The Unholy Connection between Power and Egalitarianism

The concentration of power is often one of the potent drivers of egalitarianism. The connection between these two processes is apparent in this famous incident reported in Livy's Roman History. Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the Roman king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, had managed to ingratiate himself with the people of Gabii, an enemy city, and had even been appointed general to lead them against the Romans. This was the moment that Sextus had been waiting for and so sent a messenger to his father for instructions:

"To this courier no answer by word of mouth was given, because, I suppose, he appeared of questionable fidelity. The king went into a garden of the palace, as if in deep thought, followed by his son's messenger; walking there for some time without uttering a word, he is said to have struck off the heads of the tallest poppies with his staff. The messenger, wearied with asking and waiting for an answer, returned to Gabii apparently without having accomplished his object, and told what he had himself said and seen, adding that Tarquin, either through passion, aversion to him, or his innate pride, had not uttered a single word. As soon as it was clear to Sextus what his father wished, and what conduct he enjoined by those intimations without words, he put to death the most eminent men of the city, some by accusing them before the people, as well as others, who from their own personal unpopularity were liable to attack. Many were executed publicly, and some, in whose case impeachment was likely to prove less plausible, were secretly assassinated. Some who wished to go into voluntary exile were allowed to do so, others were banished, and their estates, as well as the estates of those who were put to death, publicly divided in their absence. Out of these largesses and plunder were distributed; and by the sweets of private gain the sense of public calamities became extinguished, till the state of Gabii, destitute of counsel and assistance, surrendered itself without a struggle into the power of the Roman king."

The illustration is a cartoon from Punch magazine, which updates this theme to the  1930s and casts Stalin in the role  of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and Clement Attlee as the messenger.
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