Paul Belonick: Restraint, Conflict, and the Fall of the Roman Republic

Strongly held values can stabilize a society. They can also splinter it. Paul Belonick explores the moral paradoxes of republican Rome and describes how aristocrats engaged in "performative politics," aggressively seeking self-advancement with a competitiveness that fueled the expansion of an empire. At the same time, Roman orators and authors emphasized the need for self-control, moderation and temperance. Scholars have long suggested that this moral obsession with self-control was merely a social marker of aristocratic status, but Belonick argues that the Roman focus on self-control was responsible for solidifying their peculiarly competitive, semi-formal government.

As conflicts arose in Rome over how to apply these cultural values to novel circumstances, competitors saw each other as desecrating republican principles and therefore as targets to be eradicated. Belonick presents a fresh perspective on the republic’s collapse, by illustrating both sides of this Roman paradox: how values of self-control legitimized the Romans' competition and supported their fluid social structure and political institutions—but then tore the Republic apart.

Join us, at a time when almost no one even mentions restraint, to rediscover how the values associated with restraint can both stabilize and de-stabilize political systems.


George Hammond


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Speaker photo courtesy the speaker; Rome photo by Lfo7YMVHYA8/Unsplash.

Image - Paul Belonick

Paul Belonick

Faculty Assistant Director, Center for Innovation, and Professor of Practice, UC Law San Francisco; Author, Restraint, Conflict, and the Fall of the Roman Republic

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates