22 March, 2010

Fall of the Republic?

"It appears that in all great crises of world history most people utterly deceive themselves as to where they stand, just as if Providence had drawn a veil over the impending disaster."
--Wilhelm Roepke

Quoted in an excellent and timely article by J.R. Nyquist.

In another article, this one specifically on the Fall of the Roman Republic and also worth reading, Nyquist examines the conception of liberty in law as being the unforced but ordered pursuit of a non-subjective justice. A pertinent passage

Cicero was the first to systematically promote the idea of a government of laws and not of men, based on justice. A commonwealth, said Cicero, is “an assemblage of people in large numbers associated in an agreement with respect to justice and a partnership for the common good.” According to Dickinson, “For Cicero the essence of tyranny is lawlessness; the two are synonymous. Where there is tyranny, there cannot be a state in any proper sense, since the essential characteristic of the state is law.” We may be reminded of George Orwell’s characterization of totalitarian socialism in his novel, 1984, as a “lawless order.” With Cicero we find that legitimate authority is always lawful, while illegitimate authority has the character of lawlessness. This line of thinking, developed by Cicero, heavily influenced modern thinkers from Montesquieu to Locke and Adam Smith. In Cicero’s view, freedom was made possible by a system of checks and balances in which no man or party could tyrannize over society. In this way, power could be limited, and all would be subject to the same rules. The objective of government, said Cicero, was to foster a harmonious state “by agreement among dissimilar elements, brought about by a fair and reasonable blending together of the upper, middle, and lower classes, just as if they were musical tones. What the musicians call harmony in song is concord in a State, the strongest and best bond of permanent union in any commonwealth; and such concord can never be brought about without the aid of justice.”

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