How to topple a Republic
After finishing a 15 hour audiobook on the fall of the Roman Republic, I am taking away the following information. Digest it how you will.
What do historians consider to be “the causes of death” for the Roman Republic?
- Wealth disparity grew to out-of-control levels. This led to political unrest and, eventually, violence.
- The new merchant class, quickly becoming wealthy as Rome opened up new frontiers, began being a power unto themselves. They challenged the legitimacy of the legislature as a governing body, regulating it instead of being regulated by it.
- Corruption in the legislature. Due to many years of prosperity, massive amounts of money flooded the empire. Much of this wealth was eventually funnelled into the political system, ultimately maneuvering legislation to benefit those with money. Legislators’ first priority stopped being the public good and became defending the interests of their personal financiers.
- Corruption in the judicial system. Legislative influence was leveraged to use courts as a tool to punish ones political enemies.
- Senators were separated from the common people. They sneered and wanted nothing to do with the mob. They were merely a tool to be manipulated, a problem to be overcome. Those who did champion the cause of the people – who tried to appeal to the masses directly and pass law by popular demand – were either exiled or murdered.
- The disenfranchised mob‘s allegiance was thus easily bought by demagogues with token promises of “stuff:” free grain, debt relief, land reform, etc. With the mob’s allegiance, they were able to implement radical measures “that undermined all that made Rome great.”
- A mania for competition was culturally fostered and became the motivating directive of the noble class. Ambitious individuals competed for power, honors, and money with little consideration for the greater good.
- The financial system became so complex and unmanageable that it overwhelmed the empire. A novel financial system in Rome was introduced without the benefit of historic examples to see potential pitfalls. Individual and institutional debt short-circuited the system and contributed to widespread corruption.
- Rome’s army was converted from a citizen force (a militia, if you will) to a professional force. Standing armies were created, with all of the consequent incentives to perpetuate a state of constant warfare.
- Military commanders instigated wars that didn’t need to be fought, engaging in conflicts with nations that weren’t a threat in order to secure financial gain.
- Rome’s constitution and political system was unable to adapt to how quickly Rome grew and how much the world changed. It was originally drafted to govern an Italian city-state and was unaltered to accomodate Rome becoming a world empire.
- The new generation of young people shared wildly different values from the older (ruling) generation. This generation lived through unrest, financial hardship, and the increasing corruption of the government. The ideas and virtues that they had been taught were a part of “Rome and its Greatness” were shown to be myths, not able to stand up to the reality that the youth saw all around them. Their outlook upset the older generation, who considered the youths’ attitudes to be unpatriotic and “un-Roman.” This polarization between the generations led both sides to adopt radical stances, making civil reconciliation less possible.
- Following 100 years of foreign wars, a massive influx of wealth, civil unrest, and rampant gang violence, the people of Rome were happy to trade away freedoms for security. They embraced consolidation of political, judicial, and legislative power in one individual who was largely untouchable.
Note: Most (if not all) of these bullets were conclusions arrived at decades (if not centuries) ago.