Classical Cultures, in their prime, were Exemplary Societies
Americans, because of their inadequate education, are unaware of this. But on the Continent, where standards of education (for the upper classes in particular) are much higher, a study of the classics has always been important.
The Greeks and the Romans treated their own citizens very well. Slaves, women, and their conquered peoples, on the other hand, only existed to be exploited. The tradition of helping the conquered recover (such as after WWII) so they could be part of the global economy again, is a very new idea – and one we have not extended to the Vietnamese or the Iraqis.
For the Greeks and the Romans, the law provided for the protection of its citizens and allowed them to develop their talents and their wealth freely. In modern terms, it provided a level playing field. Public officials did their job well, and were respected. This is not to say that many did not enrich themselves instead – but this was anticipated, provisions were made to limit this, and to punish the guilty – often by banishment, which miscreants feared almost as much as death, because this meant separation from their family (very important at the time) and a loss of opportunities of every kind.
I owe this idea to Jacques Ellul in the first chapter of his book The Technological Society. He says, as others have, that these societies worked because they provided for the people involved – who were deeply involved in its operation. They bought into their society because it was made for them – because it was them.
Military force against citizens was not necessary because they supported it completely.
Compare this with Modern China. It tried Marxism, which failed completely. Then it decided to make its urban businessmen successful – and succeeded completely. It still has a big problem, however – what to do with the rest of the population? The answer so far has been military suppression – which never works very well. Will it look to its past, and learn from it? It has rejected much of Western economic theory, which was smart – but it is too soon to see if it can go from there.
What about America meanwhile – or the rest of the West, which has largely followed it? It cannot pretend to be a benevolent society, since it is only interested in making money – for a small part of the population. It has succeeded in turning its people into robots, so it cannot rely on them for any solutions.
After a brilliant start, America seems to be doing everything wrong. It would be interesting to be around a few hundred years from now to see how their historians describe the Rise and Fall of the American Empire.