October 10, 2008

Freedom and fighting

As the decemvirs fell, we see the constitution of the republic and social strife within Rome resumed. The moment allows Livy to describe something crucial to both his and later thinking about the link between armies and the state- the constitution of the state in particular. Whereas we might presume the virtue of a liberal democracy to rest in promoting economic security, Livy argued that the opposite was true. Tyranny guarenteed wealth and luxury- what democracy or republicanism did was guarentee armies and military might- that might lead to wealth but ultimately like many Roman historians Livy looked on that with great suspision.

Why might it be true that Republicanism created and perpetuated military virtue? Livy offers few direct answers- he wrote after a man, Polybius, who had sought to write a schematic answer to that question based around Roman history. But what he did provide was moments- as ever Livy instructs through incident. Amongst those incidents is yet another raid by the Volscians- what is interesting about this raid that it succeeded- the Decemvirs who had fought against it were vanquished and had, like Servius Tullius, to call representative institutions in in order to cope. Livy is not hesitant in putting the reason for this failure forwards, he tells us 'the commanders in the field were not incompetent btu they had made themselves universally hated' (III 47). Things would change under a Republic.

Rome decided as soon as she had dismissed the Decemvirs to march against the Volscians again. Livy gives us the speech of Valerius one of the consuls- a speech which successfully rallied the troops and led them to conquer the tribesmen: Valerius said

For none but yourself... the victory shall be- not this time will it fill the pockets or swell the pride [crucial word there] of the decemvirs... Show by your deeds that in former fights it was your commanders who failed, not the men' (III 60)

We have noted the fact that Livy and his Republican orators argued that war and tyranny were similar states- Valerius agrees, arguing that Rome's struggles for freedom should be conducted in the same spirit as those on the field. (III 60) Valerius's speech is important because it is so conventional- Livy like Machiavelli after him beleives that equality inspires and makes men willing to fight. This observation should remind us about how different Livy's idea of a republic is from ours- we aspire to a kind of peace, Livy saw the merit of republic being its prowess in war.

6 comments:

Darren said...

Perhaps, regardless of type of government, Randolph Bourne was right when he said, "war is the health of the state."

Gracchi said...

Not sure about that- as I think I said I think modern states are actually quite different

goodbanker said...

What about the Naomi Klein / Shock Doctrine argument that modern democracies (with vested interests) promote the free market, which in turn thrives on instability?

Gracchi said...

Well I suppose I would agree with Klein's argument if it was phrased as crisis produces change. I read the Shock Doctrine and wasn't sure about some of the larger claims she has made- I wouldn't say using crisis was distinctly rightwing, anyone for a revolution for example- personally I'm suspicious of an argument which makes everythign seem designed and not accidental- that's too easy and furthermore doesn't get the complications of the world I think we live in.

goodbanker said...

I'm all in favour of the cock-up theory of history - indeed, I suspect it is deployed too infrequently when historians try to explain (too rationally) why something happened. Nor do I subscribe (by a long way) to the full extent of Klein's arguments. But from what I understand of it, the gist of her basic argument can still work even if the ruling elite try to engineer / take advantage of instability only every so often (i.e. it needn't be a constant objective of theirs). And, in a Presidential system where few people ultimately make decisions, it's then difficult for outsiders to discern for sure that this is their policy.

But back to your commentary on Livy, perhaps what we're quibbling over is who "we" is in your conclusion that "...how different Livy's idea of a republic is from ours- we aspire to a kind of peace, Livy saw the merit of republic being its prowess in war"?

Gracchi said...

Interesting argument. The 'we' I'm talking about there I suppose is post Adam Smith republicans or people who have read smith and Hume and prioritise prosperity over martial virtu. There is a great eighteenth century debate about whether commerce and luxury can exist with virtue- which places Mandeville and Smith in a more complex way against Fletcher and in a more interesting way Rousseau. Most people today I'd see as the heirs of Smith- though I don't think that's universal at all. Most people I think think that citizenship is compatible with prosperity- I'm not sure that's something that all Republicans in the past would agree with.