Monday, June 10, 2013

An Observation

The founding fathers admired and emulated Rome - a republic that lasted, more or less, some 500 years before it devolved permanently into empire. This is not to say that the Roman republic had it's periods of suppression and despotism (and by modern standards, the whole of it's history was one long sordid affair).

Nevertheless, the trend in Rome, for a time, was increased democratization and the promotion of egalitarian sympathies.

Sometime in perhaps the fifth century BCE, a remarkable speech was given by a certain Gaius Menenius Agrippa, a member of the aristocracy, though of moderate views, and the speech went like this:

"Once upon a time, the members of the human body did not agree together,as they do now, but each had its own thoughts and words to express itself. All the various parts resented the fact that they should have the worry and trouble and sheer hard work of providing everything for the belly, which remained idly among them, with nothing to do except enjoy the pleasant things they gave it. The discontented members plotted together that the hand should carry no food to the mouth, that the mouth should accept nothing that was offered it and the teeth should refuse to chew anything. Because of their anger they tried to subdue the belly by starvation only to find that they all and the entire body wasted away. From this it was that clear that the belly did indeed have a useful purpose to perform. Yes, it receives food, but, by the same token, it nourishes other members and gives back to every part of the body, through its veins, the blood it made by the process of digestion. On this blood we live and thrive".

Now, what is this fable about? Is Gaius referring to the idle rich as the belly? Or the poor?

To put it in context, the republic had suffered a series of military setbacks that resulted in economic stagnation. The lower classes and laborers - the farmers and artisans, peasants, the poor and disadvantaged, suffering under crushing debt and other restrictions imposed upon them by the aristocrats, boycotted Rome. They literally abandoned the city, offering no violence or provocations, they went on strike, and left the upper classes to their own devices.

So, within the context, it is clearly the ruling elite that is the soft belly of Rome.

Would that speech be interpreted differently today, here in America, where the cultivated attitude towards the poor would seem to suggest that they sit idly by, living off of government largesse? And if so, how would this fable be received today?

1 comment:

  1. we're already seeing it interpreted today in the attacks on the working poor, the poor, and the elderly. the upper class is doing it's best to decimate all aid programs and public education. I'm just wondering how long it will take them to notice they have cut off their noses to spite their faces.