One always must be very careful with historical parallels; they are frequently used and abused to score political points.
I’ve heard anti-immigration people saying “Rome collapsed ’cause they let in too many illegal aliens who turned on them!” Please! The Roman Empire succeeded because it was so intensely multicultural, not in spite of it. Often the generals and emperors themselves were “aliens!”
I’ve also heard the anti-gay crowd insisting that “Rome fell because of all that sodomy. If they would’ve cracked down, Romans wouldn’t have had a slumping birth rate that forced them to staff their armies with foreign mercenaries who turned on them! We have to ban homosexuality now, or we’ll go the way of Rome!”
It’s impossible to know exactly why the Roman Empire disintegrated. German professor Alexander Demandt published a collection of 210 theories on why Rome fell. My personal guess is that it was centuries of an absurdly overextended military (they fought the Persians for Iraq for centuries) combined with several economic crises, combined with plagues, combined with barbarian hordes sacking Rome (never a good sign) plus general downward momentum (nothing lasts forever).
In Europe and Asia, empires usually collapsed when they were too weakened and rotted out to cope with other nations invading and displacing them. Due to America’s unique geography (between two expansive oceans) an invasion is not possible. Bush’s rhetoric aside, there’s no realistic circumstance that would allow Iraqi insurgents to take Muncie, Indiana, and I doubt Canada or Mexico will ever be able to overpower us militarily. We could change governments drastically, and we’re ripe for an economic collapse, but America will never “fall” like Rome did.
With this series, I myself may have overreached with the historical comparisons. Maybe I should’ve dubbed it “Do We Want to be Rome?” instead. We’re not Rome, and Iraq ain’t Parthia.
My point with this series wasn’t to draw direct parallels; however clumsily I did it, I wanted to illuminate the fascinating history of the Roman Empire, discuss the severe challenges of America in the 21st century, and examine the concepts of violence and imperialism which seem ingrained in the human soul and have dominated history. Empires have to ask themselves: do we really want to be an empire? How much blood is it worth? What is our nation about?
Is the blogosphere a latter-day Cicero, doing its best to exhort our people back toward the values of the Republic instead of empire?
How will we finally reach our destiny?
…“they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” — Isaiah 2.4
“Are We Rome?” Series:
Part I: Cullen Murphy