Is America Falling Like Rome?
When news of the Battle of Saratoga reached Britain, a young Scottish barrister told economist Adam Smith: “If we go on at this rate, the nation must be ruined.” Adam Smith responded, “Be assured young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” By that, he meant that nations can absorb a lot more blows than the pessimists tend to think. A few days ago, American Greatness had a very concerned article by Victor Davis Hanson on the future of America. After quoting Adam Smith’s answer at the beginning of the article, and after reviewing the ills that beset America, Hanson concluded his reflection with the following statement: “We have seen lots of cultural revolutions in this country, but never one that was so singularly focused on razing the foundations of America -- until now. Yes, there is a lot of ruin in great nations. But even America is by now running low on it.”
In all fairness it has to be said that such a terrible sentence perfectly reflects the reality of the country as it has become today. We are $31 trillion in collective debt, says Hanson, the military is politicized and short of recruits, and the American people are witnessing the breakdown of basic norms essential for civilized life: “Old Cairo seems safer than an after-hours subway ride or stroll at dusk in many major American cities. Medieval London’s roadways were likely cleaner than Market Street in San Francisco.” Not to mention the fact that “speech was freer in 1920s America than it is now.” Nor can the “abject, deliberate humiliation” suffered in Kabul be forgotten, when the worst U.S. administration ever decided to flee and abandon to the terrorist Taliban a huge, remodeled air base, tens of billions of dollars in military hardware, a $1 billion embassy, and thousands of friends. In addition, FBI is corrupt and discredited, collaborating with Silicon Valley’s Big Tech companies to suppress free speech and warp elections:
“In 2016, the bureau with the Democratic National Committee sought to destroy the integrity of an election by fabricating a Russian collusion hoax. Its continuance and coverup ultimately required FBI agents and lawyers to alter legal documents, to lie under oath, to destroy subpoenaed phone data, and to outsource illegal suppression of First Amendment rights to Silicon Valley contractors. The nation now fears there isn’t anything the FBI might not do.”
At the core of Hanson’s analysis is the idea of a country that increasingly resembles the wide-open fifth-century A.D. Rome, when its traditional inviolable northern borders on the Rhine and Danube rivers vanished, and barbarian hordes roamed at will the European continent “on the premise that no one among their overripe, soft hosts could or would dare stop them.” At the same time, the traditional liberal democratic model of citizenship is eroding and a new medievalism is emerging. First and foremost, the American middle class is shrinking, if not insidiously sliding into indebted peasantry. Society is also bifurcating, VDH explains, and “a tiny powerful minority has more leverage than any other elite in the history of civilization,” while “a large underclass of subsidized poor shares with the wealthy a disdain for the struggling middle class, the old bulwark of democracy.”
Please note that while Victor Davis Hanson’s take on America’s fate has little in common with the idea of American decline as expressed by intellectual pessimists of various persuasions, it is undeniable that concerns about the future of the country are popular among people of all social classes and political tendencies. In a January 2021 Axios-Ipsos poll, for instance, fourth-fifths of Americans -- both Republicans (83%) and Democrats (78%) -- said America is falling apart. In such a devastated context, “the idea of 330 million American citizens of different incidental races and ethnicities united by a common American identity of shared values, customs, and traditions is all but mocked. In its place is arising something like the former Yugoslavia -- an undefined mishmash of competing and increasingly hostile tribal interests, with residents sorting themselves out into red and blue states that eventually will lead to two antithetical Americas.”
It seems like a thousand years ago that Teddy Roosevelt referred to “hyphenated Americans” to mean they weren’t Americans at all:
“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. […] Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. […] The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English- Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian- Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality than with the other citizens of the American Republic.”
To return to the last sentence of Hanson’s article, those words immediately reminded me, by a spontaneous association of ideas, of a famous Venerable Bede’s quote, “When Rome falls, the whole world will fall.” Translated into current terms we may say, “When America falls, the whole world will fall.” A total disaster. Just to give an idea of what’s at stake here.
Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He lives in the Venice area.
Image: Thomas Cole