Throughout history most politicians yearn to be liked, for the roar of the crowd, and for above all, power. Politicians have, to varying degrees, beliefs, but it is rare to find true statesmen or stateswomen.
Today’s politics is, in many ways, similar to the late Roman Republic. The society is changing rapidly and the politicians are mostly a mix of the weak, the hacks, and the dangerous. In the late Republic, the strong figures were men who moved to consolidate their power by effectively bribing the people by redistributing property- the dangerous. The most dangerous famous figure was Julius Caesar but there were others like Cinna. Much of the opposition to these dangerous characters were a mix of passive survivalists, weak appeasers, and an equally demagogic opposition. Those groups exist in any age, but especially among the rich and corrupt Roman Senate. There are others too who are more noble and yet complex- the scheming, but somewhat morally compromised, “clever” opponents- people such as Cicero. Then finally there are the rarest of breed- the morally unflappable scholar statesman- people such as Cato (both the younger and elder). Catos serve not because they desire power, but because they desire a greater good for their country based on a higher moral order. Jacob Rees-Mogg is of the line of a Cato.
Modern Britain shares similarities with Ancient Rome. There are your Caesars- the mad (Jeremy Corbyn) or the bad (Tony Blair)- who desire to change the country in their image. They view traditional Britain in a largely negative light and prefer a country shaped in their image- whether it be an EU super-state or a socialist paradise. There are then your appeasers. There are Senators who serve for duty of public service but do not believe much outside of duty- people like Theresa May. What does Theresa May believe in outside of public service? No one is really sure, outside of maybe a very private faith. When asked by Jeremy Paxton if she believed in Brexit she did not say yes- she said she was following the will of the people. As Allister Heath pointed out in a brilliant article recently, her government is largely managing the decline to a left-wing Britain- staying in power out of a duty to keep the bad (Corbyn) out.
Next are your Cicero characters- such as Boris. Boris is brilliant but often gets sent out to Greece to get out of people’s way. He is driven by a belief and love of country, but also doesn’t mind theatrics and loves the roar of the crowd after his stirring oratories. Boris shifts alliances but ultimately he is his own man. Boris is the wild card that like Cicero will be remembered in history- it was he for instance that is largely responsible for Brexit and I have written on his Churchillian like qualities before. Ultimately though, Cicero was doomed to history being too much of his own man- a fate I hope does not befall Boris.
Which brings us to Mogg. He has recently become a phenomenon that many have been flabbergasted by. He is immensely popular among young people despite being so contrary to everything that the young are supposed to like- in fact he is far and away the most popular British politician on social media. I have written about why he would be a great Prime Minister (you can also read an abridged version here). However, he is everything a politician of the 21st century is not supposed to be. He is ultra-conservative- he has six children, dresses traditionally, and has views that has had him branded the honourable member for both the eighteenth and nineteenth century (the former not being fair considering he is Catholic). He is unashamedly posh and knows history better than probably any politician in recent history. He is an “ultra” Brexiteer and yet he is currently the favourite among Conservative party members to be the next leader. How then can the smasher of every known modern political orthodoxy be within striking distance of Downing Street?
The reason for “Moggmentum” is simple. People ultimately recognize integrity when they see it. Like Cato, Mogg holds views that clearly are sincerely held. Yes, like Cato, he is an impeccable orator, something that we severely lack in this day in age- as Sam Hooper recently pointed out. But most importantly, like Cato, he does not bend to the will of his time, he fights for what he believes are universal truths. Many (not to be cynical- but fashionable urban) people were clutching their pearls in horror that Mogg actually believes in the teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion and gay marriage. But what is more strange is how did we get to the point that a Catholic (or Muslim or evangelical Christian- ie Tim Farron) politician would not believe the views of one’s religion in order to be elected. Are not the politicians who run from their avowed faith in favour of political expediency deserving of our contempt like corrupt Roman politicians whose worship of Jupiter was limited to being seen at temples on holidays?
This article is not to be misinterpreted to say all politicians must be saints or true believers to be effective political leaders. There are many pragmatic leaders who were great statesmen- people from Alexander Hamilton to David Cameron. However, the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg deserve our praise and consideration for leadership because they are guided by a greater purpose and vision for the country that is not weighed down by blind personal ambition. I would argue that Rome would have been a better empire if it had listened to the stoic, moral and traditional philosophy of Cato. Likewise, I believe the UK will be better off listening to a man who foremost wants the best for his country- who knows its history and its people inside and out and who is guided by a moral compass that makes him unashamed to stand up for his beliefs. Remember actiones secundum fidei.