Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Roman Model

The Roman conquest of Europe was a natural extension of the tribal world view in that it assumed that resource endowments are given and cannot be expanded so that conquest rather than technology generates additional wealth. The resource-dependence view of wealth is still with us and has challenged the technological view of wealth expansion from the time that modern technological advance began to materially challenge Rome's. That would be the sixteenth century around the time of the Protestant Reformation. It is possible that the English rejection of Catholicism is related to it in that the traditional legal and social patterns that had been handed down from the Romans were eliminated and to be replaced by new patterns. It would not be surprising if early designers of the new Roman models, such as Henry VIII and his ministers, were to adopt the same pattern of thinking as the traditions that they overturned. Certainly, by the 17th and 18th centuries mercantilism involved an attempt to impose an economic social purpose on England and the rest of Europe. Socialism and other "progressive" ideologies are variations on the mercantilist pattern. As change proceeded, it caused increasing anxiety. The chronic anxieties of people moving from tribal to individualist ways of organizing society generated reaction in the form of alternative Romanizing models such as socialism, communism, social democracy and Progressivism.

The reaction to individualism was Roman in that it aimed to impose methods of production and social organization envisioned by an elite. In the case of communism the elite was to be revolutionary while in the case of social democracy and Progressivism the elite was to be economic, hereditary and social.

The Roman model takes a value position that it aims to impose on the uneducated and unwashed. In contrast, the individualist model assume that individuals are ends into themselves and therefore ought not to be molded or assigned position. The assumption of all discussants of political systems hinges on power --- who gets what, when, why and how. Individualism, in contrast, focuses on individual autonomy. Psychologically, these are different position and therefore we would expect different psychological and perhaps even biological types to be attracted to individualism and Romanism. Jefferson claimed that liberals (by which he meant individualists) tended to be hardy while conservatives (by which he meant Romanizers) tended to be sickly. Today, a number of scholars are working on a thesis that biologically or even genetically rooted patterns generate political belief. It that is so, then different types of people will thrive under liberal versus Roman political patterns. Because the Roman model contemplates the assignment of elite positions to intellectuals and the molding of society according to intellectuals' preferences, intellectuals mostly support it.

In economics, the history of the Roman model begins with mercantilist views of Shaftesbury and David Hume, which were adopted by the Federalists, especially Hamilton. The history of the individualist view is rooted in the English Civil War and the Whig culture as well.

If one compares the development of Rome to the Progressivism in the United States and to attempts to develop the Third World in the immediate post war era, one sees that they operate on almost identical assumptions. That is, modern socialist theory is simply a reassertion of Roman imperialism, not so much in terms of it assumption of the need to conquer other nations (the reason being that individualism has already disproved that assumption) but rather in their assumption that an elite is necessary to impose a specific world view. Much of the dialogue about society rests not so much on Rousseau as on the Roman view that urbanization of values and imposition of process by an elite is necessary to civilize society. Thus, one philosopher advocates the necessity of requiring a "minimax" assessment of risk, a policy of minimizing the maximum possible loss to any member of society, as a necessary condition for rational social organization. Another argues that a specific range for income inequality is necessary. A third that all Americans must have psychiatric care as part of their health insurance, and so on. These refined positions can be subjected to a a popular vote and even win it, but they are too refined to conceivably reflect permanent public preferences.

Yet, most of public policy is designed along these lines--enforcement of particular preferences of a particular segment of the public at a particular point in time as somehow reflect the "national will".


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Philosophy and Religion Professor