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Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World – Review by Kenneth Ellman

A Beautiful Portrayal of the connection in Law and Liberty of Rome and the United States.

Empires of Trust by Thomas F. Madden is one of those well written and expressed books which you can read for hours, over and over again, with ease. The words, ideas and stories flow with a continuity and connection like a well versed story teller who can captivate you with both his skill and his thoughts. There is a pleasure in reading books such as this where words of history both ancient and recent splash together on a canvas of an idea. That idea expressed in this book is that a true historical and intellectual relationship of values and legal system may exist between the United States and Ancient Rome. I have owned and read this book since it was published and I agree. The title Empires of Trust is most aptly chosen as both the theory and reality of the book.

The idea that Rome at various periods of history had a government and legal system which confronted the problems of its day in a manner we here in the United States can understand and are comfortable with, is not so surprising. After all as pointed out in the book on pages 28 and 29 there is a dramatic reminder of our intellectual and legal connection with those Roman men. The Roman Fasces, that symbol of Roman law is on the wall of the United States House of Representatives and a photograph is attached by Thomas Madden on page 28 as a stark reminder. The Fasces were first symbolically used by the Roman King and as the Roman people overthrew their king (as did the people of the United States) such symbols of law and political status were born by the new free representatives of the Roman people. Our courageous ancestors who wrote, created and accepted the United States Constitution knew very well their Greek and Roman history as part and parcel of their English roots. Such knowledge served them deeply. They built a legal system in the United States with full exposure to the successes and failures of Roman and other nation states. The lessons of history were not lost on those who created the United States.

To the Romans, to their civilization, Law defined them as much as their liberty to be free of a King. Roman Law held sway over both the conduct of internal and foreign affairs for this people who were building a nation state over much of the world. Roman law books, such as Gaius Institutes and much more, are available for reading today and our law in the United States is filled with their Latin. When the Power of Rome was used it was used as an arm of the Law. The historical showings in Empires of Trust that Rome used its military power to enforce Roman Law and Freedom over many of its defeated foes and not as a Dictator, echos much of the actions of the United States. There is no question that the military and moral forces of the United States protected and protect the liberty of much of the world today as did the Roman military presence in its day and time. Yes there are failings but the fact is that liberty and freedom were a shared value between Rome and the United States. This was not the case for many other civilizations. On Page 130 Thomas Madden reminds us of the extraordinary act of Law and Liberty of the Romans in freeing the Greek nations. He quotes the recounting by the historian Livy of the reaction of the Greeks to being freed by the Romans: “There is but one nation which at its own cost, through its own exertions and at its own risk has gone to war on behalf of the liberty of others”. This very much also sounds like the United States.

We of course know that Americans are not Romans. Rome itself changed much during its very long existence, as brute military seizures of power, political corruption and human debasement took their toll. But as Thomas Madden so clearly shows there is a continual striving for a self definition of Law to govern people and this striving ties us to Rome as it does to human political history in general. The desires of men to brutally rule and abuse each other tramples human decency throughout ancient and current history. But it surely stands as an anomaly and a connection that two of the greatest political and legal powers ever created by man, that of the United States and Rome shared a desire and policy to have law rule men and to have liberty as a value over dictators.
The greatness of the United States and of Rome was built on trust, the trust of its law and trust of its word. This book by Madden is a wonderful treatise and should be in the office of every member of Congress and officials of our Executive Branch. It should be required reading in every High School. Kenneth Ellman,, Box 18, Newton, New Jersey 07860