Rome and the USA: Why Ancient History Still Matters

Rome and the USA: Why Ancient History Still Matters

Lecture by David Oosterhuis

Given at Gonzaga University, on October 20, 2012

Is the US a modern Roman Empire? Since the founding of our country ancient Rome has been part of our political discourse. We’ll look at why people keep bringing up history from 2000 years ago (hint: politics and religion), as well as just what works in this comparison and what doesn’t. Is there a point to bringing up Rome?

Excerpt: Even in the ancient world Rome was recognized as having a mixed constitution that had a little bit of the best of everything. It kind of had democracy in that males citizens got to vote. It kind of had oligarchy – rule of the few – in that then a smaller group made all the decisions, and it was kind of a monarchy in that you had chief executive officers. That sounded pretty good. That sounded like a good recipe for a country for ours, and that is so why we ended up with not a democracy but a republic, with representative voting. They got that from ancient Rome. Which isn’t to say that voting in ancient Rome was totally fair either. If you look at really how the republic worked, their system had male citizens voting but it was pretty rigged. It was pretty rigged to favour the rich and powerful. And that is not necessarily something that did not appeal to our founders either.

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