america the brave: toga party on the potomac?

Is America a country on the precipice before the fall? Is America in decline and a decadent society and how anxious should that make us? There is no better example of framing an answer than to begin by comprehending the fall of Rome, the oft-cited parallel to our own day and age. …

Thomas Couture. 1847. "Thomas Couture quoted the second-century Roman poet Juvenal in the catalogue for the 1847 Salon where the painting Romans of the Decadence was first exhibited: "Crueller than war, vice fell upon Rome and avenged the conquered world." Thanks to cheap engraved reproductions, this lurid view of Rome was extremely well known to Americans by the late nineteenth century. It became the image of the late Roman Empire, the moment of abandonment and peacock tongues, one observed critically by two philosophers (possibly foreign visitors to Rome) in the foreground and right. Romans of the Decadence imagined the Roman orgy, taking place in the great halls amid the statues of virtuous republican or Augustan ancestors, false in every way, but with immense popular appeal. Widely reproduced, Romans of the Decadence became the mother of all toga parties. In the nineteenth century artists often used classical themes to make comment about current events, and history painting often invoked the theme of liberty. Apart from illustrating an ancient text, Couture was alluding to French society of his time. A Republican, Couture opposed restoration of the monarchy. " read more:

The trouble with the popular notion of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is that, at bottom, it may have very little basis or relevance. The facts are often distorted. Centuries are compressed into decades; the eras are transposed- profligacy being assumed to flourish at the end, while stoic virtues are believed to characterize the years in power. The reverse is true. As the celebrated “gravitas” – weightiness, seriousness- of the republican character deteriorated, the empire increased in size. Such are the effects of fun and games with the Hollywood warping of the imagination. Profligate Rome endured and endured, and the easy moralizer will find little of the fibre and fire of the sermon in the story. Why Rome fell in the end is something else again.

“The policy of exploiting the provinces, in turn, was an expression of the Romans’ conviction that they were entitled to live at the
expense of their empire. This conviction is remarkably similar to that of Western farmers, who think that in exchange for their votes they have a right to be subsidized by the taxpayers….It might be too much to hope that free trade could take the bitterness out of Islamic fundamentalism. Fanatics with a grudge against the world and a propensity for showy violence may be simply a fact of modern life. There is nothing new about organized terror: it goes back at least to some strains of anarchism, to the Western Federation of Miners, and to the Industrial Workers of the World. On the other hand, these were all responses to economic pressures
associated with the rise of international protectionism late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century. However that may be, it is certain that Islam’s unhappiness with modernity is not entirely unrelated to policies giving expression to Western farmers’
conviction that they should not have to meet the challenge of international competition. Read More: a

Nero's Torches. 1876. Henryk Siemiradzki. "The time of their death was now upon them. The torches of the confectores touched their pitch-soaked clothes, and the flames sprang to them, as if escaping imprisonment. Wrapped in cloaks of fire, the condemned began to scream as the burning pitch closed upon their flesh. Four columns of black smoke rose into the air above the arena. In revolting agony the bodies of the condemned writhed; in excitement and hilarity writhed those of the spectators. Skulls split with the heat, revealing the grey pulp within; stomachs burst, disgorging boiling entrails. The awful stench of roasting flesh filled the arena. Presently, the screams ceased, and the only sound that could be heard, other than the shouts of the crowd, was the crackle of the ravenous flames. - Alan Baker, .The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves" Read More:

Is this our Sputnik moment? Despite the majestic ruins or Roman roads, amphitheaters and aqueducts that brooded over the landscape of a vanquished empire, Roman science was very rudimentary. Rome added little to the inventory of inventions in the classical world. Their imperialism destroyed all the smaller economic states that had previously flourished and the Roman transportation system, despite military roads, was not up to the task of hauling goods from one end of the empire to another. The relied on slave labor and did not apply the technology that was available such as the steam engine. Rome’s wealth was based on conquest and it was left to extract a meager wealth from an unproductive populace once external conquest ended….

( On Victor Davis Hanson) :He’s certainly grown fatigued with the irrepressibly hubristic outlook of those he says are detached from the demands of reality — chief among them, Barack Obama. Americans have become too enchanted with what he calls a “therapeutic” culture: staying young, enjoying life, living well, treating themselves. It’s why the whole place is up to its eyeballs in debt. It’s also why, in 2011, the world may be about to get a lot more violent.

“This First Family is pretty indicative of that therapeutic world view,” Mr. Hanson says. “The Costa del Sol vacation in the middle of a recession; saying how tired they are as they head off to Martha’s vineyard; or heading to Hawaii for his next vacation,” he says. “That he happens to be African American and left-wing doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s yuppie to the core.” – Kevin Libin Read More: a

Jean Leon Gerome. Pollice Verso. 1872. Colosseum •The greatest amphitheatre of the antiquity. •Is considered an architectural and engineering wonder, and remains as a standing proof of both the grandeur and the cruelty of the Roman world. read more:

…Too often, farms lay unworked, eventually purchased by a parvenu capitalist type of individual who often were opportunistic ex-slaves, the cream of the peasant society. They were mostly vulgar and base, men who in Rome’s aristocratic higher classes, just as in an industrializing England, were left to the dirty work of production and trade that the upper classes abhorred. Unable to compete with the slave estates of Sicily and Egypt, the less gifted native peasantry headed to the urban slums, there to love on social assistance. There, denied opportunity of  decent employment by the competition of plentiful slave labor, and brutalized by the spectacle of the bloody circuses.

“He believes the President and his ilk think that if Obama meets with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez or Vladimir Putin, “they’re going to be charmed, they’re going to be impressed, they’re going to see the logic of his enlightened mind, and his way of thinking–that wars don’t start the way the Greeks said they did, because of honour, or pride or fear.”

he world, they think, needs some therapy, then Obama is the perfect counsellor-in-chief.

The President, after all, would appear to have put America into some kind of rehab, traveling the globe making amends, as if in a 12-step program: Apologizing for colonialism, regretting Hiroshima, bowing to emperors, apologizing for America’s treatment of natives, and of Muslims — even if the United States has probably fought to defend Muslim lives more than any modern country. To America’s enlightened class, it feels wonderful. To the rest of the world, Mr. Hanson believes, it signals impotence. After all, before being elected, Obama had rarely encountered an antagonist who he could not persuade with his suave rhetoric. But then, he likely rarely encountered a world leader with a pre-modern worldview. Read More:

A few years before Tocqueville visited America, John Quincy Adams’s Department of State announced this policy: “The American
Republic invites nobody to come. We will keep out nobody. Arrivals will suffer no disadvantages as aliens. But they can expect no
advantages either. What happens to them depends entirely on their individual ability and exertions, and on good fortune.” The citizens of early nineteenth-century America seem to have understood they had no right to anything except the results of their own efforts. Over the course of the twentieth century, that understanding disappeared. The citizens of the United States learned to think of themselves as entitled to whatever their votes could buy. Herbert Hoover was elected president because he promised “a chicken in every pot” and was replaced when the said fowl failed to materialize. Read More:

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