No, that isn’t the real issue here
Published 2:44 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021
BY KIMBALL SHINKOSKEY
Livy’s history of Rome reminds its readers that a nation must frame its national debate correctly before real progress can be made in the political system.
In America today, we are debating the wrong two points of view, and the wrong two sets of issues. We constantly compare, contrast, and vote for two different political parties and their platforms. In ancient democratic Rome there was a clear-eyed understanding that the real debate was not between two different political parties, but between two different economic parties, the aristocrats and the commoners.
The real framework that defined almost all issues was the divide between the haves and the have nots; the property owners of land, and those who had personal possessions only; the wealthy and the middling or poor. Democratic Rome understood that it is economic power that makes real political power possible.
Today, the 1 percent class wants the rest of the nation to think that the debate is between conservative and liberal. That debate ends up being between the Republican branch of the 1percent class and the Democrat branch of the 1 percent class. A real democracy frames the debate between the 1 percent class and the 99 percent class.
The two branches of the 1 percent pass power back and forth between themselves, while the rest of America largely goes unrepresented. The 99 percent class keeps getting poorer, while the 1 percent class always gets richer, no matter whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power.
Once the “land” (economic power) is distributed more evenly either through better distribution of ownership or better government regulation (of education, taxation, debt, elections, civil rights), then we can much more easily see and debate the real social issues of the day.
And the Romans also knew that the proper place for better distribution of ownership and regulation was on the local level, where a truly significant shift in power can actually take place. After all, democratic Rome was first a city, with just a few farming villages surrounding it to feed its people. Once Rome became a large nation with many large urban areas, she started shifting the debate to politics, rather than economics.
There are other things we can learn from Livy’s history of Rome. Romans believed that unfulfilled political promises by public officials or more direct lying (perjury) while in office, would anger the gods and the gods would then punish the nation if the lying was not dealt with.
In America today, lying doesn’t seem to anger either the Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim God, or pagan gods, because our people never seem to take serious action to stop the lying. Romans impeached public officials with great regularity, but Americans think it is cool if public officials get away with whatever they want unless they are not too violent. Romans had measures to deal with “anyone longing for the sweets of office.” Early democratic America also had clear and obvious measures to prevent overly ambitious politicians—those who started campaigning way too early, or who grabbed for a longer term of office when their term came to an end. In the first place, the term of state and local office in Rome was limited to a single year, as it was in America too, not the four years that presidents and governors have today.
In Rome, a politician’s private life had to be clean. If it turned out he had covered up an egregious act or two in his business or military career, he was not merely impeached, but also exiled from the country so he could not infect others with his illicit approaches to advancing his objectives.
(Robert Kimball Shinkoskey is a retired state government worker who writes about current events from a historical perspective. He lives in Woods Cross, Utah.)