Sounds Familiar

For late nighters, another thought from Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. This passage describes the early 1st century BC, a time when the Roman Republic extended its power through tacit support of pet kings (and knocked off their rivals, when necessary) rather than direct rule.

Philosophers, like every other legacy of the Athenian golden age, had become mere adjuncts of the Roman service industry. Those who did particularly well out of Roman patronage had long since learned to cut the cloth of their speculations accordingly. Typical was the age’s most celebrated polymath, Posidonius.

Although he had studied in Athens, Posidonius was widely traveled, and rationalized what he observed in Rome’s provinces – rather optimistically – as a commonwealth of man. […] In the new order that the Republic was bringing to the world, Posidonius somehow managed to catch a reflection of the order of the universe. He argued that it was the moral duty of Rome’s subjects to accept such a dispensation. Differences of culture and geography would soon dissolve. History was coming to an end.

Francis Fukuyama Posidonius was right! History did end and the Roman Republic lasted forever.

54 replies
  1. 1
    El Cruzado says:

    Funny how the guys in power are always the best at everything they do.

  2. 2
    DougJ says:

    That presages both Friedman and Fukuyama.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    General Winfield Stuck says:

    Virgin threads are bad omens. Virgin anything is just as bad. Neocons are nothing more or less self absorbed victims with vacant souls from Unrequited American Empire. Let’s keep em that way , I say.

  5. 5
    eric says:

    I, Caudius is now on Youtube: uncut.

  6. 6
    Cat Lady says:

    I wish I had a dollar for every time it occurred to me we’re just like Rome. You’d think we would have learned something in the 1600 intervening years. We’re all Mayans now!

  7. 7
    beltane says:

    A historian whose name I can’t remember wrote that towards the end of the Roman Empire, carts would deliver goods from around the world to the city, while the only export Rome had to offer the world was gold coins and animal waste. It kind of reminds me of the fact that money and waste cardboard are our biggest exports to China.

  8. 8
    Miriam says:

    Rome lasted longer than we will, I think.

  9. 9
    General Winfield Stuck says:


    OH, I don’t know. Once we get the ACORN scourge took care of, and have Obama’s real birth certificate in hand, we ought to be good to go for a couple hundred more years, give or take.

  10. 10
    Bootlegger says:

    So who will be talking about US 1500 years from now the same way we talk about the Romans? My guess is a resurgent Mongol empire, except they will be sailors from the seacoast that use to be grasslands before the icecap melted.

  11. 11
    Morbo says:

    I believe Fukuyama has pretty much recanted from his neocon ways. He was still fantastically wrong in his heyday. So it was for them all…

  12. 12
    rock says:

    I’m hoping that the northern US is Byzantium. I think the theocratic parallels between the South and western Roman Empire speak for themselves.

  13. 13
    McGeorge Bundy says:

    Being a lifelong New Englander, I can’t wait to join the European Union.

    (Note: I think much of Panarin’s prediction is silly. But I believe this country certainly is in decline.)

  14. 14
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    I kept reading “Posidonius” as “Posdnuos,” so now I’m going to throw on some De La Soul. Hooray!

  15. 15
    stickler says:

    Roman Republic in decline? Hell, man, just look at your dollar bills in your pocket, or visit Washington, DC.

    Remember when our Consul President addressed the Congress a couple weeks ago? On both sides of the lectern are the “fasces,” the Romansymbol of power.

    Those damned Romans have some kind of staying power, lemme tell you.

  16. 16
    Andy K says:


    I, Caudius is now on Youtube: uncut.

    Except for Herod.

  17. 17
    Andy K says:


    Are you kidding? The Eastern Empire was extremely theocratic, much more so than the Western Empire. It
    was only after the fall of the Western Empire that the Church became powerful. It filled the void.

  18. 18
    rock says:

    @Andy K

    Well, I actually was kidding.

  19. 19
    Andy K says:


    I figured that part of it was a put-on. There’s certainly a similarity between Eastern Empire and the South when it comes to widespread religious fervor.

  20. 20
    Dream On says:

    @Bubblegu Tate,

    You’re right – Panarin is silly. Hard to imagine Arizona could conceivably be part of China. And that the Pacific Northwest would not be part of Canad…

  21. 21
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Vini, vidi, …….d’oh!*

    *I came, I saw, I screwed everything up.

  22. 22
    TenguPhule says:

    Vini, vidi, …….d’oh!*

    More like “Vini, vidi, VD”

    “I came, I saw, I got the clap from Ann Coulter.”

  23. 23
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @McGeorge Bundy:

    Being a lifelong New Englander, I can’t wait to join the European Union.

    Hey now, not so fast.

    You think that France for instance welcomes yet another struggle with a religious and cultural minority, going around wearing bibles on your head or whatever it is, mumbling your religious tracts, oh no.

    I can see you now, going around demanding that our public schools teach the story of “Gog and Magog” as “history” and all the rest of it– oh no. Hey, don’t tell me it’s not true, we met your President and he was the one doing the mumbling.

  24. 24
    Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    In fairness to Fukuyama, he has walked back from the “End of History” thesis. Science, technology, natural disaster, and monumental fuck-ups will continue to give historians stuff to write about.

  25. 25
    Calouste says:

    @McGeorge Bundy:

    In New England, you’re only 500 miles from the European Union

  26. 26
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    The Romans were nothing more than the inheritors of the advances of the Greeks. Read this stuff from Socrates:

    Say then, my friend, in what manner does tyranny arise? –that it has a democratic origin is evident.


    In any case, Benjamin Franklin reminded us all that ‘force shiites on reason.’ This is why we should be thankful that our guys wrote the Constitution, and that they had read the old Greek texts before doing so.

    This is because tyranny is bad.

  27. 27
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @Brick Oven Bill:

    Say then, my friend, in what manner does tyranny arise?—that it has a democratic origin is evident. Clearly.

    Bzzzz! False. You’ve clearly interpreted that wrong, because if Socrates had been a real right winger he would have said that tyranny “has a Democrat origin”, not “democratic”.

    Nice try.

  28. 28
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    You have a cool first name Mr. Pilgrim. Please read the link, as written by Plato and translated by MIT. It is too late for originality tonight on my part.

  29. 29
    Porlock Junior says:

    That’s odd. Socrates’ friends (including his students), the tyrants who took over Athens after the loss of the war, were never by any stretch of the imagination democrats. Believe what you like about whether the well-grounded hatred of the Athenians for those bastards contributed to the unfortunate events that gave Plato the opportunity to write the Apology and the Crito and all, and whether that persecution was grossly unfair to Socrates, who behaved with integrity while his friends were chasing down their political enemies (democrats); that particular tyranny, which Socrates knew so well, came from democracy only by way of reaction.

    Oh, right, and fascism is socialism.

    Socrates, not being stupid, probably had something in mind when he said that, but is it worth looking it up to find out? When one already knows the Platonic Socrates’ brilliant plan for an ideal polity that regulates important parts of people’s lives by means of rigged lotteries? How to cultivate a proper reverence for Socrates as a political thinker, or an aesthete for that matter: burn The Republic.

  30. 30
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @Brick Oven Bill: Plato gets to this point by equating democracy with anarchy. His solution to anarchy being tyranny.

    “The last extreme of popular liberty is when the slave bought with money, whether male or female, is just as free as his or her purchaser; nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other. ”

    That Plato fellow certainly could crap on.

  31. 31
    bjacques says:

    In order to speed the decline, may I present the I, CLAVDIVS Drinking Game? “I want to be a goddess..”

    In a similar(ly jugular) vein, those good folks also concocted the Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Drinking Game. “I hope that wasn’t good liqour! You can’t afford good liquor, George, not on your salary!”

  32. 32
    Napoleon says:


    DougJ said: “That presages both Friedman and Fukuyama.”

    By 4019 Friedman units no less.

  33. 33
    MR Bill says:

    We no longer have philosophers in these sorts of roles. Now they are filled by economists and pundits. It’s not the historians who are as much the modern sophists as the economic gurus..

  34. 34
    Ginger Yellow says:

    Sounds like this post belongs on Crooked Timber’s recent thread about ancient philosophers rewritten in the style of Thomas Friedman. Except it doesn’t need to be rewritten.

  35. 35
    debit says:

    @eric: While watching Rome on HBO, I developed a hankering to watch I, Claudius again. I remembered liking it very much, but it had been years since I’d seen it. So I found a copy, started the first episode and oh my freaking god. Brian Blessed burst onto stage and started booming out his lines in his Serious Stage Actor From the Seventies voice and I just couldn’t deal.

    Now I have to wonder if I dare dig up another old favorite, the Broadway production of Nicholas Nickelby, or if I will cringe in horror and dismay at that as well.

  36. 36

    That’s why I love history. It never gets old.

  37. 37
    Scruffy McSnufflepuss says:

    Don’t worry. If Italy ever gets their shit together and starts bashing some heads, the Roman Republic will come back.

  38. 38

    I think it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that the Roman Empire staggered on for a few hundred years after the time of Posidonius.

  39. 39
    Scruffy McSnufflepuss says:

    @Comrade E.B. Misfit:

    The Senate also retained direct control of the non-military provinces. The Emperor controlled the legions and the outer provinces. (And whenever he wanted the Senate to do something, it did it for him, so he controlled the inner provinces directly as well.) So in a sense, the Republic lingered on in a pathetic, mocking half-life until the very final days of the Roman Empire. So in a sense, Posidonius was correct- in a lying, deceitful, 1/4th-truth sense.

  40. 40
    Sarcastro says:

    The Romans were nothing more than the inheritors of the advances of the Greeks.

    The Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC. The Athenian Democracy was founded in 507 BC.

  41. 41
    bjacques says:


    What, no love for the British Rip Taylor?


    Stick with it, man! You get Patrick Stewart when he still had hair (Sejanus), John Hurt as Caligula, and Magenta from the Rocky Horror Picture show. And Tiberius looks a bit like Peter Mandelson.

  42. 42
    Konrad2 says:


    The Romans had no culture to speak of until they conquered Greece in ~200 B.C. Before that, they had a strict and militaristic clan-based upper society, like Sparta but without a massive subclass of slaves.

    However, they also had most of their land owned by small farmers, who were the backbone of their military and economy. When the Founders wanted to emulate classical culture, they didn’t pick Athens, they picked early Republican Rome, because their ideal for a society was just that; selfless and patriotic elites (like Cincinnatus), together with a civic-minded, honest, and simple base of farmers.

    The more you know, I guess.

  43. 43
    R-Jud says:

    Heh. Brian Blessed. Bless.

    Have you read I, Claudius? It and the sequel, Claudius the God, are fantastic.

  44. 44
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:


    What, no love for the British Rip Taylor?


    Blessed was awesome as Augustus precisely because he played it so broadly. Watch “Rome” for the scenery and sex, watch “I, Claudius” for the pitch black humor.

  45. 45

    […] the history of bad ideas is circular 2009 September 22 by Marc This would explain why the end of history keeps popping up as a thesis.  Poor Fukuyama, he’s never going to live that […]

  46. 46
    MaximusNYC says:

    I enjoyed Posidonius’ best-selling scrolls “The Chariot and the Olive Tree” and “The Empire Is Flat”.

  47. 47
    aimai says:

    @ Debit

    Check out The Pallisers–talk about your seventies shlock! But it really holds up. I claudius, which I loved then and now, looks phenomenally tinny and fake but really, compared to the HBO Rome actually chews the scenery slightly less.


  48. 48
    JK says:

    @aimai: @debit:

    You obviously were not in the right frame of mind.

    I, Claudius Rules.

  49. 49
    Comrade Sock Puppet of the Great Satan says:

    “Have you read I, Claudius? It and the sequel, Claudius the God, are fantastic.”

    Even better, read Tacitus and Suetonius afterwards. You think that Robert Graves is hyping up the depravity, scheming, callousness, and cruelty in the novels, but when you read the histories you realise he was actually toning it *down*.

  50. 50
    rea says:

    When Plato says that tyranny has its origins in democracy, you have to understand (1) “tyrant” to the ancient Greeks did not have the negative connotation it does nowdays–“tyranny” was just another form of government, and (2) Greek tyrants tended to take power as popular leaders opposed to rule by kings, priests or aristocrats.

    Plato personally was given a very hard time by the Tyrant of Syracuse . . .

  51. 51
    MNPundit says:

    Except Fukayama was right. History is done.

    Events continue to happen, and most importantly we can go backwards but the Modern Liberal Representative Democracy is the finest possible form of government that biological humans as we understand them can create. Tweaks can be made to the system, it can be corrupted, or coopted, but it is impossible to evolve a better political system unless humans biologically or technologically (i.e. trans or post humans) alter themselves to the point where they are arguably not human as we currently understand the term.

    People like to mock the term, but that is what it means.

  52. 52
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:


    Events continue to happen, and most importantly we can go backwards but the Modern Liberal Representative Democracy is the finest possible form of government that biological humans as we understand them can create.

    [citation needed]

  53. 53
    Bruce Webb says:

    @Viva BrisVegas:

    No, No, No. There is a distinct difference historically between a Greek Tyrant and a Greek Rex or a Greek Aristocracy. The latter has a religiously based legitimacy that the former does not. At least per the Aristos.

    Tyrants came to power by enflaming the Demos and then seizing ultimate power after the people are wrested it from its rightful hands. Which of course for people like Plato were the ‘aristokrate’ (or whatever the plural or collective is).

    It is the difference between King and Usurper.

  54. 54
    MNPundit says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: Okay smartass, what’s better?

    Less corporate money? Sure, makes the system honest.
    Better media? Sure, but it makes the system better.
    Non-Psychotic Right? Sure, but the system doesn’t change.
    A more involved electorate? Sure, but the system doesn’t change.
    A smarter electorate? Sure, but the system doesn’t change.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] the history of bad ideas is circular 2009 September 22 by Marc This would explain why the end of history keeps popping up as a thesis.  Poor Fukuyama, he’s never going to live that […]

Comments are closed.