Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Read the whole thing.

Robert Farley on Israel, Rome, and Bailouts (yes, there's a line connecting them all.)
Both the settlements problem and the bailout problem remind me of something I wrote a while ago in reference to the Roman Republic. Simply because something must happen does not mean that it will happen. The Roman Republic faced a series of internal crises that were evident to all and that desperately required political solution; moreover, the contours of such solution were evident to most of the relevant political players, and in the abstract were achievable....

The Republic could not save itself because its very structure prevented it from doing the things that were necessary to reform. Almost no one wanted this outcome, but no one could stop it from happening. It's not that people are stupid (although many are) or dishonest (although many are); its that the institutions make certain outcomes difficult to achieve.
As it turns out, I just started reading Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly, which makes a similar argument but focuses on the individuals within institutions: the people who were caught captive by the institutions that they nominally headed: the Renaissance Popes who barely tried to restrain their corruption, and thus courted the Reformation, the English partition from the 13 Colonies and the successors to those Colonies getting mired in Vietnam.

It's why I read history: as a reminder that humans actually never change that much. We get better at some things, worse at others, but in the end the classical realists of political thought are right. You can get all you need to know about politics by reading Thucydides.

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