[FOUNTAIN]A Litigious SocietyOne of the characteristics of ancient Rome was its well-developed laws, which in turn contributed to the substantial improvement of civil rights. However, as time went by, even trivial conflicts between neighbors turned into lawsuits, and lawyers' arguments in courtrooms took the course of corruption when people started employing measures that could never be considered fair. In the beginning, Roman emperors had full authority to make decisions, but later, defense counsels' pleadings were followed by the rulings of as many as 180 juries in civil lawsuits. Pleading skills that could command audiences and juries was a necessary requirement for first-class lawyers to win a case. Added to any trial were the spectators mobilized by plaintiffs and lawyers. These onlookers in the courtroom usually brought strong emotions and excitement to the proceedings.
Many historians such as Edward Gibbon have speculated on the causes of the demise of the Roman Empire, but the Japanese historian Masataka Kosaka looked at Rome's loss of competitiveness and social evils from legal perspectives in his book, "Thinking at the Turning Point of History."
Lawsuits are common in the United States. Various economic activities and every little thing in daily life are executed through lawsuits. Because the United States is a country built by heterogeneous groups of people, Americans chose the universality of law and ethical standards as principles to lead a complex society. However, when economic power weakens and social disorder occurs, members of a society never fail to bring even slight matters to court, which is a pathological phenomenon. In the late 1980s, Paul Kennedy expressed his concern over the decline of the United States in his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," and the book gave rise to a view whether the negative aspects of the later period of ancient Rome, with its rampant lawsuits, had reappeared in the United States.
These days, a word mentioned frequently is "sue." As more people demand transparency in the market economy, a number of executives of companies have become targets of lawsuits. Shareholders and investors no longer forgive mistakes made by executives. Reporters are on alert to guard against libel and misreporting.
Recently, however, excessive lawsuits between politicians do not seem to have any logic or a sense of shame. It is even difficult to predict where lawsuits and countersuits, and attacks and defenses by the ruling and the opposition parties will lead. It is worrisome that these could result in the pathological phenomenon of everyone filing a lawsuit on the slightest provocation.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Chul-joo