America’s Framers admired and largely modeled our government on ancient Rome, even though – after five centuries – Rome’s republic was replaced by an empire, which itself fell after another five centuries.
For more than 230 years, Americans have debated whether our disintegrating morals, politically debased dollar, corrupt welfare-state, high taxes and regulations, polarizing politicians and culture diluted by a flood of unpatriotic foreigners will lead to our decline and fall, as they did ancient Rome’s.
The latest such speculation comes from the liberal magazine the Atlantic, where its national correspondent James Fallows opines in its October issue that “The End of the Roman Empire Wasn’t That Bad: Maybe the End of the American One Won’t Be Either.”
Fallows, who was chief speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and remains one of the last liberal freethinkers, expects the collapse of “imperial” America. He expects our overextended power to shrink and then implode – as Rome’s did – because our politics have descended into an intransigent civil war between the globalist left and President Donald Trump’s nationalist populism.
For a century, the progressive goal has been to replace nationalism with internationalism and with a world government exemplified by the United Nations, the European Union and a controlling web of agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord. (We remember President Barack Obama gleefully displaying to reporters his copy of Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World.”)
The left is determined to impose such a global socialist order, despite negative votes by the people of the United States, the United Kingdom and other nations. If the left is thwarted in this power grab, then it is prepared to ruin a world it cannot rule by creating a new dark age of terrorism, war and social breakdown.
But according to Fallows, the collapse of centralized power in ancient Rome – which opened the way to barbarian invasions and the repeated sacking of the city of Rome itself (“like an endless raid by motorcycle gangs,” one historian described it) – was not as bad as we used to think, according to modern revisionist historians.
The centralized society secured by Roman legions of the empire, he writes, was rather swiftly replaced by the decentralized feudal system of isolated monasteries, dukes, castles and towns protected by knights in shining armor. And this new society led to new ideas, and within a few centuries, to the Renaissance.
Mr. Fallows is of the intellectual left. The longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer once predicted that if you ask any leftist what other time in history he would have wanted to live, he will reply “The Middle Ages,” because that is the last time in the West that intellectuals were part of the ruling elite. (I once was chatting with Erich Fromm, the Frankfurt School Marxist psychologist, and asked this question – and exactly as Hoffer predicted, Fromm replied: “The Middle Ages.”)
“Might the travails of today’s American governing system, and the strains on the empire-without-the-name it has tried to run since World War II, have a similar, perversely beneficial effect?” writes Fallows. “Could the self-paralysis of American national governance somehow usher in a rebirth – our own Dark Ages, but in a good way?”
The breakup of the Roman Empire (whose Eastern half, Byzantium, survived until 1453 A.D.) created the precursors of what became modern countries. Wrote Princeton historian Peter Brown, the fragmentation of Rome created “astounding new beginnings … much that a sensitive European has come to regard as most ‘modern’ and valuable in his own culture.”
But what might have been? First century A.D. genius Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria invented a workable steam engine, with which Roman engineers could have created automobiles and the industrial age 2,000 years ago.
During the Middle Ages, the Black Plague wiped out more than a third of Europeans, who reproduced their numbers in only six generations. But as science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson speculates in his 2002 novel “The Years of Rice and Salt,” what if the plague had killed 99 percent in Europe, ending its future influence?
The legacy of Rome and its empowerment of a sect of Judaism called Christianity, not to mention our Enlightenment ideals of individual rights and democracy – including Cicero’s advice to political candidates (“Promise everything to everybody … say whatever the crowd wants to hear”) – would probably have vanished as major influences. The world would likely thereafter have been shaped mostly by China vs. India, and Buddhism vs. Islam.
No Euro-American Marxist left would be left to impose its global socialist neo-feudalism slavery.
History is written by the winners.
Lowell Ponte is a former Reader’s Digest Roving Editor. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other major publications. His latest paper co-authored with Craig R. Smith, “Protecting Your Wealth in Today’s America: How You Invest Your Savings Requires New Thinking,” shows how to rethink several areas of investment to protect and grow your savings in our new schizophrenic politics. For a free, postpaid copy, call toll-free 800-630-1492.