DAN OF TDAXP CORNERS ZENPUNDITDan
, in the comments section, reiterated his question:"So what would have been the path to a "rule-set reset," from early Diocletian concentrated economic power and diffuse economic power to diffuse economic and political power?Or is this a case where the rule-sets could neither be developed internally nor imported?"
This looks like a job for....Donald Kagan
! Unfortunately, he's not available so I'm going to have do my best. Dan asks the best kind of questions - fundamental ones.
In fairness to Diocletian, of whom I'm somewhat critical, he did face truly immense problems and he can be credited with stabilizing the Empire enough to prevent a premature collapse into anarchy. There is also a weird parallel between Diocletian's attempt to create a normal system of succession and retire and Deng Xiaoping's attempt to do the same in Communist China. Ultimately, I think they are both great transitioners who realized that their systems failed and needed to change into to something else.
Diocletian was correct in realizing that the Augustan Principate system was unworkable in and unstable and his Tetrarchy attempted to minimize those defects by increasing the number of decision-making " hubs" with the Augustii and Cesarii. He also attempted to further stabilize the government by making his position an object of veneration by the increasingly barbarized populace by taking a despotic title - in a sense an import of an Eastern Rule-set. From this seed you get Byzantium's adoration of their Basileus and later, the Russians of their Tsar.
A better solution might have been to look to a mixed Constitution, like that of old Sparta, for inspiration to remake the Rule-set of the Empire. It had lasted over 700 years with only minor modifications from the original one devised by Lycurgus until Sparta fell under Macedonian and then later, Roman rule. This would have entailed constructing some true institutional checks on the imperial power and transforming it into a Constitutional monarchy. An equally important problem was restoring Rome's monetary system to health, something Diocletian attempted to bypass but if successful, would have greatly increased the chances for political reform to work as well.
Counterfactuals though, are argument unending. Polybius had a simpler answer for Roman decline, at some point a society begins to die.