Senator Marco Rubio inspired a joyful and defiant noise in Tampa when he denounced the theological foundations of the cult whose object of worship is the state and whose Vatican City is the District of Columbia: “These ideas don’t move us forward,” Senator Rubio insisted. “These ideas move us backward. They are tired and old big-government ideas that have failed every time and everywhere they have been tried. These are ideas that people come to America to get away from.”
They came here in boats. Everybody knows that. But nobody knows that. JFK to Heathrow, 7 hours 22 minutes, not even enough time to run down the battery on a MacBook, in-flight wi-fi $17.95, complimentary cocktails and energy drinks. Look down. There is a great deal of cold and empty North Atlantic between Plymouth, England, and Plymouth Rock. It was November 11, 1620, when they put down anchor at Cape Cod. November. An afternoon of sailing in the gentle waters of the Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut in the summer sun can be exhausting, and the preparations require logistical expertise combining the skills of Cuthbert Collingwood, Herbert Hoover, and Nigella Lawson. No sane man sets sail on a two-month voyage across the North Atlantic on the verge of winter in order to get to something. But as Cubans, Vietnamese, Haitians, Albanians, and many others can attest, people will set out on the flimsiest of vessels — improvised rafts, inner tubes — to get away from something.
Professor Daniel Cloud of Princeton has a special appreciation for ships, which he describes in his beautiful little book The Lily: “Once you own a ship, you, like a honeybee, are wherever you are voluntarily. If you choose to, you can sail away. You’re in a position to negotiate with the king. He may put you in a ghetto, but the joke is on him, because you can fly; he’s the one that’s rooted in one place like a shrub. In fact, if you can find such a crazy place, you can base yourself where there is no king, where everything is up for negotiation, someplace across the sea like Attica or America.” It is an alluring thought, unless you are a high priest of the faith holding that “government is the one thing we all belong to.” Princes have long obsessed over their navies as a way to control trade, which is simply another way of controlling people, all those boat-owning peons and seafaring serfs who believe that they are in a position to negotiate with the king.
Professor Cloud’s conclusion is bleak: “Classical civilization as a whole died a very long and gruesome physical death once there was no longer any place you could sail to if you wanted to get away from Caesar. . . . And the event should serve as a grim warning to the postmodern world.” With the Romans controlling the major ports and stretching as far as Armenia and the Persian Empire, there were few places in the known world left in which to seek a safe harbor. Our contemporary politics is not so different from the empire Augustus inherited and converted into a religion, and our republic is infested with unaccountable bureaucrats we call czars, which is a corruption of the word Caesar. There are some places you can escape to — criminal cartels, the penumbras of the shadow banking system, the cash economy, or small narrow-purpose safe havens like Switzerland or Singapore — but if you are neither a criminal nor a billionaire, Caesar is omnipresent.
Things got pretty nasty in Rome when the elected consuls became gods, and that process didn’t take long: Caesar went from imperator to Divus Iulius in only four years. Barack Obama seems to have taken the opposite course in his four years, though there was the obligatory nauseating worship service at the Democratic convention, with devotees singing Marvin Gaye’s “You’re All I Need to Get By” (“I’ll sacrifice for you / Dedicate my life to you / I will go where you lead!”) as giant images of the beneficent god-president were projected for adoration, and in case you failed to get the point, it was the God’s Appointed People Choir on stage. (Not anointed, but appointed, like cabinet members.)