Sic Semper Tyrannis – Damocles, Cincinnatus, Batman, and Jean Charest

Sic Semper Tyrannis – Damocles, Cincinnatus, Batman, and Jean Charest

By Farnell Morisset

In the final days of his campaign, Jean Charest began making repeated allusions to the Sword of Damocles, mostly in the context of rhetorical talking points that made little or no sense in the context of the actual moral of the story of the Sword of Damocles.  So let me tell you the story of the Sword of Damocles.

Greek legend has it that Damocles once addressed Dionysius II, the (then wildly unpopular) tyrant-king of Syracuse.  Damocles, in a clear suck-up to the tyrant, proclaimed that as a man with so much power and authority, Dionysius should be a very happy and fortunate man.  In response, Dionysius offered his seat to Damocles, so that Damocles could experience exactly what a “fortunate” man like himself felt on the throne.  Damocles accepted, and just as he settled into the tyrant’s chair, Dionysius arranged for a sharp sword to hang over the throne, held in place only by a horse’s hair.  Damocles protested there was no way he could enjoy the throne with the constant threat of a painful skewery death hanging above him… and the tyrant-king had made his point.

Now, Jean Charest is an educated and intelligent man – it’s certain he knows the story.  I can’t help but find it rather telling that this, of all things, was on his mind in the final days of his losing battle to keep hold of his long political career.  However, there is another story – this one from classical Rome – that I feel Charest should have kept in mind instead.  So let me tell you the story of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.

In 458 BC, Rome was a fledgling republic with powerful enemies on all sides.  During a disastrous raid, the entire Roman standing army had been surrounded by one of their enemies, the Aequians.  As was the custom at the time, Roman senate voted to suspend their democracy and appoint one citizen as tyrant rei gerundae causa (literally “for getting things done”), who would have absolute power for up to one year.  Cincinnatus, a 72-year-old farmer, was well-regarded by the members of the Roman senate, and so he was given the job of handling the situation.

15 days later, 72-year-old Cincinnatus personally led a rag-tag army of Roman citizen volunteers into a battle that liberated the Roman army and left the Aequians begging for their lives… which Cincinnatus, being averse to unnecessary violence, spared.  Cincinnatus then marched the armies back home to Rome.  On the 16th day of his tyranny – which could have lasted for up to a year, no questions asked – he returned authority to the Roman senate and went back to his farm, effectively defining the word “badass” and setting the example for 400 years of Roman civic service.

Perhaps Charest should have taken that cue and left it there.  But, as he said at the beginning of the campaign, Charest’s motivation for seeking a fourth term was that he still felt he had things that needed getting done.  And so, now, I take you to Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie, “The Dark Knight”.

During a dinner between Bruce Wayne (Batman), Rachel Dawes (the designated love interest), and Harvey Dent (crime-ridden Gotham’s District Attorney), Dent indirectly relays the story of Cincinnatus as a justification for the Batman’s brand of vigilante justice, pointing out that this Roman tyranny was seen as selfless public service, and many tyrants were killed in the process of “getting things done”.  Dent argues that the same devotion is what is needed from Gotham’s District Attorney. Rachel points out that the last Roman appointed to this position was Caesar (yes, that Caesar), and he never gave up power while dragging Rome through civil wars and near ruin.  Dent’s response is iconic:

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Whatever we choose to remember of him, Jean Charest’s devotion was exemplary.  Under public pressure, he left a safe, cushy federal MP job to take the reins of the Québec Liberal Party at a time when his cause – Québec federalism – was nearing another crisis.  He led his rag-tag post-referendum PLQ survivors into ten years of power, during which time Québec’s birth rate grew, social stability was largely constant, and the economy expanded significantly.

Except that Jean Charest did not die a hero.  His reaction to the prolonged student crisis, the mounting evidence of corruption in his government, and increasingly shaky agreements with mining companies pushed him further away from that.  Finally, in enacting bill 78 – a direct attack on the civil liberties of the Québécois – Charest stepped over the line and became the villain.  It was time for the Sword of Damocles to fall.

Sic semper tyrannis.  Thank you, Mr. Charest, for 28 years of the most demanding service one can give.

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About the author:


Born and raised in Québec City, Farnell Morisset attended English school throughout his primary, secondary, and CEGEP studies, before ultimately choosing to stay in Québec City and study civil engineering at Laval University.

While at Laval, he served as president of the civil engineering student association. It was there that he discovered his affinity for writing and commentary, preparing a weekly column in the student newspaper dealing with the issues he, as president of the association, felt were important and relevant.

Farnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québecois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québecois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to LifeinQuebec.com as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

Categories: News

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He has an engineering degree from Université Laval and is currently a law student at McGill University.

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