Oligarchic "Democracy"

Authors

  • Ellen Meiksins Wood

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.14452/MR-041-03-1989-07_3

Keywords:

Political Economy

Abstract

For sheer bloody-minded greed and unscrupulous acquisitiveness, the Romans had no equal in the ancient world, and they would have had little to learn on that score from modern "possessive individualism." To someone who does not take the predatory impulses of contemporary capitalism and modern imperialism for granted as a universal law of nature—and maybe even for those who do—this insatiable rapacity is the most striking thing about the ancient Romans. By the time the republican era drew to a close, giving way to an imperial state (conventionally dated from the foundation of the Principate under Augustus Caesar in 27 B.C.), the Roman ruling class had amassed private fortunes of staggering proportions, by means of exploitation and corruption at home (from their landed estates and urban slum tenements, usury, trading in property, government contracts, etc.) and even more spectacularly by the systematic plunder of their expanding Empire. The administration of the Empire provided the Roman aristocracy with unprecedented opportunities for looting and extortion. To hold proconsular office was a sure means of lining the pocket—and for the most prominent Roman oligarchs to consolidate their personal power by acquiring what increasingly amounted to private armies.

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Published

1989-07-03

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Section

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