Big Caesars and Little Caesars

Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian:

One by one, the toxic giants have come crashing to earth. In the last month or so Boris Johnson has quit, Donald Trump has been arraigned on felony charges, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has died, and even Vladimir Putin looks significantly weaker than he did. It’s sorely tempting to conclude that the chaotic ride of recent years is finally over, and life might return to something more like normal.

But that, according to Ferdinand Mount’s absorbing tour of populist rogues through the ages, would be a rookie mistake. It may be comforting to think of so-called Caesars – a type of leader defined by what Mount calls his (and it’s mostly, though not invariably, his) “relentless egotism, his lack of scruple, his thoughtless brutality, his cheesy glitz” and above all his loathing of democratic checks and balances – as freakish aberrations from a generally orderly norm. But trace the line from ancient Rome to Oliver Cromwell, from Napoleon Bonaparte to modern-day strongmen, and it becomes obvious that they are a regularly recurring phenomenon for which nations just as regularly fall, and from which they don’t recover overnight. “These ill-starred comets,” Mount writes, “leave a long trail of debris.” But they also have something to teach us about stopping the next Caesar early.

More here.