On the false romance of history

15 11 2010

Since we have been rolling with criticisms of Tony Esolen’s romanticist view of history, it is only appropriate that we analyze his newest article concerning the role of community participation in the context of modern capitalist democracy. Perhaps the most pat refutation of the premise of the whole article, which seeks to draw parallels between the degeneration of a pure citizen-based democracy and the autocracies in the ancient world, is to point out that the vast majority of the population in the ancient world could not participate in the polis. The veiled undertone of romanticizing Greco-Roman society is the avoidance of the fact that those societies were fundamentally slave societies, or built on rigid class hierarchies. It goes without saying that women were basically the possession of the paterfamilias, and those who had any real political power were few and far between. It should also be stated that even in our country of rigid income inequalities, the number of people making actual decisions about the course of society far outnumbers the proportion of people who would have done so in ancient Greece or Rome.

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