By Paul Veyne
Translated via Brian Pearce
The phenomenon, referred to as "euergetism", is without doubt one of the so much extraordinary positive aspects of the traditional international. it may be noticeable as a kind of altruism, civic delight or wealth redistribution, a method of shopping for honour, status or political energy, but something is apparent: it used to be lengthy considered as an obligation and privilege of the rich to learn their fellow electorate. to appreciate why, indicates Professor Veyne, we have to ignore summary theories and sleek economics. quite, we should always study what particularly occurred earlier than the Christian period in Hellenistic Greece and the Rome of the Republic and the Emperors.
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Extra info for Bread and circuses: historical sociology and political pluralism
One is reminded of Rousseau's success in making the practices and prohibitions o f bourgeois morality fashionable among the nobility of his time. The Roman aristocracy accepted the new morality on the plane of principles to be avowed and respected, and put as much of it into practice as they could; we shall soon see what this amounted to. As a rigorist sect, Christianity did what such sects often do: they impose on their members a morality that does not differ from the morality of their time, for they cannot imagine any other, but they impose it with great vigour, and also make obligatory certain articles of this morality that current usage has not treated as absolute duties.
Ought we not, on the contrary, to consider whether the pagans were perhaps just as charitable as anyone else, though they lacked the relevant language? After all, though the conceptualization ofthat epoch dissolved the social category of the poor in the civic universalism of the law, it was none the less true that only poor citizens benefited from the agrarian laws or emigrated to the new colonies. When a pagan established a fund for the education of citizens (of poor citizens, obviously), Roman lawyers did not know under what heading to classify this foundation: eventually, they decided to treat it as intended to honour the city, and thus as euergetic in character.
The explanation may seem attractive, since it is at the same time historical. The Greeks are explained by a value which is simultaneously Greek and human. Magnificence is presented as an anthropological disposition which is universal (the Greeks were euergetai because men in general are euergetai) and as a feature of character that conforms to the Hellenic national genius. Here we easily recognize the Greek genius - the Greeks were indeed like that. We can thus respect both the texts and the eternal human being.
Bread and circuses: historical sociology and political pluralism by Paul Veyne