Sunday, November 28, 2010

Freedom, Justice, and Luxury

These are the themes of a new book I have started reading, The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox. It is often said, correctly I believe, that to understand the present, one must first understand the past. I first started studying and fell in love with Greek and Roman mythology in elementary school. Naturally, that study of mythology also included some study of history. However, now that I am an adult, I want to return to this subject in order to gain a more sophisticated understanding.

This particular book covers 900-years of history. As such, it is rather broad. After finishing it, I want to delve back into particular primary sources such as The Histories of Herodotus as well as some of the works of the famous Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.

After that, I am especially interested in studying the history of the Roman empire, especially its decline and fall. This strikes me as especially relevant at present, as there is a sense (hopefully false) that America has reached an apex and is in decline itself. Our political system is dysfunctional and seems incapable of responding effectively to the challenges facing us. While much of our current focus is budgetary (and that is important) I feel that the more important topic of fostering greater education, greater equity, and a greater degree of technological innovation are being neglected as incessant partisan bickering and squabbling hinder more effective action in making the critical investments in the future that we will need. Balancing the budget at the expense of making critical investments in the future may be penny wise, but it is pound foolish. On the other hand, I am a natural optimist. If America is wise, we, unlike the Roman empire, will succeed. But we may need to look to some degree to the past in order to consider the best course to chart for the future.

Anyway, I digress.

After studying the rise and fall of the Roman empire, with a special focus on Roman law, I plan to look at the history of Europe more broadly before shifting focus to the history of England. There, I want to understand better the origins of English law in context before shifting to a deeper study of American history and law. My ultimate goal is to study and understand the history of American law, with a special focus on constitutional law and its relation to our political system.

Now, back to the theme of this first book in this course of study that I am about to undertake. It is very interesting to me how early historians, such as those from early Greece and Rome, took a different approach to history than is common for modern historians. They were less theoretical, but nonetheless Robin Fox has identified some broad themes surrounding the concepts of freedom, justice, and luxury that used to occupy them. And if you think about it, those very same themes are still the object of ferocious political debate today and in some way largely motivate the law. So, by looking back at how previous civilizations dealt with those concepts, we can become more insightful concerning modern day political and legal dilemmas.

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