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Monday, December 10, 2012

Past Is Prologue

Just a couple items I read last night in a book on Cicero that I borrowed from ListenUp!  First:

Since the fall of the monarchy in 510 BC, Roman domestic politics had been a long, inconclusive class struggle, suspended for long periods by foreign wars. During one never-to-be-forgotten confrontation over a debt crisis in 493 BC, the entire population withdrew its labor. The plebs evacuated Rome and encamped on a neighboring hill. It was an inspired tactic. The Patricians were left in charge—but of empty streets. They quickly admitted defeat and allowed the creation of new officials, Tribunes of the People, whose sole purpose was to protect the interests of the plebs.


The main trouble with the Roman constitution was that it contained too many checks and balances, whether to restrain ambitious power-seekers or to protect ordinary citizens from the executive. It is somewhat surprising that anything was ever decided. However, so long as the different forces in the Republic were prepared to resolve disputes through compromise, the system worked well enough. As far as it could, the Senate allowed events to take their course, intervening only when absolutely necessary.
Political debate became polarized into bitter conflicts, with radical outsiders trying to press change on conservative insiders who, in the teeth of all the evidence, believed that all was for the best under the best of all possible constitutions.



December 10, 2012 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


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I think one of the main problems was that the Roman political "system" was incoherent and ad hoc, with
several different semi-random ways of dividing citizens into groups for representation/power.

For example, suppose that in addition to the normal complement of US senators and reps based on geography, there was an additional body of 27 based on people's middle initial. (#27 is 'no middle name').

It was messy and ad hoc, accreting bits in response to crises. The US constitution, for whatever shortcomings and compromises, was the result of a coherent design. Doesn't mean we won't wind up with the same rats nest of competing power-bases, time will tell.

Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki | Dec 10, 2012 10:43:44 AM

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