THE LAW
OF
NATIONS
As Rome began to control other cities early in its history and incorporate foreigners, such as other Latins and Etruscans, into their regional hegemony, they developed a set of laws to apply to these newly subjugated people. Since they were not Roman citizens, Roman laws could not exactly apply to them. In their singular penchant for improvisation, the Romans developed a separate set of laws in the early fifth century to deal with crimes and civil complaints involving foreigners or the relation of foreigners to Romans. They called these new and separate laws, the Law of Nations.

As Rome gradually and undeliberately expanded its geographical boundaries, it was faced with a legitimation crisis, in both political and historical terms, to explain its rising dominion over the world. For this explanation, the Romans turned to Stoicism, which originated in Hellenistic Greece. The centerpiece of Stoic philosophy was the concept of the logos. The universe is ordered by God and this order is the logos , which means "rational order" or "meaning" of the universe. Logos is a linguistic term; it refers particularly to the meanings of words in the context of a larger sentence. For the Stoic, the meaning (logos ) of each individual life, action, and situation is determined by its place in a larger whole, which is, of course, the whole course of history. In this view, history becomes a kind of speech by God. This speech by God in the form of history is progressive, teleological, and meaningful (but only when it's complete, for a sentence has no meaning until it's completed). Each and every event, physical and historical, has a place within this larger rational order or meaning. Since the order is rational and meaningful, that means nothing happens which is not part of some larger reason or good . For the Roman, this larger good came to mean the spread of Roman dominion across the face of the civilized and later uncivilized world; the purpose or meaning of this dominion was to spread the rule of law across the globe. This law was the Law of Nations, which took on a grander character than it originally had in the fifth century B.C. The Law of Nations, as far as the Roman was concerned, was the uniform rule of law that God intended the human world to live under and the reason why Rome had been allowed, without ever intending to do so, to conquer the world.

This concept of the purpose of the Roman Empire in the spread of the Law of Nations would be adapted by the early Christians to explain the purpose of the Roman Empire and its conversion to Christianity. For the early and medieval Christians, God directed the accrual of power to Rome so that Christianity, when it occurred, would have a world united under one power so that the religion could more effectively spread. In this, the Christians simply borrowed the Roman concept of the Law of Nations and substituted for this concept the Christian religion itself. This theory of power—that secular power and empire was God's means of spreading Christianity—was the central political theory of power and its practice until the modern age, and is reproduced in the ideology of democratic states and in colonialism. Modern democratic states justify hegemony on the grounds that this hegemony serves the purpose of spreading democracy; colonialism legitimated the appropriation of land, resources, and cultures under the auspices of spreading civilization to uncivilized countries. All of these concepts derive ultimately from the Roman Law of Nations.

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