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I am author of the books Political Internet(Routledge, 2017), Intimate Speakers ( Fingerprint! 2017), has finished the typescript of three books—first, on Internet and sexuality; second, on the negative impacts of social media; and third, a novel—and is presently working on a narrative non-fiction with the working title Lovescape: Why India is afraid of love.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Roman Contributions to Political Thoughts




What are Roman contributions to political thought?

It is virtually impossible to overestimate the historical contributions of the Roman Empire to modern society. The legacy of Roman art, architecture, literature and philosophy is visible today throughout much of Europe and the rest of the world. In the area of political theory, the Romans made long-standing contributions: cosmopolitanism, secular, sovereignty, law and citizenship.

Separation of Law and Religion

Before the Roman Republic, religion and law were deeply intertwined. Priests and other religious officials served as both spiritual leaders and rulers. Monarchs were seen as enforcers or executors of divine law rather than as lawmakers. The Roman legal system changed that. According to Professor John Mathai of the University of Calicut, the Roman state actually made its own laws separate from and independent of religious law. Secular law became the foundation of European legal systems for generations to come.

The Roman Concept of Citizenship

A second essential Roman contribution to political theory was the concept of citizenship. Before the Roman Empire, early states tended to view all people under their control as essentially equivalent. The Romans changed that by establishing multiple legal codes. One set of laws applied only to Roman citizens. It guaranteed rights and privileges that were unavailable to people in conquered territories under Roman control, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The distinction between citizens and outsiders endures in our modern society.

Laws

Roman civil law laid the foundation for the civil law of many modern countries. Some of its key concepts have remained influential: citizenship and citizenship rights, equality under the law, innocent until proven guilty, that the burden of proof rests on the accuser, not the accused, the right to a trial, the right to appeal and that unfair laws can be repealed.

Cosmopolitanism

The word ‘cosmopolitan’, which derives from the Greek word kosmopolit√™s (‘citizen of the world’), has been used to describe a wide variety of important views in moral and socio-political philosophy. It is the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (citizens in a single community. Different versions of cosmopolitanism envision this community in different ways, some focusing on political institutions, others on moral norms or relationships, and still others focusing on shared markets or forms of cultural expression. It is the universal community of world citizens functions. A positive ideal to be cultivated. Versions of cosmopolitanism also vary depending on the notion of citizenship they employ, including whether they use the notion of 'world citizenship' literally or metaphorically. The political culture idealized in the writings of Plato and Aristotle is not cosmopolitan. In this culture, a man identifies himself first and foremost as a citizen of a particular polis or city, and in doing so, he signals which institutions and which body of people hold his allegiance.

In fact, the first philosopher in the West to give perfectly explicit expression to cosmopolitanism was the Socratically inspired Cynic Diogenes in the fourth century BCE. It is said that “when he was asked where he came from, he replied, ‘I am a citizen of the world [kosmopolit√™s]’” (Diogenes Laertius VI 63). By identifying himself not as a citizen of Sinope but as a citizen of the world, Diogenes apparently refused to agree that he owed special service to Sinope and the Sinopeans. So understood, ‘I am a citizen of the cosmos’ is a negative claim, and we might wonder if there is any positive content to the Cynic's world citizenship.

A fuller exploration of positively committed philosophical cosmopolitanism arrives only with the Socratizing and Cynic-influenced Stoics of the third century CE. These Stoics are fond of saying that the cosmos is, as it were, a polis, because the cosmos is put in perfect order by law, which is right reason. They also embrace the negative implication of their high standards: conventional poleis do not, strictly speaking, deserve the name. Stoics believe that goodness requires serving other human beings as best one can, that serving all human beings equally well is impossible, and that the best service one can give typically requires political engagement.

Things are a bit different for at least some of the Stoics at Rome. Roman Stoics extend citizenship to all human beings by virtue of their rational This is a moderate Stoic cosmopolitanism, and empire made the doctrine very easy for many Romans by identifying the Roman patria with the cosmopolis itself. But neither imperialism nor a literal interpretation of world citizenship is required for the philosophical point. Cicero's De Officiis or of Seneca's varied corpus explicitly acknowledges obligations to Rome.

Sovereignty

"Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a territory." Wherever sovereignty is exercised, there is government. In other words, this principle has existed since the beginning of governments and nations. Its principles have come from time immemorial down through the corridors of history and practice and can be seen in the ancient books of antiquity. Absolute, indivisible, inviolate, and inseparable sovereignty cannot be divided, mutated, discarded or obliterated rightfully unless it is done willingly. But the point is, sovereignty is all or nothing in reality or by construct. It reigns supreme as the highest principle of governmental power on earth.

Endnotes


Epicureans

Like the Cynics, the Epicureans were not primarily concerned with politics, though they offered a more complex evaluation of its origins and nature, and a more nuanced recognition of its instrumental value. Politics was not, for them, part of the good life or a fulfillment of human nature as it was for Aristotle. A sticking point for Epicurean ethics and politics is the justification for a further dimension of communal life: the willingness to sacrifice oneself for a friend, or to risk breaking the law for the greater good of one's fellow citizens.


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