Liveblogging Wood's The Idea of America: Rome Was the Model

If any one cultural source lay behind the republican revolutions of the eighteenth century, it was ancient Rome -- republican Rome -- and the values that flowed from its history. It was ancient Rome's legacy that helped to make the late eighteenth century's apparently sudden transition to republicanism possible...

If the Enlightenment was to discover the sources of a flourishing society and human happiness, it was important to learn what lay behind the ascendency of republican Rome and its eventual decline and fall. The French and American revolutionaries' view of the past was therefore very selective, focusing on the moral and social basis of politics and on social degeneracy and corruption. Since the eighteenth century believed "similar causes will forever operate like effects in the political, moral, and physical world," the history of the ancient world inevitably became a kind of laboratory in which autopsies of the dead republics, especially Rome, would lead to a science of political sickness and health... matching the medical science of the natural world. (p. 59)
Hmm, maybe someone should write a comparative book on the different foundations given to the Roman and American republics?

On second thought, naah, it would never work.

Note: If you want to read some real historians, rather than popularizers, who are nevertheless lively and engaging writers, one could hardly do better than Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn, the two great historians of the American revolutionary period.


  1. Wood is an excellent read in my admittedly limited experience. I've only read The Radicalism of the American Revolution, but it left a lasting impression on me.


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