The Roman Republic and the Crisis of American Democracy: Echoes of the Past

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought
Dean Hammer Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA USA

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My starting point is a fundamental paradox that lies at the heart of the slow demise of the Roman Republic: why does the system collapse when, as many scholars have noted, there is nothing that suggests that there was ever an intention by anyone to overthrow the Republic? Understanding this paradox is key to identifying what Rome might have to say to us today. What changes in the final decades of the Roman Republic is a declining view of the ability of political institutions to project the community into the future. This change is due to important alterations in the norms that provide the background context by which individuals working through institutions can get things done. The changes in these norms not only disable these institutions, making them seem less capable of projecting the community into the future, but also make possible alterations in the political framework that might have been inconceivable before. In particular, one sees the elevation of individuals who offer solutions by promising to bypass those ineffective and unresponsive institutions.

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