Drinking with friends and the Diocletian Test
Do you have a totalitarian impulse?
Ask yourself: “Do I think the government’s goals or aims should take priority over human nature?” Put another way: “Do I think the government’s noble end justifies a bad means?”
The Diocletian Test
In the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Diocletian faced a serious problem: lack of food. One of the reasons: farmers were abandoning agriculture and moving to the cities. The farmers were abandoning the farms because economic prospects in the city were far better and, in many cases, farming couldn’t sustain them and their families.
Diocletian’s solution? Serfdom. Require the farmers, and their kids, and their kids’ kids, and their kids’ kids’ kids, and so on for a millennium to stay on that specific parcel of land and farm it. If you abandon the farm for something better, you die.
The government had a goal (better food production) so it overrode a natural human trait (seeking economic improvement).
Diocletian’s solution, combined with a lot of other reforms, worked, incidentally. It saved the Empire at a time when contemporaries thought the whole thing was falling apart.
Do you applaud Diocletian’s establishment of the institution of serfdom (which, most people agree, was merely a better form of slavery, but still slavery)?
If so, then you can probably assume you have the totalitarian impulse. You, in other words, flunk the “Diocletian Test.”