Analogies are often overdone, or perhaps stated better, we often commit non sequitur errors in forming analogies related to big things. We can admit this is true. If we are honest, we also have to admit that history does not repeat, but it certainly rhymes. Some of us know that there are recurring truths to human nature, that the fundamental nature of man is true in all places at all times; this is then a general law of history. The Christian Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun. There are even some that attempt to apply the scientific method to catalog and describe broad trends into cycles. At the simplest level, we cannot help but admit that there are similarities in history, and unless we use active denial techniques we cannot help but notice how common the routine actions of men are across history.
The analogies that America is a type of a New Rome are very often overstated, particularly when done to make a transient partisan political point. And yet, even though much that has been written and said of the matter is wrong in its veneer, the authors speak to something true at its essence; even when they do not understand or accept the implications.
At the essence of it all, such an analogy is not wrong at all. The framers of the Constitution were certainly enamored with Roman conceptualizations of Roman law. Cicero was present in 1789 as men began to draft what would become our current constitution; the spirit of his words and ideas hung heavy in those halls. His presence was not limited to those moments either. Far into the early development of the American system, he was there, and if not him, men that had read him and proceeded to write their own derivative thoughts. Admixed into those deliberations, shaping thought were the ideas of jurisprudence developed in England. Blackstone was in the room too. But even Blackstone, and the system he best represented, was not without the influence of the old. Common law and civil law appear vastly different, but in their essence, the central concept of The Law was the same. That concept is Roman.
During the United States’ very short history, one can template the timeline of the Roman Republic and the rise of empire over our own development. In such an exercise we can see the rhyme of history that occurs when men, in their nature, re-apply the same ideas. Since human nature is a general law of history, it is not surprising to view similar outcomes. The rise of divisions, a political class, graft, greed, corruption, and ultimately a falling away from the essential nature of the law is not surprising; it is not an overreach to make the analogy that America was a type of a new Rome, because, well it was and is.
Many that speak of these things mark the date that the American Republic transitioned to empire as occurring sometime during World War Two but I suggest that the Republic on the North American continent lived a mere 70 to 80 years. In the aftermath of the great war fought in the 1860s the very nature of the system of government changed. In the years following a true empire was built, one expanding territorially beyond the dreams of the previous Rome. The various tribes and native nations in the western half of the continent certainly would have recognized the practical effects of manifest destiny as empire building.
George P. Fletcher correctly argued that after 1865 the American system was based upon “organic nationhood, equality of all persons, and popular democracy” concepts different and opposed to those of our first constitution which promulgated “peoplehood as a voluntary association, individual freedom, and republicanism”. These are not small differences; these words are the difference between a true republic and a future empire.
The American Empire was certainly not a hegemon, not at first, and neither was the early Roman but it was able to step onto the world stage and make an impact. The Carthaginians fell first in 1898, expanding American holdings into the Pacific and sewing salt into the fields of a dying Spanish empire. World War One and Two saw the death of the ‘Greeks, Macedonians, and Spartans’ – the old order of kings, dynasties, and empires. To be certain history books tell us that WWII was a clash of ideologies, the West against Fascism and Fascism against Communism – but ideologies are merely ethereal, they exist in the mind and spirit, and they cannot be and never are killed. What truly died was the old order; ideologies live on, and sometimes take hold in places one did not expect.
Many mark the start of the American empire at that date, and for the reasons briefly listed above this is incorrect. The end of WWII merely marked the full annexation of the British (Greek to continue the analogy) into the American system. An assumption of command ceremony, a passing of authority from a dying empire to a living one. And, true to human nature, many in the power elite in America embraced “Greek” philosophers in their households. It is not incorrect to notice the continued influence of Chatham House and others of that ilk in the mix of geopolitical dialogue. That this exists owes as much to human nature being true as anything else.
One could argue, with much more detail than I just did, that The United States, or more correctly stated, the current Western system is a type of a new Roman empire. One analogous to late-stage Rome.
If we view the West, as in NATO and the various puppet states, economic alliances, and so forth that comprise the current world order as this new Rome, accepting that occupation and rule do not necessarily have to be complete in order to term various nations as provinces we can note additional similarities. The influx of “barbarians” migrating to the frontier and eventually, the core of the empire is not so different than massive migrations of peoples culturally very different than native continental Europeans, British, Scandinavians, and Americans. One does not have to attach a value judgment for or against such mass migrations to admit their transformative and disruptive nature; history provides the examples. We do not have to look far to see other similarities. The law, the concept held in such high regard by those in the Roman and American republics has significantly diminished in importance. Some might say it has been perverted into a weapon rather than a bulwark and foundation. And lastly, the point that many would fervently argue against, we notice moral malaise. The peoples of the early Roman republic were civic-minded, hard-working, and sturdy. In the late empire, we observe debauchery, sloth, avarice, greed, and the masses who required more elaborate servings of bread and circuses just to satiate their desires and pacify their passions.
History does not repeat, but it certainly rhymes and the more one begins from the same basic inputs the more rhythmic similarities appear in the results.
If my rambling above is not the product of a poor student of history, projecting his own worldview onto a flimsy analysis of similarities what does it mean? If true, we certainly ought not be surprised that everywhere we look in terms of news related to domestic issues we see a growing rift on every issue. If the foundational concept of the law, a permanent thing in our culture, has been perverted from a pillar to a club we ought not be surprised by any news we receive of absurdities related to law and justice. If the masses, the plebes of this new Rome are satisfied only with entertainment (whether it be sports or fighting over their perception of truth) ought it surprise us that they are so easily swayed and controlled by others?
The Two Romes
American leaders and the American people certainly do not really see themselves as a new Rome. There is a dearth of historical understanding and perspective at work. Continental Europeans might often pound their chests and dismiss their status as mere provinces in the empire, they have real choices they might say. Nations in the global south might believe they have a choice and are not mere puppet states. Perhaps some do have a choice, for perhaps there exist two Romes.
Vladimir Putin certainly believes that when Byzantium fell the mantle of defender of the faith passed from Constantinople to Moscow in 1453, that Russia is the seat of the Third Rome. And it is curious, that despite the Russian people and the Orthodox church being under the thumb of Soviet Communism the culture survived. It would be a fascinating, and very long discussion, to revisit the ideas that WWII was a battle of ideologies and then trace in our current moment where those ideologies found a home, and where they died. It would be a fascinating conversation with honest people however many simply paint Russia’s conceptualization of culture and history as Christian Fascism, and the centralized, increasingly corporate-fascism, of the West as “Democracy” – these are neither honest nor accurate descriptions.
If we look past the bread and circuses of domestic squabbles, for these are only the symptoms of a dead and dying culture, and evaluate what is occurring geopolitically according to the fault line I just described, all of it makes more sense. In a very real sense, the conflict in Ukraine begins to take on the air of a civil war. A war between Slavic peoples that have adopted different cultural norms, each seeks to serve one of the Romes. The government of Ukraine, nurtured, supported, and even created by the West represents everything that is the West. The media operation in support of it represents this very well, soldiers with unicorn patches. The media operation of Russia consists of a patriot grandmother, holding a flag and summoning images of the millions that died fighting against a foreign idea. Each image is powerful, powerful in what it represents and who it is intended to speak to.
There are some in the West, peddlers of lies, that would note that the patriot grandmother holds a Soviet flag, these would proclaim, “see we fight against communists”. These fools fail to see the message conveyed, it is not the ideology that she represents, but a call to home and to the motherland, a call to remember who people really are and past sacrifices. Despite how some might misinterpret the images above, no matter how these may speak to a depraved worldview, those two opposed images represent everything that is going on.
It all remains to be seen what becomes of all this. The West as Rome has adopted unto itself all of the maladies that damned the first Rome. Russia as a Third Rome is rich in commodities but demographically challenged. The outcome rests with the global south and with China – where will these ultimately register their vote? It will be impossible to play on the margins forever, taking from one, and appeasing the other. Eventually, the issue will come to a head, and with it, the economic order will be reshuffled in favor of the Third Rome, or it will solidify in favor of the New Rome. Only time will tell.
For those that live in the New Rome, my fellow Roman citizens who perhaps neither realize that the Empire exists nor that it is in a late-stage decline none of the implications we can draw from the above bode well for us. Domestically it will be impossible to achieve good governance, the corruption, absurdity, division, deception, and inefficiency that we observe is the future. The only partial solution available, the only method that can possibly hold it together is one that looks almost nothing like our original conception of ourselves starting out. It can be no other way. The only glue that can hold it together going forward is an increasingly powerful system of control over the increasingly disaffected people. We have only one possible future, total collapse is an impossibility, total control, guided by one of the available ideologies and buttressed by man’s innate desire for power is our future lot.
If Putin lives long enough, or if his successor holds to his worldview, Russia will eventually achieve success in Ukraine, but this will not be the end of it. It remains to be seen, what decisions the global south will make, and what ultimate side China will presume to be ultimately victorious; they will be pragmatic and not principled in this decision.
If the economic order shifts, if China finally and fully sides with Russia, and the economic order is torn into two camps, with much of the global south defecting, perhaps the end of the petrodollar and the establishment of a second global reserve currency, well, at a macro level one could argue that in the long march of history this is a good thing. But for the citizens of the New Rome, this means nothing good. Empires do not merely fade away, the British empire did not fade away, it fought two world wars in order to maintain itself and merely passed along a mantle in its last dying breath. New Rome has no such candidate to pass the mantle to, our prosperity is built upon global hegemony, economic hegemony supported by a perceived military hegemony. The military aspect of the hegemon is possible only because of the economic system. Remove that, and the legions become hollow.
But empires with hollow legions and corrupt emperors do not simply pack it all up, concede defeat and go home. They fight, they fight ever more desperately, increasingly more irrationally and in the end, with reckless abandon and folly. The age-old allure of power is insatiable, it matters not that in late-stage empires that domestic conditions are intolerable, that people rise up to protest and resist. Those that cannot be deceived, or bought off through more bread and circuses are arrested, imprisoned, or killed on the streets and in their homes. Most read the placards glued to the town walls and submit, for there is no other real option but death and suffering, most given this Sophie’s Choice choose life and suffering.
In the midst of it all Truth remains. It was the conceptualization of truth that initially sustained and built the West. It was the very thing that enabled empire builders to succeed. It is truth that is at the heart of the conflict we see unfolding geopolitically and domestically. It is ultimately only Truth that matters. New Rome has been overtaken by a post-truth ideology, it is this fact that enabled the repetition of all that went wrong with Rome – human nature is a general law of history.
June 8, 2022