Page:Rise and Fall of Society.djvu/33

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Economics Versus Politics
 

a century and a half; the historians estimate that the gestation of the greatest State of antiquity covered four centuries; we travel faster these days. When the grandeur of Rome was at its grandest, the principal preoccupation of the State was the confiscation of the wealth produced by its citizens and subjects; the confiscation was legally formalized, as it is today, and even though it was not sugar-coated with moralisms or ideologically rationalized, some features of modern welfarism were put into practice. Rome had its make-work programs, its gratuities to the unemployed, and its subsidies to industry. These things are necessary to make confiscation palatable and possible.

To the Romans of the times, this order of things probably seemed as normal and proper as it does today. The living are condemned to live in the present, under the prevailing conditions, and their preoccupation with those conditions makes any assessment of the historic trend both difficult and academic. The Romans hardly knew or cared about the "decline" in which they were living and certainly did not worry about the "fall" to which their world was riding. It is only from the vantage point of history, when it is possible to sift the evidence and find a cause-and-effect relationship, that a meaningful estimate of what was happening can be made. We know now that despite the arrogance of the State the economic forces that bear upon social trends were on the job. The production of wealth, the things men live by, declined in proportion to the State's exactions and interferences; the general concern with mere existence submerged any latent interest in cultural and moral values, and the character of Society gradually changed to that of a herd. The mills of the gods grind slow but sure; within a couple of centuries the deterioration of Roman Society was followed

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