Ancient Rome as an Example of the Development of a Society Based on Ethical Culture

Sri Aurobindo observes that the principle of ethical culture and the principle of aesthetic culture represent different phases or poles of human experience and that specific societies take on the character of the predominant principle.  He has cited ancient Rome as a reasonably clear example of a culture founded on the ethical principle with little admixture of the aesthetic principle:

“From the point of view of human development it presents itself as an almost unique experiment in high and strong character-building divorced as far as may be from the sweetness which the sense of beauty and the light which the play of the reason brings into character and uninspired by the religious temperament; for the early Roman creed was a superstition, a superficial religiosity and had nothing in it of the true religious spirit.  Rome was the human will oppressing and disciplining the emotional and sensational mind in order to arrive at this self-mastery which enabled the Roman republic to arrive also at the mastery of its environing world and impose on the nations its public order and law.  All supremely successful imperial nations have had in their culture or in their nature, in their formative or expansive periods, this predominance of the will, the character, the impulse to self-discipline and self-mastery which constitutes the very basis of the ethical tendency.  Rome and Sparta like other ethical civilisations had their considerable moral deficiencies, tolerated or deliberately encouraged customs and practices which we should call immoral, failed to develop the gentler and more delicate side of moral character, but this is of no essential importance.  The ethical idea in man changes and enlarges its scope, but the kernel of the true ethical being remains always the same, — will, character, self-discipline, self-mastery.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 10, Aesthetic and Ethical Culture, pp. 97-98