[EEUSG] Auguric Consulate of Africa
Byzantios is a city with many names, throughout history and throughout the multiverse. This ancient city is the capital of the Hellenic Empire, and the home of Marcus Antonius. I quickly discovered that Mr. Antonius was very unlike his famous namesake. A short, balding man of Mauri extraction, he did not look the part of an ancient Roman general. His demeanor, too, was far more humble. This was a surprise, because Mr. Antonious was once a consul of the Auguric Consulate of Africa.
“I am so thankful that you accepted my invitation,” Mr. Antonious told me as he shook my hand.
I explained to the former consul that I was the one who should be thanking him, because I almost canceled this chapter over my inability to find someone to interview. Prior to visiting Mr. Antonius, I attempted to visit Africa’s capital of Carthago and speak to a representative of its government. Unfortunately, my entry into the country was denied by their foreign ministry, on the grounds that the present Consul was wary of visitors from other worldlines and concerned about infiltrators and agitators.
The African embassy in the Nutshell was closed to non-essential visitors, but they did provide me with literature explaining Africa’s history and its unique form of government. With these resources at hand, I prepared questions for Mr. Antonious, and he could affirm or debunk the African government’s claims.
The Auguric Consulate of Africa pinpoints its origins to the Third Punic War, and the final defeat of Carthage at the hands of the Roman Republic. Although destroyed by the Romans, the city of Carthage was rebuilt and became the center of Africa Proconsularis, a Roman province. Africa Proconsularis remained under the control of Rome until the shattering of the Roman Republic in 31 BCE, when the ancient namesake of Mr. Antonius defeated his one-time ally, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and added Africa Proconsularis to his nascent Romano-Egyptian empire. Although both the city of Rome and Antonius’ empire in Alexandria continued to war with one another for total control of the entire Mediterranean, neither side could triumph over the other.
For many centuries hence, the Ptolemaic-Antonine Dynasty ruled Africa Proconsularis as it ruled all of its domains: the personal property of the Pharaoh. However, increasing Roman influence and the declining power of Alexandria led to Africa gaining more autonomy, eventually becoming independent once the Egyptian dynasty collapsed in civil war. Originally ruled as an absolute monarchy, Africa’s kings were overthrown by their people in the mid-19th century, in a manner not dissimilar to the formation of the Roman Republic centuries before.
A deeply religious and superstitious people, the Africans did not trust a secular republican form of government, fearing the creation of a despotism not unlike that which had gripped the Eternal City for centuries. Instead, the Africans chose to entrust governance to the gods. Inspired by the auguries of Rome and the practice of sortition in ancient Athens, the Africans implemented a government whereby the supreme executive would be chosen by drawing lots. All eligible citizens – a category which expanded over the centuries – were eligible for the consulship.
According to the African government, theirs was the fairest system in the world, and one which kept their government free from the will of the ambitious. After all, a random selection gave corruption no mechanisms to subvert. I told Mr. Antonius that, surely, a system that kept the ambitious out of the consular office kept abuse of power from happening. Mr. Antonius rolled his eyes.
“Many people who have never tasted the elixir of power are transformed by the first sip. Suddenly, their every desire is within reach, and they leap at the chance to indulge before their term expires. With few exceptions, consuls are immune to prosecution, and so may indulge in any vice they please. Special interests are always eager to appease consuls for their own ends, and so are very generous in giving these poor souls ‘gifts.’ Most of these consuls fall into a cycle of hedonistic excess, and unfortunately many of them are ruined for life. Others use the organs of the state in personal grievances. One consul reinstated conscription just to keep every potential suitor in the legions and away from his daughter. Another used the security services to monitor and harass her ex-husbands.”
And the rest of the government went along with these absurd demands? This seems like a major waste of resources.
“The bureaucrats don’t care. They want to perpetuate the charade of consular power to keep the people’s eyes away from their own misdeeds.”
In Africa, the practice of sortition is limited solely to the office of consul. The rest of the state is managed similarly to other states: by a bureaucracy. In theory, all bureaucrats serve at the behest of the consul, and can be appointed or terminated at will. In practice, an entire bureaucratic apparatus exists to hire, fire and train bureaucrats, not unlike other states. Mr. Antonius further explained that the bureaucracy often operates independently of the consul’s will.
I asked Mr. Antonius again if any consuls didn’t abuse their power.
“We’ve had our share of ‘triclinular consuls.’” Mr. Antonius explained to me that the phrase referred to consuls who metaphorically “never sat up from the couch,” known as a triclinium. The former consul smiled.
“I was one of them. I avoided all lobbyists and refused all gifts. I spent my consulship watching the bureaucrats for egregious abuses of power and did nothing else. I let those bastards run the show.”
I asked Mr. Antonius why he was pleased to have such a reputation. Wasn’t he concerned that the people saw him as lazy?
“Triclinular consuls are usually popular among the bureaucrats and the people. The bureaucrats were pleased because they were allowed to do as they pleased. And the people? How could they blame someone of doing nothing? They rightly reserve their ire for the bureaucracy.”
I asked Mr. Antonius why he decided to do little with his office.
“Most politicians in this world, and in all of the others, have their power because they want it. They are ambitious, ruthless monsters who would slit their own mothers’ throats for power. I didn’t. When I learned that the Augurs drew my name from the lot, I was devastated.”
The sortition process in Africa evolved with the state. In the modern system, all citizens of sixteen years of age and above, who do not have a diagnosed mental disability or psychological disorder preventing them from serving as a fully capable adult, are eligible for the consulship. It was not legal for a citizen to relinquish his or her eligibility; if the gods wanted a citizen to serve, he or she must do so. Only relinquishing African citizenship exempted a person from sortition.
I asked the former consul why he stayed in office, if he truly detested power.
“I was legally forbidden from resigning. A consul’s powers are not limitless. There are laws in place forbidding consuls from resigning, or from directly naming a successor. These laws were enacted after one hectic month, when one consul after another resigned and forced a new lottery. Africa went through fifty-three consuls that year!”
I asked Mr. Antonius how long he served. He shook his head in frustration.
“I had to serve my term, and at the time, that was two entire years! Now they’ve reduced it to one, thank the gods, but if I had been a wiser man, I would have shortened my own term to a day rather than resigning. Unfortunately, I did not think of this loophole, and they only closed it when one of my successors used it to leave office by reducing his term to five minutes.”
With him being so critical of the system, I asked Mr. Antonius what he wants for Africa.
“A constitutional republic. We already effectively have one, with all of these laws that consuls cannot touch. The trouble is, it was built piece by piece over centuries, rather than being a carefully thought-out document. And of course, most of these ‘untouchable’ laws benefit the bureaucrats or their special interest friends. We need to stop adhering to this ridiculous system of government and adapt with the rest of the world.”
I thanked Mr. Antonius for his time, and asked him if he was at all thankful for his time as a consul.
“There is only one good thing to come from my consulship: I am now ineligible for the office!”