Tag Archives: ancient rome

Congress can learn from ancient Rome’s laws for both good and bad

Congress has gone crazy. The House of Representatives and Senate write and pass thousand-page bills with little debate and sometimes before the bill is even released. As Nancy Pelosi once said, “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

A couple of laws are often proposed to stopped these huge bills from being rushed through Congress. One proposal is to establish a waiting period for all bills. The Republicans in Congress established a three-day waiting rule on all bills, but this rule has no legal binding. The second proposal that is often heard of is to limit bills to a single item. This would make bills easier to understand and would also stop Congress from inserting unpopular items into popular bills to sneak them through Congress.

If only we had some sort of precedent to establish a waiting period and ban omnibus bills… But in fact we do. Back in ancient Rome (98 BC), the Lex Caecilia Didia established a 17-day or 24-day waiting period (there is some debate on this) between the publication of a law and voting on it in the assembly. It also banned bills that included many unrelated provisions.

Thus, about two-thousand years ago, the Romans found a solution to our current problem. Unfortunately, laws like this did not save the republic. Similarly, a law like this for America might help, but cannot solve our problem: the desire for more government.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

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Supporters of Liberty Are Always Attacked

Members of the tea party have been called tea baggers, extremists, racists, and Nazis by opponents of the grass-roots pro-liberty movement. While this shows the lack of “civility” of the left, supporters of liberty are always attacked for their beliefs.

Socrates spent his life fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of religion and became a martyr for these causes. In 399 BC, Socrates was charged and put to death for disbelieving in the official Greek pantheon and for corrupting the youth of Athens. But Socrates had also angered most of Athens for praising Sparta while the two were at war with each other, insulting the intellectuals of Athens by claiming he was the wisest man alive, criticizing the leaders of Athens, and arguing against democracy. Admitting that he enjoyed stirring up trouble, Socrates said at his trial: “For if you put me to death, you will not easily find another, who, to use a rather absurd figure, attaches himself to the city as a gadfly to a horse, which, though large and well bred, is sluggish on account of his size and needs to be aroused by stinging. I think the god fastened me upon the city in some such capacity, and I go about arousing.” [Plato, Apology 30e.] Socrates’ criticism of ancient Athens’ political system and leadership got him killed.

Demosthenes fought bigger government, higher taxes, and political corruption in ancient Athens. But he is best remembered for his opposition to Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. For years, Demosthenes spoke constantly against Philip, but had little success gaining allies. Nevertheless, Demosthenes demanded action, arguing it is “better to die a thousand times than pay court to Philip.” [Demosthenes, “Speeches” 9.65.] When Philip finally marched against Greece, his army easily won the battle and occupied Thebes but spared Athens. When Philip was assassinated, Demosthenes again attempted to form alliances and encouraged the territories under Macedonian control to rebel. But Philip’s son Alexander marched on Thebes, which immediately submitted to him. Thebes and Athens rebelled yet again upon mistakenly hearing that Alexander was dead, at which Alexander destroyed Thebes and placed Athens under Macedonian control. When Alexander the Great died, Demosthenes again tried to rally the people for independence, but Antipater, Alexander’s successor in Greece and Macedon, defeated the Athenians in battle, forced them to dissolve their government, and Demosthenes committed suicide before he could be arrested and executed.

Cicero was one of the most powerful men in ancient Rome and its Senate. Cicero fought for property rights, arguing “I do not mean to find fault with the accumulation of property, provided it hurts nobody.” [Cicero, De Officiis 1.25.] Cicero also fought against government-provided welfare, abolition of debts, and redistribution of land and wealth. But he is best remembered for his fight against imperial power. In his quest for power, Julius Caesar asked Cicero to join his Triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus, but Cicero declined, fearing it would hurt the Republic. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, Cicero as leader of the Senate and Mark Antony as consul and leader of those who supported Caesar became the two leaders of Rome. Cicero opposed Antony and made a series of speeches against him, known as Philippics for the similarity of his speeches to those of Demosthenes against Philip of Macedon. Mark Antony formed the Second Triumvirate with Octavian, Julius Caesar’s heir, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a former consul and strong supporter of Julius Caesar. They immediately sought to exile or kill their political opponents, especially Cicero. Cicero was captured on his way to the coast, where he had hoped to escape to Macedonia. Cicero’s capturers “cut off his head, by Antony’s command, and his hands — the hands with which he wrote the Philippics.” [Plutarch, Parallel Lives Cicero 48.6.]

Cato the Younger was a very stubborn man who vehemently opposed corruption, demagoguery, and immorality. In the Senate, Cato focused especially on taxes and wasteful government spending. When Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus created the First Triumvirate, Cato was an immediate opponent. Cato opposed Caesar’s first major proposal to distribute public lands to the people. “No one spoke against the law except Cato, and him Caesar ordered to be dragged from the rostra to prison.” [Plutarch, Parallel Lives Cato 33.1.] Though the Senate disagreed with Cato’s position, they forced Caesar to free him from his unjust imprisonment. Seeing the growing tyranny, “Cato warned the people that they themselves by their own votes were establishing a tyrant in their citadel.” [Plutarch, Parallel Lives Cato 33.3.] But the people refused to listen to Cato and continued to support Caesar. Ten years later, Caesar and his army crossed the Rubicon, thus declaring war on the Roman Senate. The Senate fled and Caesar chased after them. Seeing that Caesar had won and knowing Caesar would have him executed, Cato committed suicide.

When you are attacked for supporting liberty, know that you stand on the shoulders of giants. And let us thank God and country, for we live in a society in which we have freedom of speech and in which the supporters of government tyranny can do no more than insult their opponents.

The Path to Tyranny featured on Conservative Bookstore!

The Conservative Bookstore is featuring my book, The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny, on their site this month.

W.J. Rayment of the Conservative Bookstore posted the full review at Conservative Monitor. Here is the full review for you enjoyment:

Even in the days of ancient Greece, political science was a subject earnestly studied and remarkably well-understood. The multiplicity of city states allowed philosophers to discern patterns in the ebb and flow of historical events. What the Solon’s of the age noticed was that when pure democracy was allowed to reign in any state that the inevitable result was a rapid destruction of the economy and a sudden move to tyranny coupled with an almost complete loss of liberty.

Michael E Newton in his seminal work, The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny, we are treated to historical examples of what happens when a society allows rampant, uncontrolled democracy to subvert constitutional balance within a government. Newton begins with ancient Western Civilization where in both Greek and Roman society broke down because the mass of people figured out they could violate property rights through the government. When this happened, productivity was discouraged by ever rising taxation. The declining availability of goods and services caused the frustration of the under-classes (because that an exploited economy could not support their demands). Thus, they would resort to a demagogic dictator who would ring society dry for the support of the masses in the aggrandizement of his own wealth and power.

As The Path to Tyranny so ably illustrates, in example after example, the ultimate result of this process is the loss of freedom, the degradation of the economy, and general misery. This is one of those history books where Santayana’s famous quote rings loud and rings true, “Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.” There are lessons here for America. Mr. Newton’s clear and concise writing style makes them crystal clear.

This is the great thing about this book. It can be understood by both the academic as well as the layman. As a student of history myself (I wrote a textbook on Modern European History), I found myself gesticulating, scribbling in the margins, and generally agreeing with point after point. I kept thinking that this book is irrefutable. I can’t imagine an academic or politician arguing intelligently with Newton’s assertions or his conclusions. Of course, there are three self-interested groups who would argue that America’s present course is a good one. They would be those who believe they will benefit from government largesse in the form of welfare payments, “free” health care, and social security. Then there are those academics who arrogantly think they are smart enough to manage a centralized economy better than Smith’s invisible hand. Finally, most ominously, there are those politicians who wish to harness the lazy greed of those who would suck off the system, using it to propel their own political careers in a tyrannical direction…Ironically, in the U.S. most of these politicians are currently called Democrats.

The Path to Tyranny is well-documented – with ample citations, a bibliography, and a comprehensive index. Besides ancient Greece and Rome, it covers ancient Israel, Communist Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and of course the current state of affairs in the United States. In a fascinating section, Newton also nails the dictatorship of Hugo Chavez. After reading this book anyone who subscribes to the democratic agenda, must be stupid, delusional, or a demagogue!

Must Read!

Thank you Mr. Rayment for your great review. I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

ELEFTHERIA I THANATOS!