Skip to comments.Are We Rome Yet?
Posted on 07/31/2013 4:32:08 AM PDT by Kaslin
Unfortunately, the fall of Rome is a pattern repeated by empires throughout history ... including ours?
A group of libertarians gathered in Las Vegas recently for an event called "FreedomFest." We debated whether America will soon fall, as Rome did.
Historian Carl Richard said that today's America resembles Rome.
The Roman Republic had a constitution, but Roman leaders often ignored it. "Marius was elected consul six years in a row, even though under the constitution (he) was term-limited to one year."
Sounds like New York City's Mayor Bloomberg.
"We have presidents of both parties legislating by executive order, saying I'm not going to enforce certain laws because I don't like them. ... That open flouting of the law is dangerous because law ceases to have meaning. ... I see that today. ... Congress passes huge laws they haven't even read (as well as) overspending, overtaxing and devaluing the currency."
The Romans were worse. I object to President Obama's $100 million dollar trip, but Nero traveled with 1,000 carriages.
Tiberius established an "office of imperial pleasures," which gathered "beautiful boys and girls from all corners of the world" so, as Tacitus put it, the emperor "could defile them."
Emperor Commodus held a show in the Colosseum at which he personally killed five hippos, two elephants, a rhinoceros and a giraffe.
To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. (Doesn't our Fed do that by buying $2 trillion of government debt?)
Nero reduced the silver content of coins to 95 percent. Then Trajan reduced it to 85 percent and so on. By the year 300, wheat that once cost eight Roman dollars cost 120,000 Roman dollars.
The president of the Foundation for Economic Education, Lawrence Reed, warned that Rome, like America, had an expanding welfare state. It started with "subsidized grain. The government gave it away at half price. But the problem was that they couldn't stop there ... a man named Claudius ran for Tribune on a platform of free wheat for the masses. And won. It was downhill from there."
Soon, to appease angry voters, emperors gave away or subsidized olive oil, salt and pork. People lined up to get free stuff.
Rome's government, much like ours, wasn't good at making sure subsidies flowed only to the poor, said Reed: "Anybody could line up to get these goods, which contributed to the ultimate bankruptcy of the Roman state."
As inflation increased, Rome, much like the U.S. under President Nixon, imposed wage and price controls. When people objected, Emperor Diocletian denounced their "greed," saying, "Shared humanity urges us to set a limit."
Doesn't that sound like today's anti-capitalist politicians?
Diocletian was worse than Nixon. Rome enforced controls with the death penalty -- and forbid people to change professions. Emperor Constantine decreed that those who broke such rules "be bound with chains and reduced to servile condition."
Eventually, Rome's empire was so large -- and people so resentful of centralized control -- that generals in outlying regions began declaring independence from Rome.
At FreedomFest, Matt Kibbe, president of the tea party group FreedomWorks, also argued that America could soon collapse like Rome did.
"The parallels are quite ominous -- the debt, the expansionist foreign policy, the arrogance of executive power taking over our country," says Kibbe. "But I do think we have a chance to stop it."
That's a big difference between today's America and yesterday's Rome. We have movements like the tea party and libertarianism and events like FreedomFest that alert people to the danger in imperial Washington and try to fight it. If they can wake the public, we have hope.
The triumph of liberty is not inevitable, though. And empires do crumble.
Rome's lasted the longest. The Ottoman Empire lasted 623 years. China's Song, Qing and Ming dynasties each lasted about 300 years.
We've lasted just 237 years so far -- sometimes behaving like a republic and sometimes an empire. In that time, we've accomplished amazing things, but we shouldn't take our continued success for granted.
Freedom and prosperity are not natural. In human history, they're rare.
Because all deep, world-saving political thought takes place in
Pompeii I mean Las Vegas. It goes without saying.
“Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now.” Arnold J. Toynbee
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.
We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream.
It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same,
or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children
and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
President Ronald Reagan
This article conflates at least 400 years of Roman history, as if they were events that influenced each other and have relevance for today. That’s as if we were to talk about everything from Jamestown to today as if they were approximately contemporaneous.
Survival of the Unfit
Charles Darwins Theory of Evolution (often referred to as The Theory of Survival of the Fittest) describes the positive effects resulting from any pressure on an animal species that removes the least fit among the species and allows only the most fit of the species to reproduce. Many of us are well aware of this Survival of the Fittest theory, but few are aware that Darwin also makes mention of the negative effects resulting from unlimited reproduction of a species least fit when the weak, the lazy, and the stupid are left unchecked.
We like to think otherwise, but our species, Homo sapiens, isnt that long out of the trees and the same laws of nature that affect all of Gods creatures apply equally to us. If we were to observe any other species that had been allowed to reproduce without limitations, we would know immediately what the consequences will be.
Whenever the weak; lazy; and stupid of a species is allowed to reproduce unimpeded by predators that feed off the weak; lazy; and stupid, they soon outnumber the strong, productive, and intelligent. When the weak/lazy/stupid dominate the gene pool, the entire population becomes weak/ lazy/stupid, and then the population collapses.
In the past, when these collapses occurred within human populations, they have been referred to as a Malthusian Collapse. Thomas Malthus, a Nineteenth Century Economist, thought these collapses were caused simply because past civilizations had reached a point where human populations could no longer produce sufficient food supplies to feed themselves, but he never pinned down the exact reason for these food shortages.
We now think these collapses of past human civilizations have occurred whenever the unproductive weak/lazy/stupid greatly outnumber the strong/productive/intelligent of the population. In other words, the majority of the population becomes too lazy to perform the work necessary to provide for themselves and whats left of the strong/productive/intelligent refuses to continue to do it for them.
These collapses have occurred at frequent intervals throughout human history, and Western Civilization is, in my humble opinion, currently on the cusp of one of these collapses.
No state is more than three meals away from revolution.
Everything works reasonably well, until Atlas shrugs.
"A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious.
But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly.
But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.
For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men.
He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.
A murderer is less to be feared."
-- Marcus Tullius Cicero
When Rome fell, did the residents know it had fallen?
Prepare the chains, I fear.
When Alaric and his ilk arrived, I would think they noticed...
Which is why we have this:
Since Rome lasted more than 500 or possibly 1500 years past some of these events cited as causing its downfall, you will pardon me for finding the chain of reasoning here a little loose.
We seldom look back at historical events in the time of Shakespeare and blame them for today’s problems, but that is the chronological equivalent of blaming the fall of Rome on election promises of tribunes in the time of the Republic.
A big problem with the whole “fall of Rome” bit is that people don’t bother to explain whether they are talking about the fall of the Republic and its replacement by the empire, or whether they are talking about the fall of the empire itself. The two events have absolutely nothing in common, and are separated by a good 500 years in time.
We are more like Sodom than Rome.
“The irony is devastating. The main purpose of Darwinism was to drive every last trace of an incredible God from biology. But the theory replaces God with an even more incredible deity omnipotent chance....” (T. Rosazak, Unfinished Animal, pp. 101-102, 1975)
Rosazak omitted yet another incredible deity: laws of nature working through ‘survival of the fittest’ to cull the ‘the weak, the lazy, and the stupid ‘
Darwin was a physical materialist, which means that the supernatural and all things spiritual do not and cannot exist.
Your mention of a God bespeaks a nonphysical evolutionary conception such as Teilhard de Chardin’s quasi-Hindu pantheist conception which has a god-force emerging from matter, making all matter spiritual rather than physical.
Such a god is not only limited and impersonal but the cause of death, suffering, and of course of unfit, weak, stupid life forms.
But all is not lost as the all-wise “laws of nature” selected a few heroic human beings and setting them apart from the rest of the herd and genetically endowed this small, select brotherhood with strength and intelligence.
It is up to this band of heroes to save the day by way of abortion (of the unfit), eugenics (careful breeding of the best), and even genocide-—mass murder of the unfit.
The Soviet Union put this plan in motion and liquidated 60,000,000+ unfit human weeds, dinosaurs, and other useless eaters.
Living under a totalitarian regime with crushing taxation and devalued money changed people's priorities.
I’d like to see you give a single example of these collapses that have occurred at “frequent intervals” throughout human history.
I suspect you’ll have trouble coming up with even one, since the period since WWII (in the western world only) is the first period in history where there wasn’t huge evolutionary pressure on humans, where massive numbers didn’t die during childhood, and where the weak and poor didn’t routinely starve or die of malnutrition-induced diseases.
IOW, while I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion that our present coddling of the poor/weak/stupid is negative from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s never happened before, so we cannot argue from historical precedent.
Paul Ehrlich, noted student of Malthus predicted the catastrophe with unerring accuracy. If only we had listened!
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate:
Paul Ehrlich: The Population Bomb
The time frame is not as big of an issue as you are making it. It may take 100 years or 1000 for a country to rot from within—either way it’s the trajectory that people are calling attention to, not the timeline.
Spurius Carvilius Ruga got a divorce in 230 BC and was generally disapproved for it. By the Imperial Age it was common. We saw that same process happen in one lifetime.
Civilizations, like dead fish, rot at different rates depending on their environment.
Sorry, I forgot that one. There are a number of periods in the 70s I’m a little vague on.
Actually, my point is still the same. There has never before in history been a period when massive numbers of people were sheltered from the consequences of their own stupidity and/or bad choices. Kind of the way royalty used to be, and historically we can see what happened with them in many cases.
I do not claim to know what the long-term effects of this will be on human society, but I greatly doubt they will be entirely positive.
Sure about that? It's Wikipedia, I know, but here's a good summary of the grain handouts in Rome:
In 58 BC, the patrician-turned-plebeian Clodius Pulcher advanced a popularist political agenda in his bid for the tribunate by offering free grain for the poor. The expense was considerable, and Julius Caesar later reformed the dole. Augustus considered abolishing it altogether, but instead reduced the number of the recipients to 200,000, and perhaps later 150,000.I also recall reading somewhere that the Ancien Regime of France that was overthrown during the Revolution was--contrary to popular belief--positively loaded with subsidies and social welfare handouts.
The official responsible for the provision of the alimenta was the Curator alimentorum. During the empire, this post became an important bureaucratic position to be filled by the senatorial elite prior to achieving a consulship. The last known official to hold this post was Titus Flavius Postumius Quietus, probably during the early 270s.
Later emperors all used free or greatly subsidized grain to keep the populace fed. The political use of the grain supply along with gladiatorial games and other entertainments gave rise to the saying "Bread and circuses". As the empire continued, the annona became more complex. During the reign of Septimius Severus, olive oil was added to the distribution. During the reign of Aurelian, however, a major reorganization of the alimenta took place. It appears that he ceased to distribute free grain; instead, he issued free bread, and added salt, pork and wine to the dole, which was provided free or at a reduced cost. These measures were continued by successive emperors.
“We are more like Sodom than Rome.”
It often seems that way, but Sodom and Gomorrah were about 99.9% perverted and corrupt...we do have a ways to go yet.
So people go through and mine nuggets out of Roman history and claim they prove we're going down the same path. But that doesn't make it so. The question of why Rome collapsed has had people arguing ever since, but I would contend a better question is why did it last so long.
None of which means that I don't think our morality is a mess, just that I don't think we have a great deal to learn about it from Roman history.
Spurius Carvilius Ruga got a divorce in 230 BC and was generally disapproved for it. By the Imperial Age it was common.
Not entirely sure your sources are accurate. The Twelve Tables allowed for divorce over two centuries before he lived, and divorce was common well before imperial times. Pompey went through four or five wives if I remember correctly, and musical beds was a pretty common game in the later Republic.
Well you’re right, it’s a complicated question and we shouldn’t oversimplify, but there are some comparisons worth drawing. The expansion of the Roman welfare state creating an indolent population is certainly worth taking a look at.
I read it in primary sources, if I remember right—but I’m not sure when divorce really became accepted. Judging the morals of Rome by Pompey is like judging the morals of America by Liz Taylor.
But you’re correct about the 12 Tables. I’m not claiming that Rome went from morally pristine to completely degraded in a straight line—history is messier than that. I’d actually say we were more moral in some respects in the 1940s & 50s than we were in the 20s or even some colonial periods. And morality ebbs and flows in different areas as well—we are horrified by racism but we allow people to kill their own children in the womb, whereas the Americans of the 1800s allowed racism but were horrified by abortion.
I don't disagree, but there is a huge difference between the Roman "welfare state" and our own.
The Roman emperors (and later Republican politicians) provided "bread and circuses" to the people of Rome, the city. The rest of the empire got no such goodies and was in fact exploited and heavily taxed to pay for the goodies for those actually living in Roma.
Population of empire: 50M to 100M. Population of the city of Rome: 1M to 2M.
IOW, those "on the dole," even if we count entire population of the City, were 1% to 4% of the population. We're WAY past that.
200,000 recipients of "the dole" out of a population in the empire of 50M to 100M.
I suspect there's a distinct quantitative difference with what we're trying to do.
Here's the thing. The people of Rome, the city, saw themselves as the conquerors of the world. Their getting free stuff was just one of the perks of being #1. Neither they nor the politicians and emperors who gave this stuff to them saw it as compassionate care for the poor. Poverty had nothing to do with it.
Why? Order, discipline and rule of law
With those in place, trade etc. flourished and people knew it was better to be in the Empire rather than out.
It failed when there was disorder and lack of discipline. This was started with the first points hen the Roman citizenry stopped fighting, hence
Those are the figures under Augustus. No indication from the article how they were expanded or not later on.
Your point on Rome the city is well taken. We’re kinda seeing that now actually. The economy and housing market is in the pits everywhere. DC is a notable exception.
-—IOW, those “on the dole,” even if we count entire population of the City, were 1% to 4% of the population. We’re WAY past that-—
Might that explain why we’re faling so much faster?
Yeah, there are a number of parallels between the City of Rome supported by exploitation of those elsewhere, and DC.
Well, that’s fine.
I’m happy to listen to your explanation of how the Harappan and Maya civilizations coddled the weak and unproductive members of their society if you want to take a stab at it.
I’m not sure how you’ll do that for the Harappans, about whom we know very little indeed.