…The slaves, with their outlandish customs and religions; the orgiastic cults of Isis, Cybele , and the Syrian Demeter- in turn adulterated the political consensus of the republic’s most vigorous days, introducing the notion of an Oriental despotism, of the ruler as God manifests on earth. Although Rome’s fall cannot be uniquely attributed to Barbarism and Christianity, the Christians, nonetheless, with their other-worldly vision, must bear some of the responsibility for gradually leaking the strength of an older stoic commitment to state service.
So, too, did the legions destroy the old political standards when the professional army stationed in Rome began to play at kingmaking. And when they learned that not only could the Praetorian Guard make emperors, but that legions outside Rome could do so too, the result was a recurring series that in effect were small scale civil wars. In the years following Marcus Aurelius, there was not an emperor whose reign was not cut short by palace intrigue or a revolt of the military that cost him his life. In some respects, America seems determined to test these waters through “constitutional” rights of disobedience and even potential violence in a factionalized electorate is no longer a remote possibility.
That century of turmoil was capped when Diocletian ( ruled 284-305) destroyed most of the residual liberties of the Roman people under the conformity of a proto-totalitarian state. This endured for ten centuries though the economy decayed, taxes were unsupportable, the civil service grew, and productivity shrank. Classical civilization was dead.
It does not appear that America is Rome: neither as vicious or as great. Perhaps. Since economic decay underlay much of Rome’s ruin, it should be noted that America remains productive and innovative, even if we grant that the overseas commitments are not sustainable. We are not at the end of America’s story and of the larger Western world, though its brilliant future may be behind it. The decline may well be behind us, and advanced at that. But it is a crisis that transcends America made up of a broader conviction, a bitterness that the situation is radically wrong.
Indeed what underlies the contemporary sense of unease , the striving for forced, and false, parallels with the Rome of the winter years, is just this sense of deja vu; somehow this has all happened before and will happen again. Thus the search for the pattern of history in our time. A regard for signs of the process of social decline that would continue until internal collapse or conquest by a better people would begin a new cycle that would sweep away the complacency, easy humanity and addiction to self-indulgence.
Victor Hansen Davis: “If you invade the Falklands if you’re Argentina, a modern will say, ‘Well, there has to be gold or oil there.’ If you ask a Greek, they’ll say they did it because they wanted to. They thought it would increase their pride. Putin goes into Georgia because he decides he wants to. China wants to take Taiwan not because they need the people — they don’t need it — it’s symbolic, it’s their psyche.” This is a way of thinking that eludes the “Western, bourgeoisie liberal,” he believes.
“People like Ahmadinejad, or Kim Jong-Il, and those people, they don’t really care whether it’s logical to be aggressive, or they don’t really care whether we’re nice to them, or that Obama sent them a video.”… “In ’77 and ’78, the guy ( Jimmy Carter) went around the world and said human rights are going to predicate all American decisions; we have no inordinate fear of Communism; we don’t want to get into this fallacy of alliances and bilateral this and that,” Mr. Hanson recalls. “Then in ’79, lo and behold, China invades Vietnam, Russia invades Afghanistan, Communists in Central America, hostage-taking in Tehran, radical Islam, and — bang! — the whole utopian dream exploded.” Read More: http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/couch/3962199/story.html a
Are we dying? Something is there. Technological expertise does not seem a good index of society’s growth or inner health. Technology tends to be cumulative and appears to have gone on growing throughout history independent of the rise and fall of great civilizations.
Victor Hansen Davis: “Now, as in ’79, I think people — whether it’s North Korea or Russia or China or Iran — I think they’re seeing this and they’re just looking at each other and they’re saying, ‘Who’s going to go first?'” Because you can really do some things now.” …”We’re not sure he doesn’t feel that we don’t need to have a bomb [in Iran]; I hear a lot of people in the administration talk about containing Iran, not stopping them,” “The whole world order is sort of predicated on this strong, vibrant United States being engaged, and most people in the world, in Europe, understood that — and they understand sometimes we got a little out of hand, but basically the United States is a force for good far better than the alternative.” …”You have to be resigned to the fact that at some point, what makes Iran not shoot a missile at Israel, or North Korea cross the 38th parallel, is their fear of repercussions,” …. Read More: http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/couch/3962199/story.html
There are almost as many causes cited for Rome’s collapse as there are historians. But the general sense is that the empire became too fat, flabby and unwieldy. As Gibbon put it, “prosperity ripened the principle of decay.” Rome’s decline came to be viewed with an air of tragic inevitability fraught with resonance.
The most salient comparison between modern America and classical Rome, as Murphy notes, is that both have been blessed, and afflicted, with a sense of exceptionalism. In America this begins with John Winthrop exhorting his Puritan flock, who were about to settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill.” Since then various presidents have described the United States in words that echo Cicero’s description of the Romans and their shining city upon seven hills: “Spaniards had the advantage over them in point of numbers, Gauls in physical strength, Carthaginians in sharpness, Greeks in culture, native Latins and Italians in shrewd common sense; yet Rome had conquered them all and acquired her vast empire because in piety, religion and appreciation of the omnipotence of the gods she was without equal.”
In Rome, the virtues of a republic were originally sustained by selfless leaders and warriors like Cincinnatus, who took up a sword to save the city but, when the battles were won, put it aside to take up a plow again. In both the reality and the lore of America’s founding, George Washington played that role. But Rome eventually became dominated by fixers, flatterers and bureaucrats who clung to power. Murphy, the editor at large at Vanity Fair, offers up comparisons with the city of Washington today that are provocative, if at times a bit stretched. He pokes at putative panegyrists like Midge Decter on Donald Rumsfeld, and he compares the Roman undercover operatives, the curiosi, to the eavesdropping programs of the National Security Agency. Read More: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/arts/09iht-IDSIDE12.1.5638194.html