Listening to “Death Throes of the Republic”
Mon 25 April 2016
I am sick in the bed, so I have spent a day or so listening to the Dan Carlin’s excellent podcast series “Death Throes of the Republic”. It is an excellent story. (Original draft of this post has been lying in my Drafts folder for couple of years, so I am now mostly re-purposing it for my current needs).
Dan persuasively describes overwhelming need for success built in every Roman man all the way from his childhood by following his ancestors as the examples of success. He described how every good noble Roman family had special rooms filled with the busts and pictures of their famous ancestors, how the similar memorabilia filled also rest of their homes. He claims that this made political success and political power the most important measure of success and personal value. I don’t want to argue whether this theory is right or not (which of course, I have no chance of doing anyway). I was surprised however by two immediate notions: the first was very personal and the second on the other hand very non-personal and theoretical. I will leave the personal thought to some other post, but let me write a bit about the latter one.
If we consider this thirst for the political power the main drive of elite (at least) in the Ancient (and to some extent Medieval) times, it seems to me that one of the greatest inventions of the Enlightenment was replacing power with wealth as the main motivator. The question which intrigues me right now is whether this preference for wealth (where power is mostly a mean of acquiring the wealth, not the other way around as I believe was the dominant order in previous centuries) is also not something which is peculiarly Modern phenomenon. If it so, then it is feasible that it will also vanish with the end of modernity. I wonder whether we will return to the bad old days of the naked power grabs, civil wars and stuff like that.
Actually currently I am in the process of going through the podcast “The History of Rome” and I am now in the depressive post-Antonine years of the real unraveling of the Roman Empire in the early third century, so my opinions are probably excessively pessimistic, but Mr. Putin’s current efforts (propagated by his willing puppets in the Central Europe) seems like coming from this style of thinking. But perhaps, for Russia it is not postmodernism but rather rejection of the enforced modernism which they never really accepted fully and return to the mythical premodern times of the primitive Russia. Sad times.
There is another story which makes me wonder in the Dan’s podcast. Why there was such inability to deal with the issues which had to be obvious for hundred of years, which were clearly threatening the very existence of the Roman Republic and yet nobody was able to deal with them well. One obvious one is the issue of the Roman citizenship. Why Senate have not managed to deal with the issue Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus tried to deal with for all those years (more than century)? I still hope that the persistent issues of our times which we keep kicking down the road (e.g., democratic deficit of EU, Euro area overreach, etc.) will be eventually resolved somehow. But what if not? What if the periodic unraveling of the southern EU will be persistent part of our life, leading in the end to the death throes of EU?