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327 pages, Hardcover
First published October 24, 2017
"As early as 195, Cato the Elder warned his colleagues, “We have crossed into Greece and Asia, places filled with all the allurements of vice, and we are handling the treasures of kings... I fear that these things will capture us rather than we them.”The austere days of the early Republic were gone and prominent displays of riches became more accepted. On top of that the great wealth that accrued to Rome was concentrated at the top of society (sound familiar?) with the common Roman citizen probably worse off for all the glory that Rome gained.
"It is this spirit which has commonly ruined great nations, when one party desires to triumph over another by any and every means and to avenge itself on the vanquished with excessive cruelty." -SullaThere were also a ton of other problems the Romans handled spectacularly terribly: citizenship for Italian tribes (took a war to figure that one out), raising of armies when the citizen landowner pool shrank drastically (now armies were loyal to the generals who brought them spoils of war instead of to the Republic), bribery of public officials, and land redistribution to name but a few. Narrow political self interest and downright pettiness were significant barriers to fixing these problems, all contributing the weakening of the Republic. Some leaders would block legislation that previous years they supported simply because a political opponent proposed it and might gain more political influence if it was successful. The goal of governance was accruing and retaining power instead of providing for the common good.
Political polarization, inequality, and corruption during the period 146 to 78 BC gravely weakened the Roman Republic in the years before its collapse. In his new book The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Late Republic, podcaster Mike Duncan explores this period and how Rome’s politics, which emerged from Rome’s success, subsequently led to the republic’s downfall. Benjamin Wittes interviewed Duncan on his new book to discuss ancient and modern populisms, the parallels between the late Roman Republic and current American politics, and the impact of demagoguery on government.