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BLOG 51

DECLINE AND FALL?  IN 1776, the year our American Republic was born, English author Edward Gibbon published his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” 

Today, there has been a renewed interest in Gibbon. Does the decline of the Roman Empire hold lessons for us today?  Are we the modern day Roman Empire?

Some argue that America today is decadent, an overly-indulgent society which favors the wealthy and powerful despite being on the brink of economic/political collapse.

What is their argument?

One might begin with explanations for the fall of Rome.  Historians have suggested:

  • Invasions by Germanic barbarians
  • The sack of Rome
  • The coming of Islam
  • General lack of will in the people
  • Decadence of the ruling classes
  • Growing influence of Christianity
  • Excessive taxation to support the military
  • Unsound economic policies
  • Crop failures
  • Disease

Adding to the list, an American anthropologist named Joseph Tainter has suggested a modern take – as societies become increasingly advanced, their resources can no longer accommodate a viable, sustainable society.

Progressives sometimes compare the decline of Rome to what happened during the Trump administration.

They argue somewhat as follows:

Our nation faced “sedition and insurrection” contesting the inauguration of a new, legitimate leader.

How was this done? Like the failed emperors of Rome, President Trump supposedly did away with “adults in the room.”   Soon, only sycophants were left.

With the “adults” gone, he next fought with a handful of heroic bureaucrats. Talented civil servants gave the Roman Empire – as well as the British and American public servants – staying power, solid administration, and competence.   Such individuals arguably could hold the rickety scaffolding together.  Addressing this, Trump sneered at the entrenched bureaucrats (and perhaps unfriendly media) by calling them the “deep state.”

Another aspect of Rome – and perhaps of Pres. Trump – was embracing “alternative facts.”   Arguably, the administration relied on falsehoods, giving life to conspiracy theories of a stacked national election.

The argument continues that the United States is following the dangerous declining path of Rome.   Like Rome, our Congress has ceded its authority to the Chief Executive across a wide front, relinquishing any claim that the laws are created by “the people’s house.”

Furthermore, in Rome, the argument goes, the Caesars maintained the fiction of a Republican government. The Senate was castrated, engaging in pretenses of freedom long after it ceased to play an important role.  This is happening here and now, many argue

 Meanwhile, those ambitious for government advancement protected their positions by abject subservience to this President.

Historian Ramsay MacMullen  has distilled the long arc of the Roman empire into three words: FEWER HAVE MORE.” This, some fear, is where America finds itself today.

FOR HISTORY BUFFS. There is one particular source for the following sayings who was it?

  • set your teeth on edge
  • good riddance
  • full circle
  • did as a doornail
  • wild goose chase

Answers at the end of this blog

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MORON AND AN IDIOT moron is somebody who’s driving 10 miles slower than you. An idiot is one who is driving 10 miles faster.

ARCHAEOLOGY AT FACE VALUE . Archaeology magazine explains how researchers, using special camera filters under different light wavelengths – identify pigments and binding agents. As a result today’s viewers can see pretty close to what the original looked like.

ANCIENT DAYS?  A recent TV advertisement enthusiastically notes that a certain plumber has been in business for 20 years.   Not very impressive compared to a sign at the ancient church in Exning England. It proclaims “divine worship has been held on the church site since 1520.”

NFL ENDORSEMENTS?  Recently seen on TV – advertisements touting to products which are said to be “endorsed” by the players of the NFL – farm tractors and spiced rum.

SHORTEST TRIAL IN HISTORY?  North Carolina Prof. Bart Ehrman relates what he claims is the shortest trial in history – a Christian persecuted by the Roman state.

  • Are you a bishop?
  • I am
  • You are no longer – execute him.

ANSWERS FOR HISTORY BUFFS.  These were all sayings of William Shakespeare.