Sunday, December 30, 2012

Roman History Roundup

Like Rome Before the Fall? Not Yet. Piers Brendon, The New York Times
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN complains that he is being driven crazy because so many people are betting on America’s demise. Reports of it are not just exaggerated; they are, he insists, ridiculous. Like President Obama, he will not accept “second place” for the United States. Despite the present crippling budget deficit and the crushing burden of projected debt, he denies that the country is destined to fulfill a “prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended.”

Mr. Biden was referring in particular to the influential book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy, a British historian who teaches at Yale. Published in 1988, the book argues that the ascendancy of states or empires results from the superiority of their material resources, and that the wealth on which that dominance rests is eroded by the huge military expenditures needed to sustain national or imperial power, leading inexorably to its decline and fall. The thesis seems a tad schematic, but Professor Kennedy maintains it with dazzling cogency. In any debate about the development of the United States, one would certainly tend to side with the detached historian rather than the partisan politician.
As the Romans Did. Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic Monthly
Q: How might this tolerance for second acts play into the privatization of public services that you talk so much about in the book? You argue persuasively that we’re setting the stage for a real crisis of power and accountability in government down the line. In the case of Rome, at least, that dispersal of public power and the rise of people operating primarily in their own interest eventually led to feudalism. Do you think the United States is headed toward a similar sort of corporate feudalism?

A: I do worry that America is heading toward some kind of feudal state again. The great thing that kept Rome together for so long was the fact that the people who held public power had a deeply ingrained sense of public virtue that was a great restraint. It goes back to the same sense of honor that led people to take their lives at a moment of what they perceived as public disgrace. They didn’t feel they could simply retreat to private life again.

In the United States, we created a state with a very pronounced set of public objectives and public responsibilities that were well laid out. My worry now is that we’re moving away from this great sense of government as a public calling—if you’re thinking benignly, in the interest of efficiency, or if you’re thinking malignly, in the interest of greed—and toward something very different, something market driven. In the end it amounts to getting the government that you pay for. Not just that you’ve paid for as a people, but that you’ve paid for as individuals. It’s happening all around us, usually in the guise of some deal that’s just too good to walk away from, and it’s happening in virtually every sector of public endeavor. Even if one can make the case that privatization makes sense in this instance or that instance—or even in every instance—the effect over time is going to be that there’s no government left, that all power of one sort or another is in private hands. Ultimately the result is to bring back feudalism. And we’re well on the way to it.

I don’t know how you can stop it, because the privatizing forces amount to basically everybody. Everybody has an interest in privatizing something or accepting the privatization of something. But in order to make something public, you have to get everybody on board, and you have to get everybody to agree to raise taxes and give the government more responsibility. Hardly anyone wants to make that argument any longer. It’s a ratchet that only turns one direction, and once it’s clicked toward the private sector I don’t know how you turn it back.
Is Our Republic Ending? Steven Strauss, The Huffington Post
Eight Parallels Between the Collapse of Rome's Republic and Contemporary America:
  1. Staggering Increase in the Cost of Elections, with Dubious Campaign Funding Sources
  2. Politics as the Road to Personal Wealth
  3. Continuous War
  4. Foreign Powers Lavish Money/Attention on the Republic's Leaders
  5. Profits Made Overseas Shape the Republic's Internal Policies
  6. Collapse of the Middle Class
  7. Gerrymandering
  8. Loss of the Spirit of Compromise
The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather review (The Guardian)
Tom Holland on the Fall of Rome (Telegraph)
The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 by Chris Wickham review (The Guardian)
Bryan Ward Perkins The Fall of the Roman Empire (Westminster Wisdom)
Review: 'Rome: An Empire's Story' by Greg Woolf (
Rome, Inc. by Stanley Bing review (UNRV History)

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