Lessons from the Gracchi

I recently read the stories of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi in Plutarch’s Lives, for my Roman Republic class. I was quite captivated by their stories. Would it not be glorious to shine bright and die young, as a champion of the people? Don’t the people need a voice? Should I not emulate them?

But perhaps I have taken the wrong lesson from Roman history. The factionilizing of class was itself a symptom of decay. Tiberius and Gaius were precursors for more convulsions, not final resolution. (Although now perhaps I must refresh my memory of Machiavelli because I think he said the convulsions were good things.) So maybe they are not the best models?

In any case, it is easy to see how Rome’s greatest victory, the defeat of Carthage, contained the seeds of the downfall of the republic. Dominance over the Mediterranean actually destroyed the virtue of Rome. Maybe it’s because I have been reading about Daoism that I interpret events this way. In defeat, there lays victory; in victory, there lays defeat.

The defeat of the USSR has led to American hegemony. America, I believe, will churn on for quite a while. But the republican/democratic system? I can see the wheels of history turning and the future looks bleak unless we give up the dream of hegemony.

When it comes to politics, it is best to look beyond simple class warfare. I shouldn’t ignore class, but there’s more to look at.

0 thoughts on “Lessons from the Gracchi

  1. Lloyd

    Penetrating, as usual.

    Would “global terrorism” (now officially abjured by the Obama Administration, in favor of a more focused attention on specific terrorists—finally, adult supervision!) be the modern counterpart of barbarians at the gates? We won’t know for a while, I think… Al Qaeda and its ilk have, if nothing else, demonstrable patience and a long view of things.

    Also, apropos of the rep/dem system, signs of disintegration are emerging. See, e.g., the hysteria and revolution-flame fanning, from the likes of Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Chuck Norris, et al.

    Interesting times, indeed.

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