Reblogged from SinkingArk:
I’ve developed a recent interest in Roman History- from Romulus & Remus through the Republic to Empire to Fall. Aside from being an interesting time in history in of itself – of which I knew, sadly, too little – I believe there are lessons to take away from the past failings of a giant society. So while on vacation I decided to read a book called “Are We Rome” by Cullen Murphy. While by now some of its contemporary examples are a bit dated (it was published in 2008), I believe Murphy provides very good overviews of both some leading hypotheses on the causes of Rome’s fall as well as challenges facing America today.
Needless to say, this sort of historical comparison invites sensationalism. I found Murphy’s approach, however, to be even handed, and I felt that he tries to objectively evaluate both similarities and differences between modern day America and the Roman Empire. The takeaway is, essentially: there is quite a bit that distinguishes us from the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, before its fall. However, there is enough in common that should, if not concern us, then at least catch our attention.
The book was easy to read, relatively short, and fun. There was no drudgery that is often found in history books, and the comparisons to recent events kept any in-depth historical examples feeling relevant and fresh. I highly recommend picking it up. Find it on Amazon.com here.
Above all, this book is extremely quotable. In order to encourage you all to go pick it up, I’m going to include a handful of interesting quotations from the book below. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more:
“Urbs antiqua …Urbs antiquia ruit”
“There once was an ancient city…The ancient city fell”
– Virgil, The Aeneid
“But, he argues, Rome’s situation was more parlous in 220 B.C. (when it faced the challenge of Carthage) than in 400 A.D. (when it faced the barbarians): “The difference over six centuries, the dissimilarity that led to the end, was a result not of imperial overstretch on the outside but something happening within that was not unlike what we ourselves are now witnessing. Earlier Romans knew what it was to be Roman, why it was at least better than the alternative, and why their culture had to be defended. Later in ignorance they forgot what they knew, in pride mocked who they were, and in consequence disappeared.”” (P. 15)
“But Rome in all its long history never left the Iron Age, whereas America in its short history has already leapt through the Industrial Age to the Information Age and the Biotech Age. Wealthy as it was, Rome lived close to the edge; many regions were one dry spell away from famine. America enjoys an economy of abundance, even surfeit; it must beware the diseases of overindulgence. Rome was always a slaveholding polity , with the profound moral and social retardation that this implies; America started out as a slaveholding polity and decisively cast slavery aside. Rome emerged out of a city-state and took centuries to fully let go of a city-state’s methods of governance; America from very early on began to administer itself as a continental power. Rome had no middle class as we understand the term, whereas for America the middle class is the core social fact— our ballast, our gyroscope, our compass. Rome had a powerful but tiny aristocracy and entrenched ideas about the social pecking order; even at its most democratic, Rome was not remotely as democratic as America at its least democratic, under a British monarch.” (P. 15)