Current debate over the fiscal cliff and the recent history of calumny and obstructionism on the part of the Republicans is not new, it shows the same design as carried out by the extreme elements of the patrician party in ancient Rome. Most of the greatest achievements of the Roman people in extending empire and developments in engineering and in what Rostovtzeff called "scientific agriculture," were born in the early and middle Republic when the orders had achieved a compact surrounding law and the constitution. As the fanatics of the optima party gained control of the patrician class the struggle of the orders increased anew, especially after the first two Punic Wars, as the sacrifices of the plebes decimated their ranks and undermined their farm economy. Wealth inequality grew as the optimas took advantage of these wars and the wealth they accumulated to corrupt the economic and legal system. The peasantry was worn down by competition with slave farms owned by the few. The optimas refused the calls for extending citizenship to the non-Roman Italian allies which led to the Social Wars (91-88 B.C.) after which citizenship was extended anyway. Eventually their efforts to undermine democracy led to the Civil War that destroyed the Republic (according to Appian 63 B.C. to 35 B.C). In the mass proscriptions durning the Civil War the patrician class was nearly destroyed and the leadership of the plebs exterminated. The only institution to survive intact was the army which became the foundation of the dictatorship. During the civil war of the year A.D. 69 (also known as the Year of the 4 Caesars), the mainly proletarian army engaged in a riotous assault on the rich as class antagonisms remained. Vespasian who triumphed in that struggle introduced reforms that returned stability to the army by reducing conscription from Italy and replacing it with conscripts drawn from the provinces. These men came from the non-Roman middle classes of the cities who believed in the idea of Rome and were not tainted with the class hatred of Italians. This gave the Empire nearly 100 years of stability until inequality and corruption ruined the army and it had to be replaced with barbarian levies, really mercenaries.
American faces a similar future. Wealth inequality, corruption and racism threaten our future. It is not just a Republican Party that looks backward that is the problem, but an American public that fails to take up the responsibilities of civil duty and does not demand justice and equal opportunity. More detail on this is in my new book, The Anthropology of the Credit Crisis: Magical Thinking,Irrationality and the Role of Inequality, in ebook form on Kindle or paperback from Amazon.
Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology