Role of Ethics Essay
The Role of Ethics in the Rise and Fall of Republics
Role of Ethics Essay: Introduction
Plato’s best-known work, The Republic, talks about the ideal Republic and involves discussions about justice, the nature of the fair city-state, and the fair man. The book is an example of Socratic dialogue, and one of the main subjects Socrates explores in the book is the concept of ethics. Since the book’s primary concern is on the ideal Republic, the role of ethics in a republic’s developmental stages is one of the prominent discussions. The Republic is not the only source where we encounter a discussion on this subject. Many other ancient philosophers and writers have commented on a Republic’s failures, particularly the Roman Republic. This subject continues to be a subject of discussion as many republics share similar values. Moreover, since the United States has particularly been likened to the Roman Republic by various scholars, the discussions surrounding the subject have also been in commenting on American politics. Therefore, the discussion on the role of ethics in the rise and fall of republics has many layers and has been analyzed by various historians, philosophers, and writers.
One of the philosophers who analyzed the fall of the Roman Republic was the Greek historian Polybius, who talked about the Roman Republic in detail in his renowned book Histories. In Histories, one of the points which Polybius thinks would stimulate the decline of a republic is the ethical failure and political degeneration. Polybius states that if a republic dedicates themselves to worldly desires such as luxury living and consumption instead of following a reliable foreign policy, they weaken their bodies and minds. He explores this idea further and states that the deterioration caused by this “weakening of the body and mind” leads to political mistakes and self-destruction (Walbank 198). He exemplifies Ancient Greek cities to prove his stance. Altogether, the qualities which Polybius thinks as contributions to the decline of a republic can be named treason and brutality, corrupt extravagance, and neglect of civic responsibility. The foundation of all these qualities can be considered to lay in Plato’s morality-based eudemonistic understanding of ethics. Plato himself values the concept of justice in an ideal political order and states that it should not be to the personal benefit of any of the city’s parties but should be involved with the collective good of the whole political community and to the benefit of everyone (Korab-Karpowicz para. 9). Therefore, Polybius’ examples of what brings a republic to decline can be considered to go hand in hand with Plato’s ideal ethical-political order.
History scholars and writers seem to have arrived at a consensus on the specific points that led to the fall of the Roman Republic. Both Polybius’s points and Plato’s ethical ideals correlate with these points. For example, Roman senators’ high status is one reason that led to the fall of the Roman Republic. This was so detrimental because senators and wealthy knights of Rome started participating in expansive conspicuous consumption habits to reveal their high status in society (Rauh para. 7). As we remember, this habit is one of the points which Polybius makes in Histories. This irresponsible spending led the Roman senatorial to act chauvinistically egotistical and not be held accountable for their actions. To keep their place in high ranks of society, they blocked many principled nobles who felt the necessity for the establishment of better methods of compensation and political reforms (Rauh para. 12). Consequently, according to many historians, the Roman aristocracy internally outlasted its power by not acting ethically.
The United States as a republic is likened to the Roman Republic by many skilled historians. For example, Americans have a sense of solipsism that makes them see themselves as chosen and exceptional. Likewise, as the saying “all roads lead to Rome” shows us, the Roman people had a similar sense of solipsism themselves (Lewis para. 16). The Roman Republic was a model case for the Founding Fathers of America. The United States of America was projected to be the Roman Republic’s modern counterpart (Lewis para. 1). Both republics are founded on common points such as fear of centralized authority, open societies, and selfless leadership (Lewis para. 3-5). These founding principles have created similar republics. The United States, just like the Roman Republic, is the leading country in its world, including both hard and soft power (Lewis para. 10). However, the United States has adopted the Roman Republic’s ethics that led to its rise and the ones that led to its fall.
For instance, as we have seen, political corruption was one of the points that led to the Roman Republic’s fall. The United States today can be said to go through a similar path. The politicians in the Roman Republic had difficulty distinguishing between public and private duties and resources. It is known that the United States has employed politicians with a similar weakness (Lewis para. 17). Moreover, it is a known fact that Caesar’s dictatorship, which was an apparent reason for the fall of the Republic, was caused mainly by the opposing parties’, aristocrats and populists, failure in working together. When we observe the current political scene in the United States, we see a similar conflict between the Republicans and Democrats.
Role of Ethics Essay: Conclusion
As seen in these points, the ethics discussed in Plato’s Republic and Polybius’ Histories still affect the nations significantly. The ones that contribute to a republic’s decline can be counted as political corruption, conspicuous consumption, treason and brutality, and neglect of duties. Also, as it is clear that the United States and the Roman Republic are similar, we as a country have an excellent guidebook in our hands: The Roman Republic’s history. History is there for us to learn from earlier communities’ mistakes so that we do not repeat them. Therefore, the ignorance of our similar failings in political ethics with the Roman Republic can and should be eliminated as soon as possible. It is in our hands not to repeat the same mistakes and keep our Republic intact.
Korab-Karpowicz, W. J. “Plato: Political Philosophy.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2021, iep.utm.edu/platopol/#H4. Accessed 12 Mar. 2021.
Lewis, Michael. “Is America the New Rome? - United States vs. the Roman Empire.” Money Crashers, 2017, www.moneycrashers.com/united-states-america-roman-empire/. Accessed 12 Mar. 2021.
Rauh, Nicholas K. “Lecture 26: Fall of the Roman Republic, 133-27 BC.” Purdue University, 2021.
Walbank, Frank W. “The Idea of Decline in Polybius.” Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World, 5 Sept. 2002, pp. 193–211, 10.1017/cbo9780511482953.014. Accessed 12 Mar. 2021.