Our Declining Empire

Parallels between the Roman and American empires are clear

Topics

Consumerism

The Roman Empire lasted a long time despite its many emperors who were egomaniacs or just plain crazy. Nero may be the foremost example.

What caused Rome’s decline and fall was not only incompetent emperors, barbarian border enemies, or mass dementia from lead water pipes. The underlying reasons were more subtle: one being popular belief in the merit of blood lines. Aristocratic families like the Julia-Claudia gens, tracing their ancestry back 800 years to Romulus and the goddess Venus, promoted their own kin, even if a favorite son was unworthy for office.

America has its own blue-blood aristocracies, considering the Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Bush clans. Incurable and pernicious nepotism contributed to Rome’s collapse, yet modern governments include the same.

Rome was damaged also by its slave-based economy. The Third Servile War threatened to undo the Empire with armies of slaves led in rebellion by the Thracian gladiator Spartacus. America had its Civil War of 1861.

What played a star role in crippling Rome was, ironically, its advanced technology. The population fell into complacency and over-indulgence. Recent excavations at Pompeii reveal their technology featured running hot and cold water, faucet valves as good as Moen, heated living quarters, window panes as large as storefronts, mist air conditioning, and sliding closet doors. At outdoor tables, people ate “fast food.” Bars served pizza with gourmet toppings from all over the world. Public baths segregated men and women and provided masseuses. Villas had water fountains, indoor gardens, and lifelike murals, paintings, and sculptures. Iron-reinforced concrete walls reached many stories. Fire “trucks” had two-piston water pumps, while steam engines enhanced sailing ships. Their legal system invented “double jeopardy,” and false witness perjury, among other current concepts, including appeals to a Supreme Court.

However, the “paradox of prosperity” came into play with so much luxury. Basic human nature tends to excess indulgence, moral apathy, and a foolish tolerance of incompetence. The Roman Empire’s debauched, distracted citizenry got too inebriated by its prosperity to wage battle in self-defense or to practice reasonable self-denial. The poorer Roman citizens got used to wasteful handouts — “bread and circuses” — by petty politicians looking to capture votes.

Ever increasing expenditures for military retirees and government pensions, relentless border expansions with endless wars, and expanding bureaucracy to govern new territories — all these ballooned the Empire’s indebtedness. Its silver currency slowly debased to pay off soaring debts. America has been doing the same, devaluing the dollar to 3% of its 1913 purchasing power.

Emperor Trump is not the problem. But We the People are.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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