In his book, Saving Freedom, Senator Jim DeMint claims that the famous historian Will Durant supports his views about why nations decline or prosper. DeMint’s quotations of Durant’s words are accurate, but taken out of context and totally misleading. If one actually reads Durant’s Lessons of History, it becomes quite clear that Durant favored economic policies that are in direct opposition to those that DeMint supports.
DeMint notes on page 132 of his book that:
The warnings against the centralization of power were almost as prevalent in Greece and Rome as they are in American today. As historian Will Durant summarized, “Without checks and balances a monarchy becomes despotism, aristocracy become oligarchy, democracy becomes mob rule, chaos and dictatorship.”
This is all true, but the real question is: what conditions cause the mob rule and chaos that leads to dictatorship? In Lessons of History, Durant indicated that the cause of the crisis facing both Rome and Greece was the concentration of wealth at the top of their societies. Intolerable conditions for the masses were raising the threat of revolution.
DeMint correctly quoted Durant when he wrote:
The Roman leader Cicero warned that the man who will be chosen leader of an ungoverned populace would be “bold and unscrupulous…who curries favor with the people by giving them other men’s property.”…In Durant’s words, “Class war, not Caesar, killed the Roman Republic.”
Again, these are accurate quotations, but they lead to totally wrong interpretations. According to Durant, Rome chose to oppose remedial actions through force, and suffered “a hundred years of class and civil war.” He saw Tiberius Gracchus as the one with the right solutions for Rome. Gracchus told the people, “You fight and die to give wealth and luxury to others; you are called the masters of the world, but there is not a foot of ground that you can call your own.”
To Durant, Cicero was not on the right side of the issues—he actually opposed necessary reforms.
On the other hand, Greece chose to correct the growing disparity in wealth through remedial actions. Durant’s description of Greece:
Good sense prevailed; moderate elements secured the election of Solon… He devaluated the currency, thereby easing the burden of all debtors (though he himself was a creditor); he reduced all personal debts, and ended imprisonment for debt; he canceled arrears for taxes and mortgage interest; he established a graduated income tax that made the rich pay at a rate twelve times that required of the poor; he reorganized the courts on a more popular basis; and he arranged that the sons of those who had died in war for Athens should be brought up and educated at the government’s expense.
Durant concluded his chapter on “Economics and History” by citing the U.S. as a modern nation that has copied Solon’s peaceful methods, from 1933-52 and 1960-65. In Durant’s words,
Perhaps someone had studied history. The upper classes in America cursed, complied, and resumed the concentration of wealth.
Isn’t it time for serious voters to study the actual history of the world and our own country, and elect someone who actually understands those histories?