Learning From Vlad the Impaler
The American people need a champion who is willing to be the bad guy.
It’s common to see conservative writers compare today’s political and cultural situation to that of the late Roman Republic. It was a time of transition between a small, vigorous republic to a large, decadent empire. Rome was effectively an oligarchy, with wealthy patricians ruling over the mass of plebeians and slaves. For most Romans, taxes were oppressive, social mobility was nonexistent, and distractions from pointless wars and violent entertainment abounded. Populist movements were periodically put down, as Rome steadily inched toward autocracy.
With so many constitutional norms being violated today by unaccountable oligarchs to suppress populist movements, it’s easy to see the parallels. America’s middle- and working-classes muddle onward, seeing their quality of life decline and opportunities for a better life dissolve. They, too, are distracted by violent entertainment and pointless wars. And just as there were leaders such as Tiberius Gracchus and Julius Caesar championing the cause of the people and suffering the enmity of the elites, today, Donald Trump does the same and suffers similar scorn.
This analogy poses a question: How can we avoid Rome’s demise? Do Americans just need to steel themselves for the inevitable crash of the markets, complete dissolution of faith and morals, and rise of a totalitarian autocracy? Or should they fight, perhaps in vain, to restore the country’s founding ideals, pray for another Great Awakening, and somehow find politicians who can both win elections and govern effectively?
In light of the fatalism that seems to follow comparisons to Rome, I’d like to propose a different historical analogy that is both more apt and more hopeful. After reading historian Raymond Ibrahim’s new book, Defenders of the West: The Christian Heroes Who Stood Against Islam, I believe today’s situation more closely mirrors that of 15th-century Romania.
During this time, Romania and the rest of the Balkan countries were made up of small kingdoms ruled by warlords, or voivodes. The colossal empire of the Ottoman Turks periodically invaded this region, desecrating churches, enslaving thousands, massacring and torturing innocents, and ravaging the countryside. In order to temporarily protect their kingdoms, the voivodes and boyars (nobles) agreed to pay tribute to the Turkish sultan. This cost them not only gargantuan sums of money, but hundreds of captives became part of the sultan’s harem, were used as slave labor, or were recruited as Janissaries, Christian boys brainwashed and trained to fight as elite soldiers for the Turks.
One Romanian voivode, Vlad Dracula II, was forced to give up his two sons, Vlad III and Radu, as hostages to Sultan Muhammad II for several years. While Radu, who was sexually assaulted and groomed by the sultan, stayed loyal to the Turks, Vlad III vowed vengeance. When the latter returned home and inherited the kingdom, he immediately stopped paying tribute and ruled his kingdom in the same style as the Turks—that is, through terror and fear. Because his preferred method of punishment for his enemies was impalement, he soon became known as Vlad the Impaler.
Though Vlad obviously upset the sultan, who eventually sent a massive army against him, he angered the other voivodes and boyars even more. Instead of joining Vlad’s effort, they betrayed Vlad at every turn, breaking treaties, lying about military commitments, generating propaganda about him drinking blood and being a vampire (which was where the myth of Dracula came from), and even imprisoning him for thirteen years. He was only released to lead a war against his brother Radu and some invading Turkish armies.
For all the abuse and calumny Vlad suffered, he was an effective leader who was adored by his people. He imposed law and order and fought against the enemy. He refused to rob his own people and sell their children to pay off the Turks. He also showed just how much the Turks’ power relied on intimidation and duplicity. When someone actually fought back, the Turks showed themselves cowardly and incompetent, suffering massive casualties and constant setbacks. Perhaps more importantly, he exposed the weakness and hypocrisy of other Christian rulers who only cared about themselves.
If one can see past the violence, there are important similarities between Vlad Dracula’s situation and America today. Much like the Ottoman Turks dominated their day’s politics and culture, leftist globalist elites dominate the politics and culture of today. Much like how the voivodes and boyars caved to the demands of the sultan, almost every large institution today complies with the agenda of these elites. And much like the Romanian nobility demonized the populist Dracula at the behest of the sultan, today’s institutions demonize the populist Trump at the behest of the leftist elites.
This analogy sheds light on what makes Trump so unpopular: He is a threat to the current system of leftist intimidation and elite privilege. As Christian Parenti recently argued in Compact, Trump is hated because he opposes foreign intervention, globalist trade agreements, outsourcing manufacturing, mass immigration, and leftist hypocrisy. Like other conservatives, he was supposed to comply with the elite class’s agenda while making superficial gestures to placate his working-class base. Instead, he immediately ripped up trade agreements, closed down military bases, secured the border, and told the foreign policy establishment to take a hike—the policy equivalent of creating Vlad’s “Forest of the Impaled.”
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For this, leftists want to imprison Trump just like the nobles imprisoned Vlad. Even if it means that normal Americans will be stuck with an unjust, corrupt, and utterly stupid government, many of them will support it because they fear reprisals from the leftist elites and their proxies more than resentment from conservatives. In the short term, it doesn’t seem like a big problem, since the status quo has been maintained. But in the long term, this practically guarantees a future of poverty, mediocrity, and political strife, as it did with the Middle Eastern and North African nations that remained under Ottoman rule.
Therefore, it’s essential to learn from history and fight fire with fire. Instead of lamenting the faulty indictments and legal double-standards, conservative politicians need to start indicting and investigating prominent Democrats. Like Vlad, they will find that these leftists are not as powerful as they seem. So much of their support depends on intimidation and bluster. If Republicans went on the offensive for once, they would discover that, despite the odds, this is a battle they could win.
More importantly, history teaches why conservatives should fight this battle in the first place: for the people. While leftist elites and their stooges will always vilify conservatives for showing a spine, Americans who have families, do real work, and actually love their country will celebrate them and keep their memories alive. They need a champion who will not sell them out, fight the good fight, and do the dirty work of (figuratively) impaling some bad guys.