“At the height of its mastery, Rome was the pulsing heart of the earth. The day the empire fell the world learned even the most stalwart empires can fail if avarice replaces prudence.”
– Solon Greco
There is not a continent on this planet where one cannot unearth the fallen ruins and silent stories of forgotten great civilizations. Tales of their broken past lay buried deep within the earth under the canopy of the bustling industry, imposing skyscrapers and apartment duplexes of a modern world. These fallen empires that once stood mighty among the most prodigious and influential societies of their respective era, all met their eventual demise for various reasons. There is a salient consensus on one collective attribution for failure; delusive management of finances and excessive taxation.
“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”
The overarching criterion for determining the collapse of these governments lays in their inability to deliver political goods and services coerced by their citizens. When supply doesn’t meet demand, it is impossible to sustain security and preserve law to regulate and supply blood to the arteries of its legislative body. This strangles their ability to officiate, and severely limits their functional capacity. It eventually cuts off their oxygen and they self-suffocate. There’s no timeline for failure. Some self-implode, with a total collapse of all institutions. Others fall without a whimper. There are no violent revolutions, or catastrophic natural disasters. Instead, they quietly fall victim to collapse unable to manage the central population. This is a consequence of man.
“In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed defeats disorganized democracy.”
– Matt Taibbi
The Roman Empire reached its zenith in the 2nd century. At that time, there was unprecedented stability and prosperity. This powerful kingdom was an example of good stewardship. The Empire was ruled with authority and obedient restraint. Rome was a pillar of strength no man challenged. As their economy blossomed they became the world leader in the arts, education, and commerce. Their institutions and culture had a lasting influence on language, religion, architecture, and law. The value this brought to expansionism throughout the modern world was more significant than anyone will ever fathom.
“Rome was great in arms, in government, and in law.”
– Goldwin Smith
But the decline of Rome became inevitable due to its immoderate and unmanageable greatness. Once all foe had been conquered, prosperity ended. Its aftermath was moral decay. Rudimentary principles of governing the lives of citizens became irrelevant. Incompetent leaders led to political necrosis, corruption and instability. The Senate and the Emperors were sullied with power, and thought themselves as cardinal gods. Inordinate spending led to economic decline, skyrocketing debt, oppressive taxation, inflation, and a devalued currency. Class warfare and cuts in the military further burdened the republic. Increasing dependence on municipal gratuities stifled incentive in favor of support from the treasury.
“Rome was great as long as she had enemies who forced her to a vision of unity and heroism. When she had overcome them, she then began to die.”
– Webb Dante
Rome’s fall from grace as the epitome of world powers was less unpredictable than the weather in Tennessee. Who would ever think the mightiest of all mighty empires in the history of man would stumble into oblivious demise, without taking up arms to maintain its dignity? Although their future was clearly written on the Coliseum walls, they refused to remove the blinders that sheltered them from indulgent sins of omission. The magistrates frolicked in fruition, while intellectual mediocrity, over-population of the urban areas, disease ridden streets, prostitution, homosexuality, alcohol and drug abuse all led to social and legal putrefaction. This ultimately caused Rome’s collapse. This is what ended Classical Antiquity along with the fall of the great Roman Empire.
“Today, Rome has not seen a modern building in more than half a century. It is a city frozen in time.”
– Richard Meier
The history of this once great republic was omnipresent in the minds of America’s founders as they created our republic centuries later. As a consequence of their deliberations and obvious reliance on divine providence, our founders shaped the United States, fashioned as the modern equivalent of the Roman Republic. And the similarities are illusory and uncanny. The Roman Republic was established in 509 BC by the overthrow of Roman King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and expulsion of the Etruscan theocrats by the Latin Italic tribes from the south. And America is a prime example that history repeats itself. The Republic of the United States was birthed in a bloody revolution against the British King George over 2,000 years later.
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?”
– George Bernard Shaw
Despite the efforts of our founders to set a different course than that experienced by our Roman predecessors, an analysis of these two great republics is inevitable. There are stark congruencies between them. Both societies were the pre-eminent entities in military might and economic power. They were leaders in culture, commerce, technology and ideas. Today, the world turns to America for guidance and leadership. In the heyday of the empire, Publius Cornelius Tacitus claimed even “things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” Thus today, as Romans claimed “all roads lead to Rome,” America projects the same image: All roads lead to the U.S.
“America, just as Rome envisioned, considers the U.S. unequaled in national character and strength.”
– Tibius Culens
Roman politicians had difficulty disjoining public and private liabilities. As a consequence, public services declined while pet projects of the public officials and their patrician sponsors grew at the expense of their citizens. Multitudinous failed reforms were resisted by the patricians that parrot the partisan battles in America today. Middle class Romans were cowed by slave labor much as rising technological change and the transfer of entry level jobs overseas threaten our middle class. The inability of the opposing political parties of the Republic, the Optimates and Populares focused on political gain rather than tasking the people’s work. America too faces a political system transfixed in political party idealism; too shamelessly egomaniacal to govern.
“To run an effective political party you need a degree of tribalism, it’s the glue that holds everyone together.”
– Charles Kennedy
Roman Senator Tacitus said, “Great empires are not maintained by timidity.” The Roman Republic survived 500 years and the American Republic has weathered around 250 years. America lingers on facing major challenges that could negatively affect its future. We lack the ability to satisfy the economic demands of too many at the expense of a few. Our social divisions over priorities and growing unrest caused by a negative political environment heighten the likelihood we could parallel the final stages of Rome. Let’s hope we heed this atrophy before we garner the fate of Rome. The power to do this lies in our hands, not in the politicians. A republican government belongs to we the people, not politicians. We can only hope we have the courage to stop history from repeating itself.
Thomas Sowell said, “Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.” If we lose sight of culpable governing, future civilizations will be walking on our memories.
“Our Republic has chartered a path similar to Rome. If we don’t change course, America will end, as a replay of Rome.”
– Tiberius King