in there. A matrifocal society is one in which the culture and social structures are centered on the roles of the women. This is a more nebulous concept than matriarchy and matrilineality, and difficult to define precisely – but let’s look at a contemporary example.

Almost all newspaper and television reportage these days are about the activities of men, with emphasis on wars, business, and various forms of political and commercial debates. Because many of our cultures are mainly patrifocal, even patriarchal, these things are considered important. However, we could just as easily have matrifocal cultures, in which matters of childraising and care for future generations, education, family welfare, and other matters of interest and concern to women are given major media coverage. Men’s issues, such as war and football, could be relegated to a special page at the back of newspapers and magazines with a title like “For Him”, or “The Men’s Page”. There could even be special television programs for men, in which one could see the latest trends in warfare from those creative people in Washington, or frivolous technological fashions from Japan. So being matrifocal or patrifocal reflects what the culture considers to be important.

Matriarchy lasted for more than 30,000 years, declined over a period of five thousand years and became extinct about a thousand years ago. Chinese writings refer to the existence of a matriarchal empire in Tibet in the sixth and seventh centuries of the Common Era, during the rise of the Tang Dynasty in China.

As early as the Eleventh Dynasty of Egypt, royal succession became fixed in the female line. The child of a royal princess could reign as pharaoh by right of descent even if her husband was a commoner. The children of a prince with a commoner were excluded from the succession completely. Diodorus states that queens in Egypt were shown greater respect and possessed more power than kings, and in all of the monuments and paintings, only queens wear the triple crown, signifying ecclesiastical, judicial and sovereign power.

Another type of society is partitioned on gender lines. There is a lot of gender partitioning in all cultures as it is a major part of how we tell the difference between girls and boys – but the structures of some societies are defined by it. It is more easily seen in smaller societies such as the tribes and bands of hunter-gatherers in Australia and New Guinea, and it was a key feature of the pre-invasion cultures of North America and Oceania. In this kind of society the roles and responsibilities of men and women are different, and the social rules that apply to them also are different – not one being better or freer than the other, just different. For example in Australia the men went hunting but the women ruled the camp and were responsible for family welfare, for most trade, and for matters of social or group organization. In traditional Polynesia the women did the housework and looked after the small children but the men did the cooking.

goddess - 800px-National_Association_Against_Woman_SuffrageIn places where gender partitioning is strong, a person may refuse to do a certain type of work because it is traditionally done by the other gender. This does not involve any value judgment, for example that the work is beneath them, but simply that the person would be stepping out of his or her place in society to do so. They would be trespassing on the domain of the other gender. This could be discourteous or it could be seen as an insult. Gender partitioning, when properly done, has advantages. Where the roles are clear and equitably balanced, so that the genders can feel self-respect in their functions, any attempt to suppress women would not only be unthinkable, it would be laughable, since to do so would require that the whole structure of the society be subverted. It is when the roles become weak, unbalanced or confused that a gender can be suppressed by the other.

In more recent times, the Federation of Six Nations is the best documented example of a society in which women had key political power. The Six Nations achieved one of the highest forms of government in the history of the world, and it included strong powers and big responsibilities for women. It is an easy habit of speech to say that it “gave” strong powers to the women, but that would be incorrect – the women already had those powers in their own nations, and the constitution of the Six Nations simply continued and formalized them.

In the Six Nations descent was matrilineal, and this was the basis for deciding matters of clan and totem membership. Women’s property rights also were well protected – if a marriage broke up then the woman had the full right to all of the property she had brought into the marriage. A woman’s bond to her children was also respected – when a marriage failed the children almost invariably went with the mother. A Council of Women had a major, and often decisive, role in settling all social disputes and questions of tradition within each tribe and nation. It was the men who went to war but in many areas, after the men had decided for war, they had to get the approval of the Women’s Council, which was not always given. If the women did not agree then the men could not go to war. So in this case the women had a strategic policy role, while the men were concerned with tactical matters. Peace treaties, also, have been preserved that were signed by the “Sachems (chiefs) and Principal Women of the Six Nations”.

These women were certainly not second class citizens in any sense, but they did not have complete control either. The Six Nations was not a matriarchy but it had a much more balanced partitioning of gender roles than most modern societies have. There were variations between the Nations – in some the Council of Women had almost complete legislative authority while in others it was less – but in all cases the women had a prominent role in government. This could also be said of many others among the nations and tribes of North America. So the idea that men “must” have controlled the key political positions, because it is “natural” that the warriors be in charge, is a load of nonsense.

 “Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link

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