This too shall pass

By Legal Eagle

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

(Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818)

I read this morning that Muammar Gaddafi, former autocratic ruler of Libya since 1969, was captured by Libyan rebels and killed.

I’m not going to get into a discussion of the legality or morality of his death (I don’t know enough yet to make a call, and it doesn’t seem like we will know enough for a while). His death, however, made me aware once more of the amazing and terrifying impermanence of things. He put all that effort into promoting his power and control, and now…just like that, he’s gone. He’s history.

On the way into work, I was thinking of all these dictators whose power must have seemed eternal, terrifying and permanent at the time, but whose regimes later fell. When I was young, I visited Russia at a time when Communism was in the process of falling (indeed, I think there was some kind of a coup while I was there, because Red Square was closed off by tanks when we tried to get to it the first time, but we visited it later in the week). At that time, there were still statues of Lenin everywhere, although Stalin had already been evicted from any position of glory (thank goodness).  And then I think of all those statues of Saddam Hussein being hit with shoes (what is it about dictators and monolithic statues?)

Think back to the past – the Pharoah-God-Kings in Shelley’s poems, the Roman emperors, Napoleon. No regime can last forever, although its echoes can resonate for thousands of years. I think that the Roman world still resonates in our present to this day (for example, the Romans were responsible for sending the Jews out of Israel to begin with, after all, and the ramifications of that action in the West and the East are playing out still).

Still, power is transitory, whether it is used for good or for ill. No ruler can rule forever. Gaddafi’s fall is a graphic reminder of this.

The thought ‘this too shall pass’, one day, is both terrifying and exhilarating. For many Libyans today, it may be liberating.


  1. kvd
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    My paternal forebears, stretching back to mid 1600’s to the Orkneys (according to one very fixated uncle) all carried the same surname. Not a Pfalzgraf among them.

    And “Six” is an obvious affectation 😉

  2. Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    A legal aid solicitor of my acquaintance has a saying: all clients are called ‘Jason’ because all Jasons are stupid.

    Which is funnier than it should be.

    [email protected] Not quite sure how one would formulate and test your naming theory.

    But history is full of quirks. For example, US Presidents since Hoover have been strongly disproportionately likely to be left-handed. Of the 14 US Presidents from Hoover on, 6 have been left-handed, 1 ambidextrrous and 7 right-handed: given 10% of the general population is left-handed.

    And the trend is getting stronger: of the last 7 US Presidents, 4 have been left-handed, 1 ambidextrous and only 2 right-handed: which is wildly divergent from general patterns.

  3. Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    The Rurikids were a remarkably successful Viking dynasty. Not much is known about their founder Rurik. A younger contemporary of his was arguably even more dynastically successful land-grabbing Viking freebooter.

  4. kvd
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] re the Presidents. Hopefully none have gone blind?

  5. Mel
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    John Brown

  6. kvd
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    John Brown and Rollo. Thanks to both for some very interesting reading. LE that’s pretty cool about Mr Sixsmith. Was he an imported for the job, or born and bred?

  7. kvd
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, should have googled first!

  8. Posted October 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    A nice piece on how horrible Qaddafi actually was.

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