Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Can one justify American intervention in the Middle East, both the wars themselves and the apparent establishment of a shadowy sort of American empire? If one accepts the force of the arguments the Romans used to justify their empire, the Americans probably can.

Justifying a war had never been a problem. The 2nd-century BC Greek historian Polybius (who became an ambassador for Roman interests) reports that Rome was always eager to find a just pretext for going to war, and Romans argued that their wars either defended their own interests or assisted the victims of injustice abroad. But in the 2nd century BC the Romans, who had already taken control of Sicily, Spain and North Africa as a result of the wars against Carthage, now moved against Greece and western Turkey ('Asia'). Rome was becoming master of an empire. This was a different kettle offish.

The Greek philosopher Zeno (335-263 BC), who invented Stoicism, argued that all forms of subjugation were evil, and therefore both slavery and empire - the exercise and maintenance of power over other states - were morally wrong. Other Stoics agreed: 'Justice instructs you to spare all men, to respect the human race, to return to each his own, not to touch what is sacred, or what belongs to the state, or what belongs to someone else. …

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