11/22/2019

The Brothers Gracchi: Reformers, Not Revolutionaries

"Rather, those in the various modern movements that drew their inspiration from the Gracchi might not find themselves in agreement on much beyond common rhetoric about helping the poor. The most notable example of this is, perhaps, the man who took his pen name from the brothers Gracchus: Gracchus Babeuf. Babeuf, who has been dubbed a Revolutionary Communist before such a term existed (avant-la-lettre as Lenin would later put it), wrote in his Manifesto of Equals that there was nothing “more sublime and more just” than the “common good or the community of property” as he hoped to end the concept of “individual property in land: the land belongs to no one.”
It is unlikely that the Gracchi would agree with these statements or sentiments, for the Gracchi explicitly defended the right of individuals to own property, including the wealthy. Tiberius Gracchus, for instance, while arguing in favour of land redistribution in 133 BC, made clear that he would not confiscate all the land held by the aristocrats, stating that they had the right to “free ownership of five hundred jugera secure forever, and in case [they] have sons, of two hundred and fifty more for each of them.” This defense of the right of aristocratic land ownership, albeit constrained by the rule of law, would not necessarily have been at home amongst the Jacobins moved by his inspiration."