Intriguing Parallel

One of the little games academics often like to play — when they aren’t hunkered down in their offices worrying about tenure and promotion — is to look for similarities between the Roman Empire and modern America. The game can be fascinating, even if a bit of a stretch at times. But let’s indulge ourselves and look at some of the obvious similarities because, as we know, the Roman Empire disappeared as surely as the language they spoke. And this must give us pause.

To begin with the Roman Empire started out as a Republic and degenerated into a dictatorship. Our nation started out as  Republic (designed after the Romans, as it happens) and has now degenerated into an oligarchy, if not a dictatorship by the 1% of those who control the wealth and political power in this country. The similarity resides in the fact that in both cases, those who came to rule are not elected by the people and do not even pretend to represent the people’s interest.

The Romans had their bread and circuses. We have television and our iPods. In both cases, those in power use the entertainment to divert attention of the masses away from real problems to a world of make-believe where good fights evil and good, as defined by the power-brokers, always prevails.

The Romans had their gladiators. We have the NFL which looks more like its prototype every day.

The Romans used violence to deal with troubles, as do we.

The Romans persecuted the Christians while the Christians in America today exhibit complete intolerance for those who disagree with them and in extreme cases also resort to persecution and even violence out of the conviction that they have the Truth — e.g., the bombing of abortion clinics and the attacks on personnel who work there. In both cases the common element is intolerance of other points of view.

The Romans had their public forums and Senate debates, while we have TV talk shows. In both cases there is much shouting and very little listening, a great deal of smoke and very little fire.

The Roman Empire eventually withered from within and was less and less able to resist the barbarian hordes who surrounded the Empire and eventually not only came within the walls, but gained political control as well. We have reared our own barbarians. They have grown in numbers and are increasingly in control of political power. They hide in their mansions and wear expensive suits, or they pierce and tattoo their bodies and buy the latest automatic weapon from Walmart. In either case they seek power and are as small-minded, stupid, and self-seeking as were the hordes the Romans were unable to hold off.

The Romans became increasingly illiterate as their empire crumbled and learning withdrew into the monasteries. America is becoming increasingly illiterate and its citizens are unable to use their minds to follow the shell game the wealthy play at every turn and which deprives them of their freedom right before their very noses. And the irony is that the people don’t know they are losing their freedom because if they have cable they have hundreds of TV channels to choose from and they are easily persuaded this is true freedom.

But there are major differences. We exploit the earth that is supposed to sustain us and we have pollution on a grand scale and nuclear weapons enough to destroy the world over. The Romans did not.


7 thoughts on “Intriguing Parallel

  1. Hugh, the parallels are scary. Plus, you have the Jefferson County school board who wants to teach a whitewashed history, a campaign funded by the oligarchy. The cynic in me would say the oligarchy wants to squelch any knowledge that many of our protests were from the masses against people like them.

    The environmental degradation is the scariest part to me, moreso than the nuclear bombs. We are far more inclined to have a barren world due to environmental exploitation than a nuclear holocaust. Or, as Bill Maher says, ISIS won’t kill us, Monsanto will.

    Great post, BTG

    • Since Hugh is more well read than me, he used the Roman Empire. I used the New York Yankees decline back in the 1960s as my analogy in “Stemming the decline in America Exceptionalism.” I was going to send this to our friends here in a few weeks.

  2. Such speculations offer good evidence of the circularity of human events, or of History, that repeats the fundamental evidence of principles underlying Civilization. Indeed, Rome is not so different in the Cycle of human psychology as for History as is America, France or Brittain, all told.

    Only America today offers the option of a forceful continuance of a failed trajectory the 01% have ever and always pursued: Total Domination and “information awareness,” such as their interests inspire. Corporations are the Model of the New Age, supplanting Democracy for a Rule under Mammon and a Technology that is absolutely inclusive of the privacy of Individualism, relegating such Concept to bathroom stalls at best, while demanding every other observation upon the doings of potential Hires.

    In this Brave New World, when you sign-on for Employment, your sign-away your every right to Privacy. It will be a Slavery, at the cost of every private moment. Mark my words.

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