Will America Suffer the Fate of Rome?
We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." These words by Barack Obama echo through time. Have they been heard before, in another language, in another age?I sense those who walk by the banks of the Potomac nowadays realize the politics of those who once walked by the banks of the Tiber. We share in our time, as the United States of America passes into something else, an experience shared by those who lived through the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.Like a mighty river, the flow of politics creates a current that is irresistible. We may want to stop the flow but we can't. That feeling of struggling against the current, of swiming hard but getting nowhere, is what the man cast adrift feels before he is drowned by events."
In Niall Rudd's introduction to his English translation of The Republic and The Laws by the Roman statesman Cicero, Rudd writes:
Cicero dreams of Rome as she had been a hundred years earlier, before the structure had begun to give way under the strains of empire.Granted, it would be too late to save the Republic now; three years later Caesar would cross the Rubicon. But even if, by some stroke of magic, Cicero's dream had come true, disaster would not have been averted. By the 50s huge problems had developed which could not be solved within the framework of what was, essentially a city-state.First, an empire of such size and complexity could not be run by a small élite of all-around amateurs in which within a decade the same man might be expected to manage finances, administer city departments, sit as a judge, and lead a military campaign. The voting system was over-centralized and out-dated; citizens could no longer be expected to travel to the capitol for elections and other meetings of the assembly...There were also intractable economic problems resulting from the decay of smallholdings owing to the absence of farmers on military service...All this led to the growth of a workless and resentful urban proletariat, which could easily be inflamed by demagogues.That, in turn, contributed to the worse problem of all. Troops were recruited by promise of loot and land...(these troops) depended for their future, not on the Senate, but on the power of an ambitious general...There is an air of unreality about the Laws.Little by little, the river of time floated the Republic into the Empire. Today, we look back and remember the insanity and debauchery of Caligula. We remember, too, Cicero for is writings and how he, according to Plutarch, "stretched out his neck to meet the murder's stroke."
Now, let us imagine a thousand years from today. A scholar of that new age is translating from English to his own language what remains of William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale.