The American Road to World Peace

By Alfred Zimmern | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15: Roman Law

IT is in its capacity as a bureaucracy that the Roman Empire survives in modern Europe; for the government of its vast territories could not be carried on without a framework of general principles embodied in administrative rules. Augustus was wise enough to see this and to seek expert advice for this purpose. The available experts were "cultured" attorneys who had studied political science, not indeed in the writings of the classical age but in the form in vogue at that time, the so-called Stoic philosophy. The Stoics inherited the intellectual clarity and penetration of the Greeks of the great age, but they had lost all contact with the spirit of democracy. They and their pupils were what we should call today an elite. Their ideal was not one of good citizenship but of the "self-sufficient" individual, humane in temper but aloof from the vulgar crowd. It was these philosophically minded consultants who, over the generations, supplied the Roman administrative machine with the principles of what became known as the "Civil Law." The scattered elements of their labors were eventually drawn together in the shape of a regular code; this took place at Constantinople after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, at the instance of the Emperor Justinian, in the years A.D. 529-33.

This code was rediscovered by scholars after the Dark Ages and became a principal object of study in the twelfth century in the young and vigorous University of Bologna, though the social conditions to which its rules related had long since passed away. The zealous antiquarianism of the Bologna professors, and of their colleagues in other seats of learning, gave rise to a movement in the cultured circles of the day which resulted in the adoption of these Roman rules and principles as the groundwork of practically all the emerging states of Europe. There were, however, some notable exceptions. England, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries remained aloof. It followed, of course, that Roman Law did not become the groundwork of the political and constitutional system of the United States.

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