Taxing Wealth in the Just City:
and the Roman Census
Prof. Andrew Monson, New York University
in Dialogue with
Prof. Phillip Mitsis, New York University
November 10, 2022
Starts in New York 12.00 p.m. / Oxford 5.00 p.m. / Budapest 6.00 p.m. / Athens 7.00 p.m.
In 43 BC the Roman senate decided to levy tributum, a direct tax on citizens’ property in Italy, for the first time since its suspension in 167 BC. Roman citizens were once again confronted with the question of fiscal fairness: who should bear the greatest tax burden on behalf of the republic? Cicero recognized the urgency in 43 BC and was disappointed when his wealthy peers did not contribute their fair share. In general, however, he considered property rights to be natural or pre-fiscal, so the state’s purpose was to protect them. Cicero’s normative political theory was, in this respect, less consistent with what I call an autonomous fiscal state than his Stoic models. He and his peers in Rome’s oligarchy celebrated King Servius Tullius for entrenching property rights into the constitution by means of the census. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, on the other hand, records a more democratic Roman tradition about the Servian census, which furnishes key evidence for reconstructing the tax-system before 167 BC and for a compensatory justification of taxation by an autonomous fiscal state that Cicero would have rejected.