Courtesy Reuters

Our Heritage from the Law of Rome

WE in England and America have inherited a longstanding tradition, and we keep repeating it without criticism, that Roman Law on its political side is the synonym of absolutism. It is time that we began to examine that tradition. When we find Nazi Germany repudiating Roman Law because it stands in the way of a program for the slavery of the world under the heel of its "Aryan" masters, we must ask why the most despotic, repulsive and oppressive system ever proposed for mankind includes among its first principles this repudiation of Roman Law.

It is not because the Nazi leaders have not seen the problem. They have seen it far more clearly than we have, and they have come to the settled conclusion that their yoke can never be imposed on the world until the universalism, the rationalism, the individualism of Roman Law are replaced by the tribal myth of Aryanism. They are forced to repudiate the catholicity of all previous European culture for a narrow tribalism which alone can justify their domination of the world. The Nazis reject Roman Law, an important element in that culture, because it is essentially universal; and because, like all universal systems, it is individualistic. To be more specific, they reject it because it recognizes what we used to call "the rights of man," and because Nazism can advance in no other way than by trampling on all those rights. If Roman Law is the despotic system we have usually assumed it to be, why should the Nazis not use it instead of rejecting it? Why should they be forced to omit it entirely as they do from their "new order" for the world? One cannot vindicate the intelligence of the Nazi leaders without questioning their sincerity. Men who could see so clearly the political implications of Roman Law for their theories of Aryan superiority could hardly be oblivious of the absurdity of the latter theory or of its completely unhistorical character. If we

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