January 18, 2009

Marcus Manlius Rex

Tyranny and Kingship in Livy's view are not so distinct from democracy. Rome's constitution included a democratic element though it was a republic- and as we have seen the people within Rome were incredibly important to the proper functioning of that republic. This though establishes a problem within Livy's thought. If tyranny and democracy are related, then how can the Roman Republic which is partly a democracy hope to survive. Livy in my view was aware of this issue- obviously as a historian he does not need to provide a complete answer- indeed he could have argued that the events of his father's generation (Clodius, Catilina and Caesar) demonstrated the real danger of the demos overthrowing the constitution- but what he did need to show was how the Republic might survive a democratic and tyrannical challenge. The tale of the rise and fall of Marcus Manlius- whose importance within the history of money we have dealt with already- gives us an interesting indication of what Livy thought: both because the tale contains the most explicit appeal yet to the democratic power of the tyrant and just as importantly because it contains the most important answer- from the Roman tribunes- to the arguments of the tyrant.

Marcus Manlius makes his appeal to the citizens of Rome based upon their own circumstances- they have been enslaved by debt collectors and usurers. The substance of his allegations need not concern us for the minute- it is his solution to the problems that I think is more interesting. Livy gives him a speech (as it was delivered within the house of a secret conspiracy, I think we can be pretty sure that Livy had no way of knowing what this speech contained) and that speech gives us Manlius's political doctrine. Manlius calls on the people to create for him a 'more striking title of authority and honour' than dictatorship or the consulship, he can only be thinking in the context of the royal title. (VI 19) He calls for them to do this because he suggests that 'it is easier to establish rule over the patricians than it was to establish resistance to their rule' (VI 19). His argument is that the patricians will always win, despite the parchment barriers they have erected to abuses, in any contest between the classes because they control the instruments of state. Manlius, with Livy as his temporary ventriloquist, is suggesting that the democratic cause can only be protected by dictatorship- because only then can class differences be levelled- only through tyranny can the plebeians attain liberty.

The argument against him is most powerfully stated by Quinctius Publilius. Speaking to the Senate, again with ventriloquist Livy at his service, Publilius says,

Why are we turning into a conflict between the senate and the people what should be no more than the action of the state against a single obnoxious individual? Why involve the people in our attack on him, when it is safer to attack him by means of the people, so that he will collapse under the weight of his own strength?

The point that Publilius is making is important because ultimately it is the argument which carries force with Livy. It is that the actions of Manlius are in reality about himself- they are the actions of a proud man who uses the people, who gives them a temporary respite in order to create a party and a tyranny and then will like Tarquin before him desert them. Of course on this occasion, the Roman people see through Manlius's disguise- Livy judges that the charges must have been 'convincing' and that the people judged Manlius to have been a traitor (VI 19). The real sorrow over Manlius's death, Livy tells us, was not because anyone was not converted by the senate's arguments but because of the military courage of the accused, his courage in aiding the defeat of the Gauls made the Commons blanche before they passed the sentence of death, but after a pause, they did pass that sentence. What he shows in this episode is that Manlius's arguments, his blandishments are defeated because it is proven that he seeks for tyranny and not the popular good: he voices the popular good but the people were in the end convinced that he only does that for his own aggrandisment.

We see here Livy develop two themes of his history. The story of Manlius with his rise, and eventual and quite literal fall (he was pushed off the Tarpeian rock to his doom) serves as a means to explain something that Livy wants us to understand. He wants us to appreciate three points: firstly that tyranny has an appeal, particularly to the democratic elements in Rome. Secondly he wants us to appreciate that despite that, on this occasion, the constitutional establishment were able to trump that appeal with the revelation that the tyrant sought only his own good and not that of Rome. Lastly Livy wants us to see the value of this myth of Rome within Roman society: it promoted stability and constitutionalism against threats from those who would seek civil war. The issue that Livy was never able to answer- though I reckon he pondered through the form of his history- was why the argument that he thought had succeeded against Manlius failed later.


Crushed said...

The Chandos Clause in the 1832 reform Act contains the preamble 'To prevent the House becoming too Democratic...'

Democracy hasn't always had positive connotations.

I was always of the opinion that Roman idealists held up positive and negative versions of the same ideal, a utopian and dystopian, of you will; Monarchy versus Tyrannt, Aristocracy versus Oligarchy, Democracy versus Anarchy.

Gracchi said...

Crushed I agree with your first part. The divisions of your third paragraph are actually Aristotle's though he would have ranged polity against democracy. The other argument is to see Rome as having all aspects of constitution within its own. But even so what I am interested in in this post is the presumed operation of those systems within the thought of Livy. And particularly how he thought that a democratic system prone to elevating tyrant could sit within the republican system he beleived in.