Il Ruolo del Dittatore nella Repubblica Romana

Bob Murphy mi ha dato un tempo difficile per la mia approvazione dell'ufficio del dittatore nella Repubblica romana. Gli ho detto di imparare che cosa questo ufficio era nella repubblica. Ma, dato che è poco disposto a agire in tal modo, descriverò il modo che l'ufficio ha funzionato qui.

La dittatura era un ufficio temporaneo e limitato nel Repubblica romana. Il senato ha nominato un dittatore per indirizzare una singola crisi. Per esempio, quando Hannibal stava seminando la distruzione in tutto l'Italia, il senato ha nominato un dittatore per occuparsi del problema di Hannibal. Non è stato autorizzato ad approvare le nuove leggi per quanto riguarda il furto o a pavimentare una nuova strada da Roma a Firenze. Quando la crisi è stata finita, così erano le potenzi del dittatore.

Noti bene che cosa questo ufficio ha impedetto: il "ratchet effect" descritto da Bob Higgs nel Crisis and Leviathan. È vero che tardi nella repubblica questo ufficio è stato abusato, per esempio, da Sulla e da Caesar. (Sulla si è nominato dictator legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae causa, e Caesar si è nominato dittatore per vita.) E allora? Ma da quel punto ogni ufficio nella repubblica stava abusando.


Bob Murphy has been giving me a difficult time about my approval of the office of dictator in the Roman Republic. I have told him to study what this office was in the republic, but, since he is recalcitrant, I will write it up here:

The dictator was a limited and temporary office in the Republic. The Senate appointed a dictator to deal with a single crisis. For example, when Hannibal was rampaging through Italy, the Senate nominated a dictator to deal with the problem of Hannibal. He was not authorized to pass new laws about robbery or have a road paved from Rome to Florence. When the crisis was over, so were the dictator's powers.

Notice what this prevents: the "ratchet effect" described by Bob Higgs in Crisis and Leviathan. It is true that late in the Republic this office was abused, by Sulla, who had himself appointed "dictator over the laws and constitution," and Caesar, who had himself appointed dictator for life. So what? By that point, all offices were being abused!


  1. PSH wrote:

    "I'm a little surprised by the resemblance Italian bears to Spanish.

    "Are you fluent, by the way? "

    But my big fat thumb hit "delete" instead of "publish" on my phone!

    No, I am not fluent, PSH -- in fact, I am writing in Italian because I am trying to force some progress in the languages I feel I need to master for my work -- ideally I'd have Greek, Latin, French, German and Italian mastered already, while, in fact, I am only a kindergarten level reader in the last three, and my Greek is limited to recognizing the English cognates when I see them.

  2. Notice what this prevents...

    I don't think that word means what you think it means.

  3. So, you have some sort of evidence that there was a ratchet effect with the office of dictator in the Roman Republic?

  4. Yes, I do:

    It is true that late in the Republic this office was abused, by Sulla, who had himself appointed "dictator over the laws and constitution," and Caesar, who had himself appointed dictator for life.

    Look, we're just interpreting the basic facts in different ways (though you know more of the basic facts than I do). I could just as easily say, "The Romans were chumps! The U.S. Constitution ensures that government stays within its proper limits. Sure, in practice that didn't happen, but only because of judges not implementing the Framers' original intent."

  5. OK, Bob, I addressed the error in thinking that there are "basic facts" of history upon which we can place our own interpretation over at Think Markets; and don't know when Mario will post it. On to the substance here:

    You cannot just "interpret" these "basic facts" in a vacuum based on some a priori theory you like ("dictators be bad!"). You must give a coherent story that makes all of the evidence fit together, and that, I contend, you cannot do here. Why?

    Well, the dictatorship essentially disappeared in Roman politics after 202 BCE. (I wasn't "keeping these facts up my sleeve"; I just didn't want my first post to drone on.) So, when the Republic began collapsing in the 120s, the dictatorship hadn't been used in more than 7 decades. Then, we have a history of increasing violence, abuse of office, assassinations, coups, corruption, etc. for over 40 years. At that point, with the Republic well on its way out already, someone remembers the disused office of dictator and realizes, "Hey, I can abuse that office as well!"

    Furthermore, when Augustine finally completed the evisceration of the Republic and created the Principate, the office of Dictator played no part in that process.

    1) The office of dictator was in use for a couple of hundred years, while the Republic was working well, and showed no sign of being abused or creating any "ratchet effect."
    2) The office of dictator had been unused for generations by the time the Republic's decline began.
    3) As the Republic collapsed, the office of dictator was revived as yet one more office that could be abused by demagogues and tyrants; they were doing fine abusing all of the other offices already, and I see no evidence that the absence of this long-defunct office would have stopped them somehow.
    4) In the final death of the Republic, the office of dictator played no role.

    So, no, I don't think you do have any evidence.

  6. By the way, Bob, many of the Antifederalists favoured the Roman system to the one adopted -- faced with the Federalist complaint that the Articles created a system to weak to deal with a real emergency, they asked why not leave power with the states, and then, if there were an emergency, grant extraordinary power for a limited time to, say, a new General Washington, get out of the emergency, and then go back to the Articles?

    Now, the thrust of my original remark, that raised your hackles, was that I think that might have been a wiser choice. No system is perfect -- not just no system of government, but no system of anarchy either! -- I'm just saying that, on the whole, the Antifederalists had the better argument, to me.

  7. I have neither the time nor the expertise to continue with this. But if you are going to say I should have realized that when you said you liked the Roman system of dictatorship, that this was actually your plea for limiting the power of the State, then I am going to refer to you as "Tyler" from now on.

  8. No, Bob, I don't think you should have realized this. I do think, especially after I alerted you to the fact that the initial Roman office was quite different to what we think of as a dictator, that you might have asked, "how so?" before continuing to use this as evidence I had lost it and was in favor of dictatorship. Fair enough?

  9. "Furthermore, when Augustine finally completed the evisceration of the Republic . . . ."

    I disagree with St. Augustine on a lot of things, but I'm not sure it's fair to blame him for what happened four centuries before his birth...

    (Yeah, I know. You meant "Augustus.")

  10. No, that was Doh! But my spell cycled "corrected" it.


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