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"The Caligula Effect" -- Attempting to Explain Unreasonable Subordination

Updated: Feb 17

An irate elderly man

"The Caligula Effect", not to be confused with a game with the same name, is a term I made in an attempt to describe the reasoning behind being subordinate under someone, who does not have much reasoning, to deserve loyal subordinates.


In other words, I made this term in order to explain the phenomenon, where a figure of power and authority, have those, even if they are being incompetent, mad, hated and so on; Just like Emperor Caligula himself.


Did you know? The name "Caligula" is a nickname and wasn't Emperor Caligula's true name. Apparently, the nickname means "little boots" in Latin, and he got that nickname, because his mother used to dress him as a Roman soldier when he was a child.


Anyways, despite being an absolute ruler for life, this Emperor was only in power for only 4 years. His reign died with him, when he was assassinated by a military faction, whose power was stronger than the Roman Senate itself.


As Emperor, Caligula was insane, and some may call him today "The Mad Emperor". He would butcher his own citizens, appoint his own horse to a position of authority, have temples in his name, and deem himself a God. Obviously, his position wasn't necessarily respected, but certainly feared.


But how about this, for thought? What if Caligula's power wasn't that important? What if his power was merely given, by others, and none more? What if, he could've easily been disposed of as a tyrant, if no one would've respected his own authority, practically?


The absurdity of such power, which is given, can be regarded as "The Caligula Effect". Have you ever thought to yourselves, why do certain people have their power? Is their power, necessarily objective? A fact, like the dawn of day, per se? Is there anyone that cannot be rebelled against, even by questioning, alone?


So, by this philosophy, it makes a lot of sense that Caligula only survived 4 years as Emperor. Some democratic leaders ruled far longer than he did, and their leadership is divided by terms, not for life! Do you see the irony?


When you are a democratic leader, your leadership is supposed to represent the will of your people. On the other hand, when your leadership is forced by power alone, it is easy to be rebelled, and even be the subject of assassination attempts.

Why are dictators despised? It's not necessarily due to their personality or behaviour, but simply because they are in authority, regardless of whether or not we asked them to be in that position. The mere fact that they are dictators, can be seen as a disrespectful gesture to our own consent, or lack of it, of their positioning.


However! The fact that we may disapprove of their position, does not mean we don't allow it. How come? The answer can be simple: We allow it, as a collective, by not resisting, or not resisting enough. Of course, we as individuals can rebel for ourselves, but it does not mean others will not be in the way, EVEN if said others, disapprove of the leader, themselves.


In other words, disapproving is not the same as resisting, even though one could lead to the other.


This is why, the main solution to the "Caligula Effect", is by collective resistance, and not simply by disapproving, hating, or despising the figure in question. By resistance, I refer to the disrespect of their authority, practically, and not only or simply by words, or any other form of media.


One can claim that teachers are "Caligulas" of their own, even if they're not mad like the Roman Emperor himself. The only rule that grants them their legitimate authority, is compulsory education.


Even if the class members hate being at school, their hatred alone is not a form of resistance, against the figure that represents that authority. They may hate all they want, but next morning, they will attend school, all because they "have to", by the law in question.


It's not like students love to learn, necessarily. But the fact that they were never asked that question, and the fact that their answer does not matter practically, is the most basic example of the "Caligula Effect" today.


To simplify -- the "Caligula Effect" is essentially the lack of reasoning to obey through subordination, while there appears to be a greater reasoning, to do otherwise. In a sense, it was "good" that Caligula was assassinated by his own guards, as his rulership was absurd, both in practice and in legitimacy.


Perhaps, his own legitimacy was from his predecessor, Emperor Tiberius, who chose him to be his successor.


Other than a dictator's "natural" ways of coming down from power, such as death or resigning oneself from that position --- the only way to resolve this "effect" is to make a collective effort, to overthrow his or her authority, from their subordinates (us, usually).


To do so, it is imperative to convince others, that collective resistance is justified, by the lack of reasoning, present in the current state of affairs.

To end this article, I'd like to give examples from fiction, where this effect applies:


1. In Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius Heinous, the show's villain, only has authority because of his vast wealth. In an episode where he became poor, he practically lost all his power, because everyone stole everything he owned.

His girlfriend, for example, was only there for the money, and never for love. Nonetheless, no one other than himself, likes him. Without the salary he provides to his workers, he is nothing.


2. In The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Dr. Robotnik's power might as well come from the fact that his henchmen are too foolish to betray him. However, there are exceptions, but they are few. In addition, their dangerous job, which gets them severely injured, goes unpaid.


3. In Lukashenko's Farm, by Philosocom's fourth post contributor/guest writer, Ori Sindel, Lukashenko's son, Viktor, is head of the Olympics Committee.

However, there are no Olympics in the animation's version of Belarus, within it. On the other hand, Nikolai, who is the dictator's "favourite son", is raised to be his heir, and Viktor just accepts it, without protest nor resistance. When Viktor's conscience confronts him, he dismisses it as another "hallucination".


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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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