Livy on Liberty

the early history of rome

The hard-won liberty of Rome was rendered the more welcome, and the more fruitful, by the character of the last king, Tarquin the Proud. Earlier kings may all be considered, not unjustly, to have contributed to the city’s growth, making room for an expanding population, for the increase of which they, too were responsible. They were all, in their way, successive ‘founders’ of Rome. Moreover, it cannot be doubted that Brutus, who made for himself so great a name by the expulsion of Tarquin, would have done his country the greatest dis-service, had he yielded too soon to his passion for liberty and forced the abdication of any of the previous kings. One has but to think of what the populace was like in those early days – a rabble of vagrants, mostly runaways and refugees – and to ask what would have happened if they had suddenly found themselves protected from all authority by inviolable sanctuary, and enjoying complete freedom of action, if not full political rights. In such circumstances, unrestrained by the power of the throne, they would, no doubt, have set sail on the stormy sea of democratic politics, swayed by the gusts of popular eloquence and quarreling for power with the governing lass of a city which did not even belong to them, before any real sense of community had time to grow. That sense – the only true patriotism – comes slowly and springs from the heart: it is founded upon respect for the family and love of the soil. Premature ‘liberty’ of this kind would have been a disaster: we should have been torn to pieces by petty squabbles before we had ever reached political maturity, which as things were, was made possible by the long quiet years under monarchial government; for it was that government which, as it were, nursed our strength and enabled us ultimately to produce sound fruit from liberty, as only a politically adult nation can.


1. Livy. The Early History of Rome. Books I-V of The History of Rome from Its Foundation. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1971. Print. 105.


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Filed under History, Notes on History, Philosophy

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