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The Glue Holding America Together (We are like Rome Circa A.D. 200)
National Review ^ | 06/27/2013 | Victor Davis Hanson

Posted on 06/27/2013 8:21:51 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

By A.D. 200, the Roman Republic was a distant memory. Few citizens of the global Roman Empire even knew of their illustrious ancestors like Scipio or Cicero. Millions no longer spoke Latin. Italian emperors were a rarity. There were no national elections.

Yet Rome endured as a global power for three more centuries. What held it together?

A stubborn common popular culture and the prosperity of Mediterranean-wide standardization kept things going. The Egyptian, the Numidian, the Iberian, and the Greek assumed that everything from Roman clay lamps and glass to good roads and plentiful grain was available to millions throughout the Mediterranean world.

As long as the sea was free of pirates, thieves were cleared from the roads, and merchants were allowed to profit, few cared whether the lawless Caracalla or the unhinged Elagabalus was emperor in distant Rome.

Something likewise both depressing and encouraging is happening to the United States. Few Americans seem to worry that our present leaders have lied to or misled Congress and the American people without consequences.

Most young people cannot distinguish the First Amendment from the Fourth Amendment — and do not worry about the fact that they cannot. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln are mere names of grammar schools, otherwise unidentifiable to most.

Separatism is believed to bring dividends. Here in California, universities conduct separate graduation ceremonies predicated on race — sometimes difficult given the increasingly mixed ancestry of Americans.

As in Rome, there is a vast disconnect between the elites and the people. Almost half of Americans receive some sort of public assistance, and almost half pay no federal income tax. About one-seventh of Americans are on food stamps.

Yet housing prices in elite enclaves — Manhattan, Cambridge, Santa Monica, Palo Alto — are soaring. The wealthy like to cocoon themselves in Roman-like villas, safe from the real-life ramifications of their own utopian ideology.

The government and the media do their best to spread the ideals of radical egalitarianism while avoiding offense to anyone. There is no official War on Terror or against radical Islamism. Instead, in “overseas contingency operations,” we fight “man-caused disasters,” while at home, we deal with “workplace violence.”

In news stories that involve crimes with divisive racial themes, the media frequently paper over information about the perpetrators. But that noble restraint only seems to incite readers. In reckless fashion they often post the most inflammatory online comments about such liberal censorship. Officially, America celebrates diversity; privately, America is fragmenting into racial, political, and ideological camps.

So why is the United States not experiencing something like the rioting in Turkey or Brazil, or the murder of thousands in Mexico? How are we able to avoid the bloody chaos of Syria, the harsh dictatorships of Russia and China, the implosion of Egypt, or the economic hopelessness now endemic in southern Europe?

About half of America and many of its institutions operate as they always have. Caltech and MIT are still serious. Neither interjects race, class, and gender studies into its engineering or physics curricula. Most in the IRS, unlike some of their bosses, are not corrupt. For the well driller, the power-plant operator, and the wheat farmer, the lies in Washington are still mostly an abstraction.

Get up at 5:30 a.m. and you’ll see that your local freeways are jammed with hard-working commuters. They go to work every day, support their families, pay their taxes, and avoid arrest — so that millions of others do not have to do the same. The U.S. military still more closely resembles our heroes from World War II than it resembles the culture of the Kardashians.

Like diverse citizens of imperial Rome, we are united in some fashion by shared popular tastes and mass consumerism. The cell phones and cars of the poor offer more computing power and better transportation than the rich enjoyed just 20 years ago.

Youth of all races and backgrounds in lockstep fiddle with their cell phones as they walk about. Jeans are an unspoken American uniform — both for Wall Street grandees and for the homeless on the sidewalks. Left, right, liberal, conservative, professor, and ditch digger have similar-looking Facebook accounts.

If Rome quieted the people with public spectacles and cheap grain from the provinces, so too Americans of all classes keep glued to favorite video games and reality-TV shows. Fast food is both cheap and tasty. All that for now is preferable to rioting and revolt.

Like Rome, America apparently can coast for a long time on the fumes of its wonderful political heritage and economic dynamism — even if both are little understood or appreciated by most who still benefit from them.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Stanford University Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, is just out from Bloomsbury Press.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: ancientrome; democracy; romanempire; rome; vdh
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1 posted on 06/27/2013 8:21:51 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

For now, but the question is not if but when?


2 posted on 06/27/2013 8:25:06 AM PDT by Biggirl ("Jesus talked to us as individuals"-Jim Vicevich/Thanks JimV!)
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To: SeekAndFind

“If Rome quieted the people with public spectacles and cheap grain from the provinces, so too Americans of all classes keep glued to favorite video games and reality-TV shows. Fast food is both cheap and tasty. All that for now is preferable to rioting and revolt.”

These are available in Brazil yet 2 million are rioting there - not to mention other parts of the world where rioting is on-going.


3 posted on 06/27/2013 8:31:41 AM PDT by edcoil (When given a choice, take both.)
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To: SeekAndFind

“If Rome quieted the people with public spectacles and cheap grain from the provinces, so too Americans of all classes keep glued to favorite video games and reality-TV shows. Fast food is both cheap and tasty. All that for now is preferable to rioting and revolt.”

These are available in Brazil yet 2 million are rioting there - not to mention other parts of the world where rioting is on-going.


4 posted on 06/27/2013 8:32:12 AM PDT by edcoil (When given a choice, take both.)
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To: SeekAndFind

Then and now the allure of the low life has destroyed the reasonable social consensus that made Rome and America great.Since the 1960’s a majority of people have embraced the decadence that Justice Scalia and Hanson have noted. Widespread drug use,sexual promiscuity and deviance, abortion, the expectation of entitlements and endless “rights” without personal accountability, loss of work ethic, and a decline in even basic learning ultimately destroyed Rome and has weakened America.


5 posted on 06/27/2013 8:38:47 AM PDT by allendale
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To: SeekAndFind

A vote to save Rome was a wasted vote in them days.

Times change, uhhhhh..


6 posted on 06/27/2013 8:44:15 AM PDT by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi --)
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To: SeekAndFind
Our current leadership has also learned from the Romans that as long as you provide the masses with bread and circuses (or as it is know today, welfare and electronic entertainment) they won't care how corrupt you are or how badly you mismanage the empire.
7 posted on 06/27/2013 8:45:19 AM PDT by apillar
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To: SeekAndFind

Rome decayed to the point that they could not or would not defend themselves and the barbarians simply walked in and took over. I fear that Islamic barbarians will soon be taking over here for the same reasons.


8 posted on 06/27/2013 8:45:20 AM PDT by The Great RJ
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To: allendale
Widespread drug use,sexual promiscuity and deviance, abortion

I'd point out that Rome didn't actually collapse until after the Empire converted to Christianity, and Edward Gibbon actually blames the switch to Christianity for the collapse.

A lot of people have a vague, ill-informed notion of what Rome was like, and the timeline of the collapse and why it occured, that they roll out to push whatever axes they want to grind about America today.

9 posted on 06/27/2013 8:48:07 AM PDT by Strategerist
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To: SeekAndFind

Imperial Rome actually did fairly well despite some atrocious emperors and multiple coup d’états. Rome even had some pretty good emperors (Marcus Aurelius, Trajan) after the crazies such as Caligula and Nero. At least Roman emperors did not engage in the intentional destruction of the economy. Taxes in the empire were not at the 50-70% level of today’s “advanced” economies. Although the imperial state was a force to be feared, they could not achieve the centralization that is possible today with incredible advances in surveillance technology.


10 posted on 06/27/2013 8:52:25 AM PDT by grumpygresh (Democrats delenda est.)
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To: Strategerist
Christianity delayed a collapse that was already underway before Constantine and Theodosius. The remote cause of Rome's fall was corrupt and incompetent leadership (as always), and the proximate cause was that they "offshored" their own national defense to foreign mercenaries. Neither one was at all related to Christianity.

And remember, the Eastern (Christian!) Empire endured until 1453.

11 posted on 06/27/2013 8:54:52 AM PDT by Campion ("Social justice" begins in the womb)
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To: NormsRevenge

Let’s not forget that Rome eventually gave the Gothic clans permission to cross the river Danube into Roman territory in order to escape from the Hun invasion.

Many OTHER Goths however followed them into Roman territory without such permission.

The Roman Emperor then, Valens promised the Goths farming land, grain rations, and protection under the Roman armies.

His major reasons for quickly accepting the Goths into Roman territory were to increase the size of his army, and to gain a new tax base to increase his treasury.

The selection of Goths that were allowed to cross the Danube was unforgiving: the weak, old, and sickly were left on the far bank to fend for themselves against the Huns.

The ones that crossed were supposed to have their weapons confiscated; however, the Romans in charge accepted bribes to allow the Goths to retain their weapons.

With so many people in such a small area, famine struck the Goths, and Rome was unable to supply them with either the food they were promised or the land; they herded the Goths into a temporary holding area surrounded by an armed Roman garrison.

There was only enough grain left for the Roman garrison, and so they simply let the Goths starve. The Romans provided a grim alternative: the trade of slaves (often children and young women) for dog meat.

When Fritigern, their leader appealed to Emperor Valens for help, he was told that his people would find food and trade in the markets of the distant city of Marcianople.

Having no alternative, some of the Goths trekked south in a death march, losing the sickly and old along the path.

When they finally reached Marcianople’s gates, they were barred by the city’s military garrison and denied entry; to add insult to injury, the Romans unsuccessfully tried to assassinate the Goth leaders during a banquet. Open revolt began. The main body of Goths spent the rest of 376 and early 377 near the Danube plundering food from the immediate region. Roman garrisons were able to defend isolated forts but most of the country was vulnerable to Gothic plunder.

Now, with the above scenario, and with our immigration policies today, tell me whether or not one can see any parallels...


12 posted on 06/27/2013 8:55:10 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind; Avoiding_Sulla

The worthy VDH limns out the final decay of the Roman polity, but this is an era later than the one which has more political parallels to our own era by approximately 300 years.

At about 100 B.C., the Republic was still alive - no Princeps, no Imperator. In the wake of the ‘left-wing’ Gracchi and Marius, the heroic general Sulla attempted a Restoration of sorts, which decayed into dictatorship, resulting in the Civil War, Caesar, and the Augustus and the end of the Roman experiment in republican self-government in 43 B.C.

After that is Imperial history.

Mine is a poor(and incomplete and arguable) summary, but I’m sure you all know how that Google thingy works.


13 posted on 06/27/2013 9:10:21 AM PDT by headsonpikes (Mass murder and cannibalism are the twin sacraments of socialism - "Who-whom?"-Lenin)
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To: SeekAndFind

We are like Germany in 1938 or the Soviet Union in 1935.


14 posted on 06/27/2013 9:20:02 AM PDT by peyton randolph (Tagline copyright in violation of Directive 10-289)
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To: Strategerist

The collapse of Rome was well underway before it converted to Christianity.


15 posted on 06/27/2013 9:22:12 AM PDT by Jack Hydrazine (I’m not a Republican, I'm a Conservative! Pubbies haven't been conservative since before T.R.)
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To: SeekAndFind

I’d say we are more like Jerusalem about, oh, 586 B.C.

Look it up.


16 posted on 06/27/2013 9:27:38 AM PDT by wizr (We are "one Nation, under God " or "one nation, trod under ". Keep the Faith.)
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To: SeekAndFind
Rome ran on inertia for a very long time, and Europe ran on Roman inertia long after the events of AD 476. We have in the United States a tremendous body of economic surplus that affords us that inertia and provides the temptation to redistribute that is irresistible (and was in Rome) until the surplus runs out and no more is being produced.

That is the wealth that allows a "poor" person in the West to have more computing power than any Sultan's body of court mathematicians ever possessed, better communications ability than any Roman emperor awaiting the packet boat from Illyria, a better diet than any medieval Duke, and more real freedom than any desert tribesman. All of that can continue a very long time, degrading slowly, until, as in Rome, a fracture point is reached and the whole thing comes crashing down. That happened in the Soviet Union.

Gibbon thought AD 200 to be a Golden Age and the beginning of Rome's ineluctable decline. What VDH is suggesting if I understand it correctly is that we are enjoying our own Golden Age and that our successors are likely to view it with regret and resentment for those who valued it so little. But there were those who did try to preserve it in Rome - Cicero, for one, albeit by playing one autocrat against another unsuccessfully. Cato the Elder, albeit by massive hypocrisy and his son, albeit by assuming a veneer of aristocracy that proved counterproductive in the end. But it wasn't as if no one tried.

The Republic was dead a very long time before all this. Marius and Sulla saw to that, and by the time Julius Caesar took the blame for it (and 23 stab wounds) it was already gone. Two Triumvirate wars failed to re-establish it, and when Augustus became the last man standing, he managed to create the illusion that the Republic was still there in one of the most successful public relations campaigns in history. But it was gone, long gone, and by the time it was missed it was past repair.

If we are at that point, all the current progressive enthusiasms for creating a better world from the wealth of the old are likely to founder on the rocks of insufficient resources, and that won't be immediately apparent in the face of the existing surplus. By the time it is, the Republic will have been long gone. Perhaps it already is.

17 posted on 06/27/2013 9:27:42 AM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: SeekAndFind
Bttt.

5.56mm

18 posted on 06/27/2013 9:33:01 AM PDT by M Kehoe
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To: Strategerist

The Western Roman Empire collapsed because they ran out of money and couldn’t defend themselves from the invading tribes.

The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather


19 posted on 06/27/2013 9:35:58 AM PDT by Clean_Sweep
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To: SeekAndFind

The frog is being slowly boiled.

Unless America wakes up, repents, and returns to Almighty God this nation will go the way of Rome.


20 posted on 06/27/2013 9:36:11 AM PDT by Lions Gate
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