Dude, where’s my toga?

AS THE parade of billionaires and generals joins Donald Trump’s cabinet, it is hard not to be reminded of the Roman republic. Parallels between Rome and the US have been made in the past, of course; Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” talked of imperial overstretch – excessive military spending that eventually undermined an empire’s position.

But the current parallels date from much earlier in Roman history; how the republican system eventually turned into plutocracy or “rule by the rich”. In her history of Rome, “SPQR”, Mary Beard writes that

The first qualification for office was wealth on a substantial scale. No one could stand for election without passing a financial test that excluded most citizens

This is not to say that the poor were ignored. Ms Beard adds that

The votes of the poor mattered and were eagerly canvassed. The rich were not usually united, and elections were competitive. 

The nature of that competition, however, would often depend on the amount of food and drink that candidates were able to supply to the voting public; indeed political slogans were often inscribed on<a…Continue reading

This post was originally published in the Economist.

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Dude, where’s my toga?

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