What a fascinating journey to spend some time in deep dialogue with well-known history professor and author Dr. Edward J. Watts. He is the brilliant author of the illuminating book on the Roman empire, Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny. We also talk about some of the parallels between Rome and where America is in 2019. This one is definitely worth your time.
Edward J. Watts holds the Alkiviadis Vassiliadis endowed Chair and is professor of history at the University of California, San Diego. The author and editor of several prize-winning books, including The Final Pagan Generation, he lives in Carlsbad, California.
In Mortal Republic, prize-winning historian Edward J. Watts offers a new history of the fall of the Roman Republic that explains why Rome exchanged freedom for autocracy. For centuries, even as Rome grew into the Mediterranean’s premier military and political power, its governing institutions, parliamentary rules, and political customs successfully fostered negotiation and compromise. By the 130s BC, however, Rome’s leaders increasingly used these same tools to cynically pursue individual gain and obstruct their opponents. As the center decayed and dysfunction grew, arguments between politicians gave way to political violence in the streets. The stage was set for destructive civil wars–and ultimately the imperial reign of Augustus.
The death of Rome’s Republic was not inevitable. In Mortal Republic, Watts shows it died because it was allowed to, from thousands of small wounds inflicted by Romans who assumed that it would last forever.
Praise For Mortal Republic
“[An] incisive history…Watts describes how the rise of an economic élite and increasing inequality brought about populist sentiment that was easily exploited by nefarious politicians. The parallels to the present day are striking.”―New Yorker
“If the central analogy that animates Mortal Republic is correct, the current challenge to America’s political system is likely to persist long after its present occupant has left the White House.”―New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“Mortal Republic provides excellent insights into how the Republic became the Empire, and more broadly it speaks to the ever-present threat of centralized power. The more a civilization centralizes, the more powerful a central government becomes.”―New York Journal of Books
“Watts chronicles the ways the republic, with a population once devoted to national service and personal honor, was torn to shreds by growing wealth inequality, partisan gridlock, political violence and pandering politicians, and argues that the people of Rome chose to let their democracy die by not protecting their political institutions, eventually turning to the perceived stability of an emperor instead of facing the continued violence of an unstable and degraded republic.”―Smithsonian
“Readers will find many parallels to today’s fraught political environment: the powerful influence of money in politics, a ‘delegitimized establishment,’ and ‘the emergence of a personality-driven, populist politicking.’ Watts ably and accessibly…covers a lot of ground in a manner accessible to all readers, including those with little knowledge of Roman history. This well-crafted analysis makes clear the subject matter’s relevance to contemporary political conversations.”―Publishers Weekly
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This podcast is EXCELLENT, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s a student of history, who’s concerned about the future of this constantly evolving democratic experiment we call the United States, or who just wants to hear an extraordinary conversation on the parallel between what we’re experiencing today and the actions (or inaction) that led to the decline of the Roman Empire. It’ll make you want to hear more from Dr. Watts (and to buy his book, which I did). Thanks, Paul Dolman and What Matters Most!