Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rome Remembered

In his contemporary history of the Roman Empire, "The Histories," Cornelius Tacitus wrote regarding the tumultuous three-decades framed by the deaths of Nero and Domitian (68 A.D. to 96 A.D.), that, "Rank, wealth, and office, whether surrendered or retained, provided grounds for accusation, and the reward for virtue was inevitable death."

The rise and fall of the Roman Empire is instructive. There are lessons for these re-United States in the study of that great power's ascent from the founding of its namesake city on the banks of the Tiber to the pinnacle of world superpowerdom, and its decay and deterioration into fractious city states that eventually coalesced into the dysfunctionally-governed laughing-stock that is Italy today. If one is attuned at all to patterns and parallels, our great nation's ascent from local obscurity to global omnipotence can easily be graphed alongside that of Rome's. That understanding of patterns and parallels can also allow one to predict, with some certainty, the path of political discourse and maneuvering for power that our nation, now at it's apex of power, will devolve to over the next few generations.

By the time of Christ, Rome's core citizenry had become fickle wards of the state, fruit ripe for the picking by scheming politicians looking to bake a pie of personal gain and glory. In one year's time alone (69 A.D.), Romans wrought by their own hands the imperial instability of four different leaders, each brought to power by the popularly induced suicide or assassination of the previous. Generals calculated that if Julius could march an army on Rome and become Caesar, so could they rally (bribe) enough legions to ride to titular triumph and penultimate power. Senators, having no standing Legion at their disposal at Rome, used the people of Rome itself as their army, spearheaded by constabulary commanders grown fat and greedy on the rewards of switched loyalties, and connived to be carried to power by the people.

At its peak, the Roman Republic sat atop a world of its own making that stretched from the British Isles in the West to the Persian frontier in the East, and from the Baltic in the North to the reaches of the upper Nile on the African continent to the South. Rome had legions (or parts thereof) garrisoned throughout its reach. As the generals and politicians began to seize power for their own ends and not the state's interests, the reach of Rome shrank dramatically. Legions collapsed on Italy, either recalled or in rebellion, and were followed home by "barbarians" eager to take advantage of Rome's perceived weakness. The cause was political greed.

You are, I'm sure, eager to scoff that no such calamitous collapse could occur to the great and powerful United States. Surely our revered Constitution, and its inviolable Bill of Rights will protect us individually and collectively from tyrannical treachery. "We've been a democratic republic for over two centuries!", you exclaim. Rome was a republic for five centuries with a constitutional tradition no less powerful than our own, and collapsed precipitously in not much more than two generations.

What Tacitus wrote 19 centuries ago regarding the death throes of his great nation, could just as easily been written today about the political state of our own.
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