All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what have the Romans done for us?

-Monty Python's Life of Brian


If you read the above quote, you might be forgiven for assuming that the plotters were a bunch of idiots.  Why would anyone want to throw the Romans out?  They brought so much good to Judea, right?  The whole idea of tossing them out on their ear sounds like a plan to cut one’s nose to spite one’s face.  And yet, if you look at the scene with any knowledge of history, it starts looking less stupid.  Indeed, the question might really be phrased as “what did the Romans do TO us?


Between the Third Punic War and the series of civil wars that ended with Augustus Caesar in firm control of the empire, the Romans conquered vast swathes of territory surrounding the Mediterranean.  Some kingdoms were effectively annexed, ruled by governors appointed by Rome; others were granted limited internal independence, as long as they behaved themselves.  The latter were luckier than the former, as the Romans were not nice imperialists.  It was often said, in Rome, that a governor needed to make three fortunes: one to bribe the voters so he’d get his position, one to make himself wealthy and one to bribe the judges during the inevitable trial for misconduct during his term in office.  They made themselves wealthy by extracting money from their provinces, which they did with extreme brutality.  It should not have been a surprise, therefore, that so many of their subjects were happy to turn on them, when given half a chance.  The Romans did make attempts to put their possessions in better order, but Roman internal politics often made that difficult.  Rome was, in the view of its subjects, a demon that had to be placated.  Cleopatra has been branded a whore - and other, less pleasant, things - for forming personal relationships with the two most powerful Romans of their era, but really ... she had no choice.  She had to keep the Romans sweet or risk losing everything, including her life.


I don’t know how old Mary and Joseph were, when they were ordered to Bethlehem before Jesus was born, but they - and their grandparents - would be all too aware that Rome could turn nasty at the drop of a hat.  Indeed, they were going to Bethlehem because the Romans had ordered them to register so they could be taxed.  There would be good reason for them to resent and fear the Romans, even if the Romans had done a lot of good for their people.  And the Jews - and everyone else in the region - would want to be free of the Romans, if it could be done safely.  The Romans were, in short, people who’d been very nasty and simply couldn’t be trusted not to turn nasty again.


As Tacitus (or Calgacus) commented, the Romans “make a desert and call it peace.”


The desire for independence, to escape foreign domination, runs strong in the human mind.  Indeed, we often turn against outsiders even when the outsiders genuinely are better than the natives.  Events like BREXIT wouldn’t have gotten so much traction, for better or worse, if the EU hadn’t been seen as an outside power interfering in British politics ... a view that may have little in common with reality, but one that caught on.  The BREXIT referendum itself was merely the culmination of a series of problems that no one in office dared admit needed to be fixed.  Put crudely, the EU fiddled while Rome burned (British public opinion turned against the EU) and discovered, too late, that it was seen as beyond reform.  Indeed, this was not Britain’s first BREXIT.  Henry VIII’s decision to cut ties with Rome in 1532 might have been spurred by his desire to sire a male heir, but it sprang from long-standing anti-papal sentiments that saw the Pope as a biased and therefore untrustworthy figure who could be - and was - far more easily influenced by France and Spain than England.  The papacy’s meddling in English - and Scottish - affairs was often seen as, at best, foolish; at worst, detrimental and greedy.  There was no sense, by the time Henry VIII took the throne, that the Pope was a neutral arbiter.  The more the ideal of the papacy got bogged down in real-world politics, the more it surrendered its claim to moral authority. 


Point is, outside powers simply don’t understand local matters.  It is easy for outsiders to influence their politics, but harder for locals to influence distant overlords.  This breeds resentment and eventual hatred, even with the best will in the world.  Something that looks very reasonable to the outsiders, whatever it might happen to be, doesn’t always look so reasonable to the locals.  The various attempts to regulate the British America lead directly to the American Revolution!


And outsider politics can make it harder for the locals to seek justice.  Brigadier General Reginald Dyer - often called the “man who killed the British Empire - presented his masters in Whitehall with a serious political headache after the Amritsar Massacre.  On one hand, Dyer’s actions were a political nightmare; they convinced countless Indians to turn against the Raj.  On the other, it was hard to convict Dyer of anything without giving the impression Dyer was being railroaded, something that would (and did) turn his supporters against the government.  Matters were not helped by confusion over who was legally in command, just how much authority had been devolved to Dyer, legal and military questions regarding what actions an officer could take to save his command and a somewhat odd set of excuses and justifications from Dyer himself.  There was no good answer.  It should not have surprised anyone, therefore, that India would seek self-determination and independence from that moment on.  Faith in the Raj’s justice died under Dyer’s guns.


And all of this assumes a degree of goodwill.  How do you think the East Europeans regarded Nazi and Soviet occupiers?


It is true, of course, that independence brings with it perils.  British India separated into two pieces upon independence (and Pakistan would separate again, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh.)  India did not fight a bloody war of independence, but it took time for matters to steady down and - of course - India and Pakistan would fight several wars over the coming decades.  And yet, India was relatively lucky.  Newly-independent African states devolved into tribal war and/or dictatorships as the glue holding them together.  The social structures to keep the countries united weren’t strong enough to survive independence.  And if one separates during a war, as the Confederate States of America tried, it should be obvious that one’s society (and attempt to build a new government) may not survive the war.  The CSA lost, at least in part, because the government was massively dysfunctional. 


These perils cannot go underestimated, despite the natural desire for freedom.  Those who seek independence must think about what they’ll do, the day after independence.  Most independence activists, in my view, indulge in wishful thinking, believing - for better or worse - that things will both change and yet stay the same.  The Scottish Nationalist Party is particularly guilty of wishful thinking, claiming to believe that oil revenue will remain high and there will be no economic hiccups (doubtful), that Scotland could remain in both the EU and NATO without any problems (really doubtful) and Scotland could continue to influence global affairs and - so to speak - punch above its weight (impossible.)  Any cold-blooded and rational assessment of the situation would point out that oil prices (and Scottish production) have been falling, that England would feel no obligation to purchase goods from Scottish industries (particularly at the expense of English industries), that NATO would be understandably annoyed at having to rewrite a whole series of treaties to accommodate an independent Scotland (not to mention the problems caused by splitting Scottish units from the remainder of the British military) and many EU member states would be flatly opposed to rewarding Scotland for gaining independence.  How many EU members have independence movements of one stripe or another?  The answer is probably bigger than you think.  Spain, for example, has quite serious movements.  Why would they want to do something that would encourage those movements? 


It is quite easy for intellectuals to dream up a political structure that works perfectly - on paper.  God knows both liberals and conservatives have devised perfect states that work perfectly ... on paper.  The real world is rarely so obliging.  Their political structures tend to come with massive downsides that make themselves apparent when they run into trouble, downsides that tend to make dealing with the problem harder.  The structures demand a considerable amount of trust, yet the people promoting them act in ways that undermine trust and weaken society.  And once trust is lost - as the Romans discovered, once they started to forget their scruples - it can never be regained.


The problems plaguing our world today have many causes, but one of them - in my view - is the belief that governments have long-since lost touch with their people.  They mistake their preconceptions for reality, they listen to experts who are nothing of the sort (or are seen as being nothing of the sort), they let themselves be bullied by pressure groups, they let barmy bureaucrats run things ... and, because of these failings, people want independence, to live their lives without interference.  Nationalist and populist politicians were elected because, at base, people want to be free. 


And this is not something we should take lightly. 


And now I’ve written that, I have a favour to ask.


It’s getting harder to make a living as an independent author.  If you purchased this book and enjoyed it, please leave a review and share the title with your friends.  Please join my mailing list, follow my blog and newsletter; believe me, every little helps.  I’ve attached a list of ways to follow me on the next page, before the appendixes.


Thank you.


Christopher G. Nuttall

Edinburgh, 2021