2014 April 03 Thursday
Cato Resented Caesar For Writing A Great Law

Along with many other books about the Roman Republic and Roman Empire I am reading Philip Freeman's Julius Caesar. Among the reasons Caesar was great: he made excellent changes to law and policy in Rome that the corrupt and wealthy Senate opposed because the changes threatened their ability to fleece others. Rome captured many lands, turned them into provinces, and then let provincial governors (usually members of the Senate) mismanaged and basically pillage them with draining taxes that went into the pockets of administrators and their allies in Rome. The Senate would not fix the problem. The younger Cato got nowhere with fixing the problem even while looking down at Caesar as a threat to freedom and good government. Caesar addressed the problem and Cato hated that it was Caesar that did it:

The administration of Roman provinces had reached a low point by the time of Caesar's consulship through criminal mismanagement, exploitation, and crushing taxation. As many far-thinking Romans had realized since the time of Hannibal, no empire spanning thousands of miles and containing millions of people could be safe and prosperous if it were run for the exclusive benefit of a few wealthy citizens. Caesar determined to change this once and for all - not just because of any altruistic love for the oppressive natives, but because Rome would fail miserably to live up to its tremendous potential as a world power unless it revolutionized how it controlled the lands beyond Italy. Caesar's monumental lex Julia de repetundis - the Julian law of extortion - contained over one hundred chapters of incredibly detailed rules for administering provinces, prosecuting crooked governors, preventing bribes, and generally keeping the senatorial class in line when they were abroad running the empire. The full text of the legislation is lost. But Cicero called it justissima atque optima ("most just and best") and even Cato could find nothing to complain about. This infuriated Cato so much that he could never bring himself to attach Caesar's name to it.

Cato was a fool.

We need a better way to choose leaders. The best are so much better than the rest.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 April 03 08:07 PM 

Black Death said at April 4, 2014 12:20 PM:

I agree that our current government is corrupt, dysfunctional and totally dominated by special interests. But was it ever really any different? In the 20th century we had Teapot Dome, LBJ, Watergate and Bill Clinton. In the 19th century, there was the Whiskey Ring, Credit Mobilier and all the railroad scandals. I'm just hitting the high points here. My point is that our government has always been moderately corrupt and controlled by special interests, and perhaps the best we can do is limit its size and extent.

JB said at April 5, 2014 11:57 PM:

I can't help but notice that ideas on this post and the Labor Splitting Up post are at odds with the Having Faith in Democracy post. Cato and his fellow Senators were the successful elite of Rome, you had to be a millionaire to be a Senator and rich to be a member of the Equestrian class. The voting system in Rome was the stuff of Tom Perkin's dreams: they voted by class and the system was weighted so that the upper classes always won.

Randall Parker said at April 6, 2014 10:26 AM:


I think we need something that empowers the upper middle class but not the billionaires.

But here is the deal about the billionaires: They do not pay that much in taxes.

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