BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Parenti, author of "The Assassination of Julius Caesar," this is what book for you?
MICHAEL PARENTI, AUTHOR, "THE ASSASSINATION OF JULIUS CAESAR": My 17th book.
LAMB: Why on the subject of the assassination of Julius Caesar?
PARENTI: I was doing some reading in Greek philosophy and Greek political theory. I`m a political scientist by training. And I started getting interested in the Romans, and I thought, Well, they could never be as interesting as the Greeks. But politically -- politically, they certainly are. And the late republic was an especially interesting time -- lots of intrigues, a lot of struggles going on, interesting personalities emerging, some giant figures like Caesar, Cicero, the Grokki (ph). And it was a compelling story. And then I -- I also thought the way it was told mostly was -- wasn`t the whole story, and I wanted to give a different interpretation because I think the evidence suggested that.
LAMB: I want to go to chapter 9, which is the assassination, and have you just tell that story. Then we`ll go back and pick up on the dates and everything. What were the circumstances in which Julius Caesar was assassinated?
PARENTI: He was at the height of his power. He had just won the civil war against Pompey and the aristocratic army. He was putting in a lot of popular reforms. A lot of the aristocrats who had sided with Pompey, he brought them back, forgave them, gave them back their estates and their property and tried to co-opt them, bring them into his -- in fact, gave them some very choice appointments. But they really felt he was taking over the republic. They were unhappy with all these reforms that he was doing. And so they got together -- the best we know, it was Cassius who enlisted his close friend and relative, Brutus. And there were about -- oh, about 40 or so people in on the plot. And they did him in in the senate -- in the senate -- in the senate -- in a senate gathering.
LAMB: In Rome.
PARENTI: In Rome, yes.
LAMB: Now, is this the Pompeii that`s just south of Rome?
PARENTI: No, no. No, Pompeii is -- that`s the name of a city, but Pompey was the name of a man, who was a general.
LAMB: So you`re talking about the man, Pompey, in this case?
PARENTI: Yes. Right. Pompey was now dead, by this time, and Caesar was pretty much the man in control.
LAMB: All right. The senate in Rome -- how many would have been in the senate? And what day -- what year?
PARENTI: It was in 44 BC. It really marked the end -- Caesar`s death marked the end of a 500-year republic. After he died, civil war broke out. Augustus took over, and he became the first emperor, and you had an emperor system going after that. But from, oh, about 500-something BC to 44 BC, Rome was a republic in development. I mean, the people fought for a tribal assembly. They fought for some land redistribution. The senate`s powers were very great, and then they receded, and then they were great again. There was a period of Sula`s (ph) dictatorship, where he restored all the powers to the senate. So it was an active 500 years of all kinds of struggle that went on.
LAMB: How many senators were there?
PARENTI: Six hundred. Six hundred...
LAMB: They all there that day?
PARENTI: Probably not, no. And of course, the great majority of them didn`t know what was going to happen. Caesar came in...
LAMB: How old was he, by the way?
PARENTI: He was 56. He came in. A group of senators came up to him in an apparently friendly way. One of them was petitioning for the return of his brother from exile, and Caesar had waved him away and said, This is no time to talk about that. And that particular senator pulled his toga -- his robe -- off his shoulder, which was the sign, and they all took out their daggers and they went at him. And he suffered 23 stab wounds and dropped -- dropped and bled to death.
LAMB: Now, you have a footnote that -- your first footnote in that chapter, "We have no surviving eyewitness reports of Caesar`s assassination."
LAMB: What does that mean?
PARENTI: Just that. Time and the -- and the church, when it came in, really destroyed most of the records of pagan Rome, and so we have very little of any of that. But what we do have is we have a lot of what are called original sources -- that is, Plutarch, Appian, Deocassius (ph) -- who wrote 100, 200 years later. But they had access to certain primary sources, and they do mention some of them. There was a fairly good eyewitness account that Plutarch relied upon.
LAMB: What do you know about Julius Caesar as a person? How big was he?
PARENTI: How big -- you mean...
PARENTI: Physically? He was a tall man, very attractive. He came from a very well-placed patrician family, but he sided with the popular party. He wanted reforms. He felt Rome needed reforms. For Rome to survive, those who had a lot had to give a little. And he wanted to rein in the self-enriching class. He pushed for land distribution, rent controls, debt cancellation, luxury taxes on the very rich. He was -- these were the things that they really disliked about him. He encouraged the development of guilds and unions -- they weren`t called unions, they were called guilds -- of the common people, so that they could have a presence. He bypassed the senate when he -- when he came back and took over the government, he bypassed the senate and he -- he sent things through the tribal assemblies, through the forum and the assemblies, so that the commoners voted on things.
LAMB: What was his title?
PARENTI: His title by this time was Imperator Perpetual (ph) -- excuse my Latin, but -- and literally "emperor for life."
LAMB: How did he get that job?
PARENTI: Oh, the word "emperor" hadn`t had the same meaning -- commander. It would have been commander.
Well, when he came back from Gaul, the aristocratic party wanted him to surrender his army and to appear and present himself. He knew he would be finished if he did that. He called for an alliance, a mutual disarming of him, of his group and the aristocrats, who now had Pompey with them, and let the -- as he said, Let the people at the senate and the people of Rome, through their assemblies, rule Rome, and we`ll have no armies. They -- they did not -- they really pushed for a one-sided -- the ultra -- the ultra-oligarchic group did -- the senate actually agreed to that plan. That was a perfectly nice plan. We`ll disarm Pompey. We`ll disarm Caesar. Won`t have to worry about either of them, and we will stay in the saddle.
The more conservative aristocratic group -- "conservative" might not be the word -- reactionary. They were really looking to go back to a pre -- constitution that was 200 years before. They didn`t want that. They wanted the whole thing, and they would not compromise with Caesar in any way. And they encouraged Pompey to raise an army, and they -- and they demanded that Caesar disband his army and come back unarmed. So he did not -- coming back, I should explain, from Gaul. He had just...
LAMB: Where is Gaul?
PARENTI: Gaul is what is now France -- France and little parts of Germany he also invaded and took over.
He came back and -- and this is when he made that momentus decision to cross the Rubicon. The Rubicon was a small river in northern Italy. When you cross it, you`re in Italian territory. And if you come back with an army onto -- into Italian territory without permission of the government, you`ve committed an act of treason. You`ve committed -- I mean, it`s civil war. And today in our language, we still have that expression, crossing the Rubicon, which means a momentous decision, an irrevocable decision.
And as he came down the peninsula, the Italian cities opened their gates to him, and the towns welcomed him. They saw him as somebody who was more or less on their side. And there -- and the -- the oligarchic, the elite, aristocratic party, realizing they couldn`t hold Rome against him, went to Greece, where they felt they had stronger support. And eventually, Caesar took his army to Greece and beat Pompey and won the civil war and came back. And there he was, at the height of his power.
LAMB: How old was he when he was at the height of his power, when he became emperor?
PARENTI: When he became commander.
LAMB: Commander. I`m sorry.
PARENTI: We couldn`t use -- yes, it wasn`t emperor.
LAMB: Was emperor next? Was that the next...
PARENTI: That was Augustus.
LAMB: That was Augustus?
PARENTI: Yes, Augustus took that same term -- well, he called himself "the principate," the prime man, the first man, "first citizen," literally. Yes, but he really started the emperor system. Because Caesar was still working with the tribal assemblies and still encouraging the people`s tribunes. The tribunates were -- the tribunate was a people`s council, sort of, made up of 10 tribunes, who had some remarkable powers for that day. They could even veto certain senate acts, for instance, and they could initiate legislation with the assemblies. And in a sense, they were quite a democratic group.
LAMB: How old was he, then, when he became commander?
PARENTI: I would say in his 54th year -- say from 46 -- by 46, he was -- he was -- he was the top man.
LAMB: So he was only on top -- not "only," but he was on top for 10 years.
PARENTI: Oh, no. I mean 46 BC. No, he was on top just for a few years.
LAMB: Just for a couple of years.
PARENTI: Yes, for a few years. But through those years even before, he had pushed for a variety of reforms. And when he was consul, he had put some ….
LAMB: For those watching who are saying about now, Why do I want to know this, you know, all these names and references to a part of the time that I don`t even care about, what would you say, as a political scientist?
PARENTI: I think it`s a very fascinating period. I thought the -- I mean, I didn`t do justice to a description of the assassination itself, just the intrigues. Even more fascinating than the assassination is the aftermath, the way forces were beginning to jockey and trying to figure out what was coming next. Nobody realized the republic was finished, you know?
The way people fought for political power, the issues of the day, of the few wanting it all and the many wanting -- wanting something back -- those kind of issues, the -- it was a very fascinating, very relevant time, in a way.
LAMB: How many times did Caesar marry?
PARENTI: Caesar had three wives.
LAMB: Who were they?
PARENTI: The first one was a young one -- oh, you`re going to -- you`re going to put me on the spot to remember their names now. I can`t even remember a girlfriend`s name. Calpurnia was the last wife, the one who begged him not to go to the senate house because she had had what today we would call a precognitive dream, where she visualized Caesar covered in blood, and she felt this was a bad -- something terrible was going to happen.
The first -- his first wife -- he loved her dearly. She died, I think in childbirth. The second wife, he had to -- he divorced in, oh, 60 sometime, or 60 or 59 BC, around there, because she had been implicated in an affair with Claudius (ph), who was a good political ally of his, quite a wild fellow, who called for the freeing of slaves and was organizing the poor and doing all sorts of -- all sorts of admirable things, from the point of view of the reformers, hated by the aristocrats and hated by most of the historians, too. And Claudius dressed up as a woman and worked his way into the virgin inner sanctum -- there was some kind of a religious place where only the women went -- to carry on an affair with Caesar`s wife, who herself certainly wasn`t a virgin. I don`t know quite exactly what she was doing. She wasn`t one of the Vestal Virgins, but she was there. And...
LAMB: So where does that phrase, "as pure as Caesar`s wife," come from?
PARENTI: It`s -- it`s -- that`s true. It`s only half the phrase. It really should be "One must be." If you`re Caesar`s wife, you must be pure, in other words. And his statement was, I`m divorcing her. He maintained, No, no, she had no affair with Claudius. But Caesar`s wife must be above suspicion, so Caesar`s wife must be pure. Doesn`t mean Caesar`s wife was pure. You know, it`s a misphrasing, in a way.
LAMB: How many children did he have?
PARENTI: You don`t want anybody who is as pure as Caesar`s wife, I don`t think.
LAMB: How many children did they have?
PARENTI: I don`t think they had any. He had -- he had one child with -- he never really had an heir. He had one child with Cleopatra, a son, who Augustus made sure to kill. He didn`t want any direct heirs of Caesar`s around.
LAMB: OK, who was Augustus?
PARENTI: Augustus was Caesar`s nephew, and Augustus was a rather remarkable -- maybe not that admirable but quite remarkable individual. After Caesar`s death, Augustus came forward, took command of an army at the age of 19, led this army, got into the intrigues, first sided with the senate oligarchy, then switched and made an alliance with Marc Anthony and Lipitus (ph). Lipitus was Caesar`s head of cavalry. And Anthony was a long-time associate and ally of Caesar`s. The three of them formed a triumvirate and fought back and defeated the senate oligarchs and took over. And then Lipitus was isolated and kicked out of the triumvirate, and then Anthony and Augustus divided up the Roman Empire, with Augustus getting Rome and the western portion, Spain and Gaul and places, and Anthony getting Greece and the east and Egypt. And then there was a final battle in which -- in which Augustus defeated Anthony, the famous -- Anthony and Cleopatra. Anthony was living with Cleopatra at the time. And Augustus then became emperor.
LAMB: But you say that -- he called himself Augustus Caesar, that a lot of emperors after that used the name Caesar.
PARENTI: Right. Caesar became a title, almost. In fact, it comes right down to our day. In Latin, his name is Julius Caesar. And Caesar is a term that was used by the German nobility to -- so they picked up on it. Maybe it`s a holdover from the Holy Roman Empire. I don`t know exactly.
LAMB: After Julius Caesar was assassinated, Augustus Caesar was in power for how long?
PARENTI: His name, by the way, originally was Octavian, Octavius. And then the senate decided to give him the title of Augustus, and he took that, and he also took the title of Caesar with him. He ruled for something like 47 years or so -- quite a bit -- because he came in rather young. I mean, there were a number of years of civil war, and then he -- when he -- until he emerged supreme. And then he died in I think it was about 14 or 17 AD.
LAMB: Go back to the actual assassination.
LAMB: Julius Caesar had no idea that this was going to happen to him.
PARENTI: Oh, he had his suspicions. He knew there had been conspirators and conspiracies around. But he said, You cannot live under guard all the time. To live under guard is to live perpetually in fear.
LAMB: How do we know, or how do you know, that there were actually 23 stabbings?
PARENTI: That`s what`s reported. Whether it`s true or not, I don`t know. I mean, who actually did the counting in that tumultuous time? He had multiple -- he did die from multiple wounds, though. There were quite a number of people putting a dagger in him.
LAMB: Did he die right away?
PARENTI: There are -- there are accounts which say yes, that two or three of these were pretty much fatal in a matter of minutes, and he collapsed and he bled -- he was -- he was pretty much -- and they kept going at him even when he was down. So there was little doubt that he -- he -- given the absence of modern emergency rooms and all that, he was gone.
LAMB: How many big names from that period stabbed him?
PARENTI: Really, the only two that we know are Cassius and Brutus, would be the big names.
LAMB: You say that...
PARENTI: And Decima (ph) Brutus also.
LAMB: You say that a number of people that stabbed him, he had -- that Caesar had helped.
PARENTI: Yes. Yes. They`re all in there. I mention them all, but -- but yes. Well, they weren`t -- they weren`t interested in -- I mean, he gave them back, as I say, their estates. He gave them some choice appointments. But this was not -- this was not what they wanted.
LAMB: Rome was what? How big was it? How many people there in those days?
PARENTI: Rome was about a half a million.
LAMB: Was it -- you say -- was it a republic?
PARENTI: It was still a republic. Yes, it was a republic. It had these assemblies. It had this people`s tribunate. It had the senate. The senate was not elected by anybody. Well, actually, that`s not true. Anybody -- it was a strange aristocracy because it was somewhat hereditary, but it also was electoral. That is, the way your family became an aristocratic family was if you had someone in your lineage who had been elected to the highest office, which was consul, Roman consul. There were two consuls elected every year. And usually, they were elected from the families that already were aristocratic families.
LAMB: How did Rome fit into Italy?
PARENTI: Rome, by this time, by the late republic, dominated all of Italy. And there were struggles going on -- Caesar was one of them -- by people who wanted to extend citizenship beyond Rome to much of Italy, to the other provinces of Italy, so that they would not be subjects, they would be citizens.
LAMB: What -- what was -- define a republic in those days.
PARENTI: A republic -- republica (ph) -- "ruled by the public," which means that there`s popular rule, that the people are, to some degree, the rulers of the country.
LAMB: What was the forum?
PARENTI: The forum was this open-air area where people gathered to debate issues. The actual voting didn`t take place there. It was a bit off, some places where they would pass through and register their votes. But the forum as this great gathering place where debates took place. Consuls came down. Cicero spoke in the forum. Caesar spoke in the forum. It must have been quite a remarkable time.
LAMB: Located where in Rome?
PARENTI: Well, I visited it, the Fora Romano -- I don`t know -- rather central. It`s rather...
LAMB: Near the Coliseum.
PARENTI: Right near the Coliseum, just down from the Capitaline (ph) Hill. You have the forum here, and you have the Capitaline Hill just 100 meters up there. And up on this hill, you had the senate house. In fact, visiting Rome, I had to rewrite. I was in the middle of writing the book, had to rewrite -- or add a little something because it suddenly occurred to me that when Brutus and Cassius and these people, after they had killed Caesar and they had gathered up on the Capitaline Hill, I thought it was a different part of town from the forum, a safe distance, but it was only about 100 meters away. They could hear the angry shouts of the crowds and -- you know, Avenge Caesar, Kill the assassins, and that sort of thing. And this was getting them rather nervous. There was quite a -- quite a few days of struggle that went on. There was a -- there was a -- there were a lot of killings on both sides.
LAMB: What was the reaction on the part of the people when Julius Caesar was assassinated?
PARENTI: Well, that`s what I`m just describing -- anger, a desire for revenge...
LAMB: But what did they -- what I mean by the reaction is what did they do about it?
PARENTI: There were riots. There were killings of people who they suspected. And the...
LAMB: You mean others were killed? Did they kill people who were actually part of the assassin group?
PARENTI: As far as we know, yes. They may have even killed some others by mistake, people who weren`t associated with the assassination. They went after very rich-appearing people at times. They themselves were killed in some substantial numbers because the -- the assassins were not idle during this. They mobilized their own death squads, and their own gangs came down. So there were a lot of just pitched battles in the streets going on.
But within a few days, Decima Brutus says, We all better clear out of Italy. This is just too hot. And if it cools down, we can come back. If it doesn`t cool down, then we`re going to have to raise an army and fight our way back. And that`s exactly what happened.
LAMB: How did you get started in this business -- historian, political scientist?
PARENTI: I have a Ph.D. from Yale in political science. I`m a recovering academic, I call myself. I`ve taught at a number of universities. But in the last 15 years or so -- well, with an occasional guest -- a guest teaching position. But I`ve been devoting myself full-time to writing and lecturing.
LAMB: Where did you teach?
PARENTI: I`ve taught at State University of New York, at Sarah Lawrence College, City University of New York, Brooklyn College, a year -- a year at Cornell.
LAMB: Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
PARENTI: Undergraduate degree was from City College of New York. My MA was from Brown University, and my Ph.D. was from Yale.
LAMB: And what were all those in?
PARENTI: Political science.
LAMB: Where`s your home town originally?
PARENTI: I`m originally from New York. You probably can hear it in my...
LAMB: From the city?
PARENTI: New York City, yes.
PARENTI: Manhattan. That`s right.
LAMB: What was your family like?
PARENTI: My family was a blue-collar Italian-American family. My grandparents were immigrants and very hard-working people, you know, and...
LAMB: What did your father and mother do for a living?
PARENTI: My mother worked in a dress shop, and my father worked -- well, he -- we had a little Italian bakery which he inherited from his uncle for a while. I`ve written stories about that. And he also for a while was a taxi driver.
LAMB: You don`t know this, but for several years, some of our callers on our call-in shows here have called up and admonished me or us...
PARENTI: They want to know who this person is and his background and...
LAMB: No. No. They`ve said, You never have on this network Howard Zinn. You never have on this network Noam Chomsky. And you never have on this network Michael Parenti. They always put those three names together.
PARENTI: Oh. That`s nice.
LAMB: the other two have been on. This is your first time that I know of you`ve been on.
LAMB: Why did they -- for years, they have linked the three of you together.
PARENTI: Well, we all -- we all write a lot of critical things about the powers that be. We have a dissident viewpoint that is not usually heard on the mainstream media. And so I guess they feel -- and we all have a readership, a fairly substantial readership and such, a lot of -- seems to be a lot of interest in my -- in my work, and certainly, Zinn and Chomsky, a great deal of interest. And...
LAMB: How has the media treated you over the years?
PARENTI: Very sparingly, I would say! I can -- I make -- I can get a lot of radio appearances with small community stations. I`ve been on a few network debates on "Crossfire" once, or twice on "Crossfire," but it wasn`t a particularly pleasant experience. You have one person screaming here, another screaming here. And you`re sup[posed to just get your one sentence in and it -- it wasn`t -- if you want to stop and try to explain something in any way. It`s not very easy.
LAMB: Do you think there`s a reason why you haven`t appeared in these networks?
PARENTI: Yes. I think it`s a political thing. I think the big corporations are very right-wing. I wouldn`t call them conservative. I don`t think -- I don`t think the present administration is conservative. A conservative is someone who doesn`t want to change, doesn`t want to yield any of his privileges. He wants to keep every advantage he has, and so forth. But what we`re getting is really a reactionary, a rollback of all the gains made from the New Deal on. And the people who dominate the talk shows, the airwaves, are these shock jocks, these right-wing guys who seem to specialize in bruising and declaiming and slinging labels around. So I don`t think we get a kind of dialogue that really needs to be.
LAMB: Any reason why this is the case, do you think?
PARENTI: It`s because who owns the media and who pays for the advertising and the like.
LAMB: Your 17 books...
LAMB: Give us an idea of what kind of book they`ve been.
PARENTI: Oh, they`re great books!
PARENTI: It`s a variety of books. Perhaps my most successful book is "Democracy for the Few," which is in its seventh edition. That`s used as a textbook in various schools from time to time. And that`s a book that takes a critical perspective of the American political system and argues for more democracy, more reforms and that sort of thing.
LAMB: Your first book is listed as "The Anticommunist Impulse," 1969.
PARENTI: Right. That was a book that was critical of the idea that anticommunism should be the end-all of our foreign policy and that our policy should be driven, preoccupationally, by anticommunism.
LAMB: "Power and the Powerless," `78. I`m just jumping around here.
PARENTI: "Power and the Powerless" was a book used by sociologists, mostly. That was a structural analysis of the structures of institutions in society and how power tends to gravitate to the top and why, and the like.
LAMB: "Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media," 1986-1993.
PARENTI: Correct. Written two years before Chomsky`s "Manufacturing Consent," I should say. That was a critique of the distortions in the media. And that one got reviewed in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," and I did get on one or two shows with that book, yes.
LAMB: How do you and Noam Chomsky get along? Are you pals?
PARENTI: Not particularly pals. I mean, I know him. I have disagreements. I have a couple things I disagree with him.
LAMB: Tell us one of the things you disagree with.
PARENTI: Well, I disagree with him on Yugoslavia. I think we should have left Yugoslavia alone, and I think Clinton`s policy was wrong and I disliked the bombing of Yugoslavia and all. And he seemed to have supported all the criticism -- that -- that would -- particular issues, nothing that vehement. Chomsky -- we`ve corresponded. We`re -- we`re not personal friends because I just don`t happen to know him personally. I do know Howard personally. He`s a friend.
LAMB: And endorses this book.
LAMB: Calls it "provocative and eloquent."
PARENTI: There you go. Yes.
LAMB: I was on a Web site and one of -- the Web site that I was on, I can`t remember the name of it, they defined you -- they liked you, and they defined you as a Marxist. Is that fair?
PARENTI: Well, what I don`t like about the term is, I write about all sorts of things that Marx -- you know, that`s what somebody said about "Inventing Reality." Is this a Marxist analysis of the media? The eagerness to label something puts a closure on thought. And I said, Well, you know, I don`t know what Karl Marx had to say about U.S. corporate media in the 20th century. In fact, he didn`t have a word to say about it. He`s been dead for 100 years. So I came to these things on my own. So I don`t use -- I don`t use labels of that sort.
LAMB: So it wouldn`t make you happy if you read that Web site, when you saw that label?
PARENTI: It would make me unhappy, either, because there`s a lot in Marxism that makes sense. There are some things that need really redoing in Marxism, very serious redoing. That`s another whole show, if you want.
LAMB: You talk about, in this book on Julius Caesar, about historians.
LAMB: And is it safe to say you don`t like a lot of historians? I mean, I don`t I don`t mean personally, but you -- a lot of -- you don`t think their history is very accurate.
PARENTI: Yes, well, my writing of history -- I wrote an earlier book, too, called "History as Mystery." It just increased my love and respect for history, but my respect for historians kind of went down a bit. They just repeat each other`s facile, formula statements. They seem to uncritically share the elite -- elitist viewpoint of that day, of the historians of that day, and uncritically share it, you know. And so -- so I do. The book is written on two levels. One is the event themselves and all that, and then how those events have been portrayed and how you might question that.
LAMB: Was Julius Caesar a great man, in your opinion?
PARENTI: He`s not my hero. My hero is the people of Rome because I thought he was a pretty good -- I thought he was very good as a reformer in Rome. Not at all -- I did not at all like him for what he did in Gaul, conquering Gaul and subjecting these people...
LAMB: What do most historians today say about Caesar?
PARENTI: Most of them, I think, share Cicero`s view, which is that Caesar was a usurper, a power grabber. He endangered the republic. He violated the constitution. And that`s why they killed him. And I`m arguing, No, they killed him -- they killed him because he was a reformer.
When Sula came in in 82-80 BC, he killed people. He murdered 50 senators because they weren`t conservative enough. He murdered about 1,000 equestrians, including many from very well-to-do families because -- one nice thing about killing well-to-do people is you take over their estates and that becomes your -- you know, that becomes part of your own fortune. He did all of these things. And what does Cicero say about Sula? He says, On the whole, an admirable accomplishment, although there was a lack of moderation in certain instances. So...
LAMB: Who`s Cicero?
PARENTI: Cicero is the hero of most historians. He`s the guy who`s written any number of books about Rome, Roman theory. He`s written a book called "De Republica (ph)."
LAMB: Lived when?
PARENTI: At the same time as Caesar. He was a contemporary of Caesar`s.
LAMB: And what do you think of Cicero?
PARENTI: Cicero was a two-face. He would fawn up to Caesar and say, We adore you, Caesar. We will defend you with our lives and all that. Meanwhile, he was delighted with the assassination, when it took place. He was an arrivist, in a way. He didn`t come from humble origins, he came from a very wealthy family, an equestrian family. But he had no -- no other member of his family had ever been elected to the senate, so he was a "new man," as it was called. And he was a real go-getter, and his goal was to be able to serve the oligarchic faction, the elite oligarchs. And that`s what he did.
LAMB: An oligarch, again, is what?
PARENTI: The aristocratic group, the group that really did not want to share power, the group that really opposed land reform and opposed all the reforms and really perpetrated a string of assassinations. The point we haven`t made is, you know, all these reformers, beginning in 133 BC with Tiberius Graccus (ph), the Graccii (ph) brothers, who -- probably the most famous, other than Caesar -- Tiberius Graccus, his brother in 122, Gaius Graccus, and then you had Drusus Flacus (ph), Rufus Sartininius (ph), those -- Clotius (ph) -- all of them were assassinated. Every single one of these people were assassinated who took the side of the ordinary people.
And to say -- and in each case, you have these historians saying, Oh, they were assassinated because they were grabbing power, they were extreme, they violated the constitution, they were self-aggrandizing, they were demagogues, and that sort of thing. And I -- and I raise questions about that. What strikes me -- it`s one thing for the ancient historians to say it. They were all themselves aristocrats. They all themselves were slave holders and all.
But when you see latter-day, modern historians taking the same line -- so Collingwood`s (ph) admonition that history is seen differently in different epic, that Augustine saw it through the eyes of an early Christian and Tilmon (ph) saw it as a 17th century Frenchman, and Gibbon as an 18th century Englishman, and Mumson (ph) as a 19th century German -- well, it`s really not true. They all -- when I looked at it, well, that sounds very nice, but as an insight into historiography -- but in fact, they all mouth and repeat Cicero`s line. They all accept the elitist -- repressive elitist line, which is that all of these various reformers were bad fellows and demagogues and everything. And I thought they were fighting for some pretty decent things, even the grain dole which went to the poor.
Let me say that these ad hominem statements that these people make about the reform leaders through this age also are made about the people themselves. The people are portrayed -- if you read Cicero, the people are scum -- these are the terms he used -- a starving rabble. I mean, he admits they`re starving, but he sees this not as symptomatic of their -- of their victimization, he sees this as a deficiency that`s personal to them, you know? The unwashed.
Well, when you call people "unwashed," why are they unwashed? They`re unwashed because they don`t have any water. They don`t have any cleansers. They don`t have access to the bathhouses. And so he -- all these pejorative terms about the people of Rome. So there`s an ad hominem attack both on the leaders, the reform leaders, and on the people themselves. And I saw the people -- I said, Well, who is this rabble? I even have a quote in there by Marx calling them a rabble and a bunch of parasites and layabouts, a lumpenproletariat, you know?
Well who are these people? They were -- when I looked at them, they were shopkeepers, they were carpenters, they were smiths, they were dockers, teamsters, day jobbers, weavers. They were the working proletariat of Rome -- construction workers. They were people -- and what did they do? The image you get of the people of Rome is they spent all their time waiting for their free bread, their grain dole. Well that grain dole, that dole of bread, that ration of bread they got did make a difference between survival and not survival, but you don`t live a life of leisure on a little ration of bread. You still need money for fuel. You need money for clothing, for rents. The rents were exorbitant.
These people worked, and what they did with their lives besides that, they didn`t spend it at the circuses and in the arena all the time -- sure, they went. It was free, the only diversion they had. But they also did things like fight for representative assemblies for 200 years. They fought for a secret ballot and got it. They fought for land redistribution. They fought for protections on Italian industry to develop domestic industry. They fought for work projects so they could have jobs. They -- they did some pretty good things, and the people of history should be looked at with a little less of an elitist viewpoint.
LAMB: How does that relate to United States of America 2003? Are there oligarchs in this country, in your opinion?
PARENTI: Yes, I think -- I think money -- big money -- I don`t mean -- when they say the top fifth of America, the rich, what are you talking about? The top fifth of America? If you make $100,000, you`re in the top 4 percent. You make $70,000, you`re in the top fifth. That`s not the very rich. The very rich are a fraction of one percent, and they have enormous -- I mean, they`re off the charts. They really go up.
I do believe that immense concentration of money does exercise a disproportionate influence in America in control of the media, the universe of discourse, who gets to run for public office, who mobilizes the high-powered lobbyists. This is not to say that it is -- we live in a pure oligarchy. There are also democratic elements. The people do mobilize. Victories can be won, and they are won, at times. So the struggle continues.
LAMB: Do you vote?
PARENTI: Yes, I do. When I can find somebody to vote for, I vote. I didn`t vote and I won`t vote for Gray Davis or his opponent. But I don`t know, I may vote for a Green Party candidate for governor.
LAMB: Where do you live?
PARENTI: I live in California.
LAMB: And when you look at the structure of America`s democracy right now, what do you think of it -- the House, the senate, the courts?
PARENTI: Well, I think there have to be a lot of changes. I think voting has to be better secured. I think people`s registration -- people should not be disfranchised by being kept from the polls, intimidated, asked for two picture IDs, as happened in Florida. I think there have to be campaign finance limitations, so that people without large sums of money can get their issues heard. There has to be greater diversity.
I think we should get rid of term limits. In California, it`s been a disaster, term limits in the Assembly. You have people running the Assembly totally inexperienced, have no institutional memory. And when they keep goofing up like this, then who takes over? The staff and the lobbyists. And nobody elected those people.
I think -- I think we shouldn`t be spending $420 billion on military. I don`t believe we should have 300 military bases all over the world. I don`t believe we should be having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and killing people in these various places to make the world safe for the oil cartels.
LAMB: If the public wanted what you want, why haven`t they spoken out? Why haven`t they voted these folks in office out?
PARENTI: Well, people can be manipulated and misled. If they never even really hear our side of the story, they`re not going to necessarily push for it, for our side. And yet, it is interesting, despite the bombardment, the one-sided bombardment, they often are reluctant. They often don`t want war. Once the war starts, then the president`s approval ratings spike, they rally around the flag and the flag`s wrapped around the president, and they say, Well, we got to support our troops.
This happened with the first Gulf war. I mean, the polls right up until close to the time of intervention were very lukewarm. People didn`t -- What are we going to send troops off to where? Iraq? Half of the American people hadn`t heard of it and couldn`t find it on the map. But once the war started, then everybody just rallied. So people do get manipulated.
LAMB: On the basis of what you`re saying, you have not been fooled with all of this. I mean, you`ve figured out in your own mind that the president is wrong and this kind of expenditure on military is wrong. Why can`t the others figure it out?
PARENTI: Well, I think you need access to an analysis. You need access to information that normally is not available. Actually, you can find a lot of it in the mainstream media, but you got to really dig around on page 22, you know, paragraph six.
LAMB: But you`ve figured it out. Why aren`t haven`t the rest of us?
PARENTI: Well, I`m not the only one. There are a lot of people who`ve figured it out. And more and more are figuring it out. I mean, look at this war in Iraq. There were millions of people who figured out that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq wasn`t harboring terrorists, that Iraq wasn`t a mortal threat to the United States or any other country, that it had been battered for 10 years by sanctions, and a war before that.
And millions of people demonstrated in Spain, Lithuania, Finland, Japan, in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto. Indonesia, people were demonstrating, Canada. I mean, name the country -- Italy, Great Britain. On February 15, they had two million people, the largest public demonstration in the history of England. People were very strongly against this war. So I wasn`t -- it wasn`t just me with my quirky analysis.
LAMB: Well I`m going back to the book and the republic and all that, and the assassination. And you come to this country, now where it is -- do you agree, is this a democracy, where they can throw people out if they doesn`t like them?
PARENTI: I -- this question of, Do we have a democracy or don`t -- I heard people say, We don`t have a democracy. You got a Supreme Court this and money rules and -- and people say, We do have a democracy. I don`t think it`s do or don`t. I think we do have. There are democratic elements in our -- in our system. There are democratic forces. And those forces need to be strengthened.
LAMB: Go back to -- again, just take the Iraqi war, for instance. Members of the Congress and the senate voted, basically -- didn`t they, or didn`t they -- to give the president the right to do what he did?
PARENTI: They voted worse than that. They voted against the Constitution. They voted to give him the power to declare war whenever he wants. Now, the declaration of war is not something that any one executive should have power to do. That`s a monarchy. That`s the power of a monarchy or a king or a dictator. In a republic, the declaration of war should be done by the sovereign assembly. And they have handed it over. They did in October, 2002, and said the president can go out there and point out any country he wants and say, Well, we`re going to hit them next, and we`re going to hit them next.
LAMB: How would you do it -- I mean, how would you set up a government any differently, to give the people more power in these circumstances? Again, I go back to, if they didn`t want this, couldn`t they have changed the Congress?
PARENTI: Well, in "Democracy of the Few," I have a whole set of reforms. Had I known we were going to talk about that, I would have brought that in, Brian. But I think, first of all, you have to start electing different people. To elect different people, you got to have a different way of financing and carrying out elections. They should have right to media. We shouldn`t have to buy -- you shouldn`t have to spend millions of dollars to get on the media. The media are licensed. It`s the airwaves. The airwaves are the property of the people of United States, and time should be given to people, you know, candidates of all sorts on the media.
The electoral system is part of it. The media itself -- there should be greater diversity. There should be greater range of opinions. I don`t want to -- I don`t want to silence people who differ from me. I would be very uncomfortable in a system where I didn`t hear anybody different from me because I don`t know everything there is to know. But I certainly would like to have a greater range of opinions and such and not everybody just from A to B. It should be able to go from A to Z.
LAMB: Back to the book.
LAMB: What -- what could be learned, from reading this book, about governments and about how -- I mean, this is many years ago -- what, we`re talking 2,000 years ago, at least.
LAMB: What can be learned from reading about Julius Caesar and his time that would help us better understand democracy, republics, government?
PARENTI: Could I read a quote by Joseph Schumpeter?
LAMB: Sure. Who was?
PARENTI: Joseph Schumpeter was a conservative economist who was read widely in the first half of the last century. I used to read him when I was an undergraduate in 1950. And in 1919, one of his earliest writings, this is what he wrote. He was describing Roman imperialism, the Roman empire, which the republic had an empire at the time. I won`t read every word of it, but I`ll just say -- and he said, "Rome was governed by that policy which pretends to aspire to peace but unerringly generates war, the policy of continual preparation for war, the policy of meddlesome interventionism. There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome`s allies. And if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome`s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs."
Now, does any of that sound familiar to you at all? So he`s writing in 1919 about Rome, and that could be about the American empire. We are constantly -- and I think that`s one of the tricks of ruling groups, which is to distract the people from their immediate problems and interests by -- Alexander Hamilton made this point in Federalist paper No. 6. He said, "Many a sovereign has" -- how did he phrase it? -- "has conjured up a crisis abroad to distract the people from their domestic grievances." And I think that`s what we have going today. This idea...
LAMB: On purpose?
PARENTI: ... of perpetual war. Yes, I think war has been very good for George Bush. It`s been really good for him.
LAMB: But was it for Bill Clinton? I mean, the intervention that he -- when he sent missiles over there to Sudan, other things like that?
PARENTI: Yes. He, too, had to do his blooding and show he was a tough president, and somehow that shows, you`re really a strong president. I don`t -- I don`t know how it helped him. His bombing of Yugoslavia -- I was in Yugoslavia a few weeks after the bombing, and I saw the damage that had been done and schools that had been hit and apartment houses. I don`t really -- that doesn`t make me feel proud to be an American, when I see what`s done in the name of my country. I was not terribly impressed by Bill Clinton and...
LAMB: What do you think of this country?
PARENTI: I mean, this is my country. I think it`s a great country. It deserves better leaders and it deserves better kind of policy. We are -- you know, the Council on Foreign Relations did a national poll -- maybe it was the Pew Institute, but with the Council -- about how do people around the world perceive Americans? And the viewpoint was, they see them as arrogant, overweening, self-absorbed, wanting everything their way, and this and that. And the council concluded, instead of saying, Well, maybe there`s something about our policy we might want to reexamine, they said, Well, we`re not projecting our image successfully enough.
I think we -- I think Americans are -- you know, I don`t think we are God`s gift to humanity. I don`t think -- every nation has had its nationalists who think that their country is unique in its history. And every country does have a unique and fascinating history. America does have -- when you think of it, what a remarkable history. I mean, what a remarkable blend of people. It is unique. There`s no other place in the world where you got, you know, 300 nationalities melting, whatever.
But every country has a unique -- Ireland does. Italy does. Spain does. Greece does. China does, Japan and England. They all have unique histories. But every -- so many countries -- the 19th century German nationalists, like Fichter (ph) and Treichter (ph), they talked about a Germany that would emerge. It would revive. It would lead all of humanity to a new epic. It would -- you know, there`s always this dream that your country is not only unique but it will uplift and lead humanity to a better life. It`s a nice sentiment. Dostoevsky had it about Holy Mother Russia. Matzini (ph) had it about Italy. Jefferson had it about America.
I think we should be more modest in our -- in our agendas. And we should really respect other countries and be not so quick to use force and violence to solve things. I think that force and violence is not a mistaken policy. I think it`s a correct policy, given the interests that George Bush represents. He now has control of the second largest oil reserve in the world, 113 billion gallons of very good quality crude. And Halliburton is taking it over and fixing up the oil wells and all that, and the Iraqis are very irritated and saying, You`re supposed to be helping us, and this and that. They`re not -- Bush isn`t there to help the Iraqis. He`s there to help his own cartels and to make sure that Iraq does not take a self-defining, independent path.
LAMB: Who in American history, either the Founding Fathers or somebody, do you respect the most in their thinking, the way they think about how this country ought to be managed?
PARENTI: I thought Lincoln said many interesting things that have been neglected. He was an interesting Republican president. Franklin. There are -- my heroes in American history are the people who organized the fights for universal ballot and suffrage for white males, to abolish property rights, the people who -- the abolitionists who fought against slavery, the people who fought for their right for women to have an education and own property and vote.
So my heroes are the ordinary people who have fought throughout history, whose names I don`t even know and, you know, for the most part, who did -- who fought for the principle of public education. If they hadn`t won that -- and all those things were not given to us. We had to fight against the plutocracy, fight tooth and nail every single one of those things. And we`re losing a lot of them. They`re fighting to get them back and get us back to 1900. But if it wasn`t for that, I wouldn`t have been able to go to a public school, you know? I came from a poor family and -- so those are my heroes. It`s not the big names.
LAMB: Is your point of view gaining any credence in the country, or you are losing?
PARENTI: Well, people I know who are progressives or even just liberals or even just centrists are -- many of them are very depressed. They`re very unhappy with the way things have been going in the country.
There are some hopeful things. I mean, look at the bit public outcry against the FCC, where Michael Powell takes it upon himself to legislate a change of momentous scope in ownership of the media. Can a regulatory agency just set up a new set of rules? That to me is not -- by a 3-2 vote, to change the whole structure of mass media in the country? And look at the immense outcry and push -- they woke up Congress on that issue.
So you know, you do have things happen at times. It`s not like the people have given up. I just -- I think we should -- as Antonio Gramshy (ph) said, we have to have a pessimism of the mind -- you see how difficult things are -- but an optimism of the will. You keep struggling and think you can win some victories. And sometimes we do.
LAMB: Here`s the cover of the book, "The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People`s History of Ancient Rome." Our guest, Michael Parenti. And we thank you very much.
PARENTI: Thank you.
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