31 May, 2006


It is singular, therefore, that the roman constitution should have been represented as a pattern of perfection: a constitution one of the most imperfect in the World, originating from crude temporary circumstances, and never afterwards reformed from a general comprehensive view of the whole, but partially altered from time to time. Caesar alone was capable of giving it a radical reform: but it was too late, and the dagger, that deprived him of life, destroyed all possibility of an improved constitution.
Herder's Outlines, 14.4, before a description of the fall of Rome in the terms of class-struggle. Marx who? Constitution of the body, to be not partially altered, but reformed from a general comprehensive view of the whole. Republic 4 (tr. Jowett), 'The just man then, if we regard the idea of justice only, will be like the just State?' Definition of justice as each doing his own work. Menenius Agrippa and ancient labour-strikes. Duncan—the bare bodkin, that deprived him of life, destroyed all possibility of an improved constitution. See Spengler, The Going-Under of the Evening-Lands, on the fall of Rome. Herder again:
Rome destroyed the balance of nations; and under her a World bled to death: what new state will arise from this balance destroyed? what new creature will spring from the ashes of so many nations?


Gawain said...

"Marx who?"

Marx, though still apparently thought the greatest philosopher who has ever lived (according to a recent BBC poll) did not have much in terms of original thoughts. Most of his stuff comes from other thinkers.

Which is actually, when you look at the intellectual history of mankind, true about nearly all great thinkers. Darwin, for example, was not proposing a new revolutionary theory, but presenting in an effective manner, and shoring up with new arguments and evidence, a theory which had been around for some time and was already much discussed in his time (his father in law was one high profile proponent of it). Copernicus was not rediscovering anything either, for the heliocentric idea never quite died out (even if it was not the dominant ideology), he was only showing how well observational data fit it. And so forth.

Original ideas are quite rare: relativity was an original concept (as far as we can tell) and so was Bohr's model of Hydrogen. These may be the only examples I can think of off the top of my head.

Rudolph A. Carrera said...

I've come to your site because of Gawain's recommendation. Despite my being a religious sort, the work you have here is fascinating and excellent. I'll be coming around for many long reads.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Gawain: yes. It's always interesting to find obscure precursors to well-known thinkers though.

Thanks, Rudolph. Despite being a born-and-raised atheist, I am in fact quite interested in theology and Judeo-Christian religion in general; I've written things here and there on the subject.

Richard said...

Hmm, this has just been republished on my feedreader (though only a snippet; I have to admit to preferring the full text).

The history of Rome is effectively that of a banana republic (I appreciate that the term republic is loaded here), though in so far as many of its institutions did go someway to mitigating some of the worst excesses and keeping civil society functioning, it deserves some credit.

Regarding the comments, the idea of evolution was not new to Charles Darwin and was also held by Erasmus Darwin. On the other hand, Charles Darwin did invent the theory of natural selection, which is not the same thing.

Gawain said...

There were at least 2 fathers of natural selection -- Darwin and Wallace. The latter at any rate THOUGHT he invented it independently (and wrote to D about it prior to the writing of The Origin).

The most interesting new discovery in genetics, the epigenetic inheritance by way of RNA, suddenly makes Lamarck respectable... and he predates Darwin by about 60 years...


Conrad H. Roth said...

Next week, folks: mitochondrial and electroencephalographical studies demonstrate conclusively the existence of the collective unconscious!

Conrad H. Roth said...


This is indeed remarkable in the mass of human members; at one time all the limbs which form the body, united into one by Love, grow vigorously in the prime of life; but yet at another time, separated by evil Strife, they wander each in different directions along the breakers of the sea of life. Just so it is with plants and with fishes dwelling in watery halls, and beasts whose lair is in the mountains, and birds borne on wings. But as divinity was mingled yet more with divinity, these things kept coming together in whatever way each might chance, and many others also in addition to these continually came into being. Many creatures arose with double faces and double breasts, offspring of oxen with human faces, and again there sprang up children of men with oxen's heads; creatures, too, in which were mixed some parts from men and some of the nature of women, furnished with sterile members. Cattle of trailing gait, with undivided hoofs. But come now, hear of these things; how fire separating caused the hidden offspring of men and weeping women to arise, for it is no tale apart from our subject, or witless. In the first place there sprang up out of the earth forms grown into one whole, having a share of both, of water and of fire. These in truth fire caused to grow up, desiring to reach its like; but they showed as yet no lovely body formed out of the members, nor voice nor limb such as is natural to men.