In a time when democracy doesn’t seem to work any more, and politicians seem to be under the control of the EU or the UN or anybody but the people who elected them, it might be worth considering the end of the Roman Republic circa 60 BC.
In 100 BC the Roman Republic had been in existence for about 400 years, with a variety of officials elected to a multitude of offices, the highest of which was the position of Consul (of which there were usually two). But by 30 BC it had become an empire under the control of a single emperor. After 30 BC, real power was invested in the emperor Augustus, although consuls and senators continued to be elected to the largely powerless senate.
Between 100 BC and 30 BC, a number of individuals rose to power and prominence. Marcus Licinius Crassus was the richest man in Rome. One of the ways he got rich was to keep an team of firefighters who would show up at house fires and offer to buy the burning houses at knock-down prices, and who would only fight the fire once the sale had been agreed.
Another figure who emerged in this period was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (aka Pompey), who was a highly successful Roman general. At the time the Roman empire was expanding rapidly, and Pompey campaigned successfully in Spain, Gaul, and Asia, and against the pirates that infested the the Mediterranean.
A third figure who emerged, a little later, was Gaius Julius Caesar, who also became a successful general, bringing the whole of Gaul under Roman control.
Circa 60 BC, these three men formed the first Roman Triumvirate, working together – initially in secret – to further their goals. All (except Crassus) were also elected Consuls at one time or other. Their Triumvirate controlled almost everything in Rome.
The main point I wish to make about them all is that they were all very rich men (with Caesar perhaps the least rich, at the outset). Successful Roman generals would a) capture lots of booty from defeated enemies, and b) subsequently receive the income of taxes raised in captured colonies. They were the super-rich men of their time, in a frugal Roman Republic in which vast personal wealth was hitherto more or less unknown. They could probably buy anything they wanted, including political influence.
The comparison with our time is that we also have quite a few super-rich individuals (the 1%?), who are also able to buy more or less anything they like, including political influence. Names that come to mind, in no particular order, are Gates, Bloomberg, and Soros. There are others with names like Rockefeller and Robert Wood Johnson. They are (or were) successful businessmen in a time of rapid economic growth, which is the modern equivalent of the expanding Roman empire. Many of them share the same political goals (e.g. they almost invariably want smoking bans). And they are mostly men who, as CEOs of large companies, are used to exercising top-down control of their private empires. And who now seem to be turning their attention to the whole world, and seeking to exercise top-down control over that also.
Could it be that we are now living in a time when the American Republic (and UK parliamentary democracy) are coming under the control of an oligarchy of very rich men, much like during the Roman triumvirate? Could this be why we no longer seem to be living in a working democracy, responsive to its electorate (who didn’t want smoking bans), but instead have politicians whose priorities seem to be determined by undemocratic organisations like ASH and the EU and the UN as well as various corporations (e.g. big pharma)?
A similar process seems to have already overtaken the USSR, after whose disintegration a rich oligarchy emerged (made up of people who had bought up state assets cheap), before being ousted by a single ’emperor’ in the form of Vladimir Putin, who – like Augustus before him – preserves the outward appearance of democracy in the Russian duma.
I don’t know the answer to these questions. But if history is repeating itself, the oligarchs will eventually fall out with each other and fight civil wars (much as in post-Soviet Russia). And many of them will wind up dead.
For Crassus died after being captured by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, and having molten gold poured down his throat. And Pompey died after losing the battle of Pharsalus to Julius Caesar in 48 BC, and being murdered in Egypt after fleeing there. And Julius Caesar was in turn murdered in 44 BC, beneath the statue of Pompey in Pompey’s Theatre in Rome, where the senate was temporarily meeting.
And if history is repeating itself, we may also expect the emergence of ’emperors’ or dictators in the Western world, after the oligarchs have fallen out with each other.