Monday, September 15, 2008

Re: Machiavelli

Machiavelli is a Romaphile, of this much I am certain. He charts the relative successes and failures of all three states/republics/empires/whathaveyou from their earliest development. Sparta was "granted" its strong constitution and laws by Lycurgus. Under this system, class roles were highly prescriptive. Everyone knew where they were going and how they were getting there. The populace was very limited in its exercise of power. In Athens, on the other hand, the system set in place by Theseus and his successors did not clearly state where people "ought" to be in society. There was no "proper" role for strongmen or aristocrats. Because of these problems, Athenian democracy was very messy, and led to a great many fallings-down. 

In Rome, though, the original governance style was that of a kingdom; there was no place for laws detailing freedom and democratic representation. When liberty came, a rush of new laws followed it. These laws were then augmented to reflect changing situations. The republic developed organically. Plebeians were allowed certain leadership positions in the military and market, but otherwise the bulk of power was in the hands of the Senate and the patricians. This set Rome up for class conflict, but Machiavelli points out that it was just such conflict that provided the impetus for growth and change. Political crisis forced the evolution of the Roman state into a highly-functional and pragmatic machine. Power was added to power, and it was never really allowed to slip down to the populace in the form of full enfranchisement. 

Rome eventually expanded as a multi-ethnic empire, which forced it to involve all sorts of other folks in the governance process. They had to flatten their control. Athens was more localized in its endeavors, and when it did send itself out to gain land, it failed. Sparta had the same problem. Their expansion proved foolish, for their concentrated power was best at just that: being concentrated. Rome was the more perfect state because it was more willing to adapt and learn from its mistakes. It did not overly appease, nor did it overly oppress. It was, as one student noted in her response, the embodiment of "The Prince."