Contributions of Roman Political Thought. The political ideals of the Greeks and of the Romans were complementary, each being strong where the other was weak. In contrast to the Greek ideas of liberty and democracy, Rome placed chief emphasis on the ideas of law, order, and unity. The weakness of the Greeks was in their failure to unite, factional strife within the cities and constant wars among the cities costing them their political independence.
Rome, unifying her population at home and bringing the western world under her control, crushed individual liberty and transformed the republican -city into the autocratic empire. In working out her contribution of order and unity, and in establishing peace and world law, Rome was compelled to destroy the Greek conception of freedom and democracy, and to make the state highly centralized and all-powerful.
As liberty degenerated into anarchy in Greece, so order became tyranny in the Roman Empire. Natural growth was checked, anything novel was looked upon with suspicion and dislike and the maintenance of the status quo became an obsession.
However, the Greek ideal of freedom and popular government was workable only in small and homogeneous units. It was always exclusive and essentially aristocratic.
Before the modern democratic national state could develop, the work of Rome was necessary. Local jealousies and petty class distinctions had to be broken down, and the ideals of human brotherhood and of the equality of men before the law had to be put into political practice.
The exclusiveness of early peoples, implied in such words as barbarian and chosen people, and the universal system of slavery had to be destroyed before democracy and freedom could be established on a comprehensive and satisfactory basis.
The cosmopolitan power of Rome and the Stoic-Christian conception of the brotherhood of man laid the foundation for the modern point of view. These ideals survived the fall of Rome, were given new impetus by the Renaissance, and worked themselves out into political institutions during the period of Revolution.
Rome also contributed valuable principles of colonial and municipal administration; the degree of self-government permitted to the provinces made the pax Romana something more than military imperialism. Even the subject peoples in the empire recognized the value of Roman order, and felt that they had lost something of vale when the Roman world went to pieces.
No people over whom Rome extended her control ever entirely lost the conception of civilized life, and the provinces continued to flourish long after the capital itself was disorderly and corrupt. Rome remained a name of much power when the actual city was a ruin.
Her language and law had overspread the world; the barbarians who conquered the empire considered it their highest glory to deck themselves in some shreds cf the Roman purple; the church built up its organization and its authority on the model of the Roman Empire and the Roman words Caesar and Imperium were long powerful in political thought.
Roman ideals fixed themselves so strongly in the minds of men that the theory of world unity and of a single, all-powerful authority, enforcing a universal law over the western world, survived for centuries in spite of actual conditions decidedly contradictory to it.