It may not have been built in a day, but its decline may as well have happened over night. It’s no surprise that people are starting to notice parallels between the United States and the mighty Roman Empire, and it doesn’t matter which way you swing politically, the stark reality is staring us in the face as history once again makes fools of the human race.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s such a simple, yet incredibly clever quote that had just as much relevance in his time as it does in ours today. Human beings are relatively quick to forget lessons learned from the past, simply because those lessons were learned first-hand by a completely different generation. Those that lived through The Great Depression are dying out as the US cusps ever closer to a second one. The way the game is played has changed little, and the spark of our recession is startlingly similar to what drove the United States’ economy full-speed off a cliff in 1929.
Did we honestly think it couldn’t happen again just because we had a bull market for almost two decades? When investor confidence is up, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind and ignore a very basic principle of a free market system: it’s never really free. You can’t get something for nothing, but that’s exactly what we were doing from the 80’s onward. There was once a time when you could pay off a brand-new home in your 20’s-30’s while earning a reasonable living wage. Very little was purchased with credit, and things that were purchased with credit had very reasonable and affordable interest rates.
Somehow we went from a society that worked hard, saved, and was able to actually obtain and OWN the American dream to a society that is not only in debt, but is financially and socially incapable of getting out of it. We got a lot of things for nothing, and nothing is precisely what a lot of Americans have to show for it today. It’s easy to lay the blame on the consumer, but it takes a creeping malevolence to undermine and pervert the notion of obtaining the American dream in such a passive way that no one knew until it was too late. The malignancy was small, but the cancer spread from Wall Street to corporation to government.
If you catch cancer early, it can be controlled or even cured. If you catch it too late, your body begins to shut down. We’re definitely two decades too late, and this isn’t going away anytime soon, not without some amputations.
But that was just one example of completely disregarding the past. Let’s take a look at our great, great, great, great grandfather Rome. No one can deny the power and greatness of the Roman empire. It had the world’s best military. It was the second world republic (after Greece). It had a thriving economy (using slave labor to obtain most of it). They built some of the most impressive roads, buildings, aqueducts, sewer systems… my God, it was pristine and way ahead of its time. Who knows how technologically advanced they would have been had they not “accidentally” burned down the library of Alexandria.
But all was not well in Rome. It was too big and too diverse, which meant it was a lot harder to control with a centralized government. This gave way to major corruption and gross, uneven wealth distribution. Sound familiar? That was the first problem, the second problem was the decline of the military, which ties into the first problem. When you have prolonged military presence in foreign lands, the costs to maintain that presence coupled with the cost of expansion (even through conquest) leads to eventual decay. Could this happen in a world where it takes days, not months, to travel from one end of the globe to the other? The Roman military often settled where they conquered, which further segregated and decentralized Rome. Obviously our troops aren’t going to start new lives in the middle east, but look at what this prolonged military presence is costing the country.
Military decay wasn’t the only reason an empire as great as Rome fell. The wealthy began hoarding bullion (silver used as currency), and large amounts of impure currency was minted and distributed, which caused massive inflation. Goodness, that does sound familiar. Trade between the eastern half and western half of Rome began to decline. How much does the US actually export to other countries, and at the same time, how many goods are actually made in this country to supply a demand… in this country? Take a look at where most of your products are manufactured and draw your own conclusions. That wasn’t all that aided in the collapse of the Roman economy. The barbarians also plundered the coffers, and basically left Rome for broke. This is kind of similar to what the wall street barbarians, I mean barons are doing today.
Religion! Oh here we go again with religion being the root of all evil. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s no coincidence the decline of the Roman empire began to really take off after the Romans not only tolerated Christianity, but made it an official religion! Thanks Constantine. That’s really all it took to shift the power from Emperors to the pontiff. Once Christianity spread like disease among the people, those that held the religious trump card became the new rulers of Rome. Not saying that religion didn’t exist before Christianity, but there was a reason why this particular religion was feared and discriminated against in ancient Rome. Now, couple this newly found religion with the rise of Islam in the east, and you have a conflict of, well, biblical proportions. Two of the worst religions not only accounted for countless deaths, but also had a hand in plunging the civilized world into the Dark Ages.
We are seeing a rise in this same theocracy that helped doom Rome in the United States today. It’s amazing that after almost 2,000 years, we’re back to this dark blotch in human history. Picture this, if the roles of Islam and Christianity were reversed, if Islam was this nation’s religion and Christianity was contained in the middle east, the roles of these religions would be reversed. You would have Christians blowing themselves up and Muslims trying to control every uterus and bedroom in the US today. This is not speculation here, because all of this has happened before! Christians, when given the chance can be just as volatile and violent as Muslims. I like to think of these people of faith as having hive mentality, and no real mind of their own.
And the final nail in Rome’s coffin was division. One of my favorite presidents once said “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” You had western Rome under two radically different rulers and eastern Rome in the same boat. In this country, we are not divided by geography, but rather by political partisan. It has gotten so out of hand that we’re as ineffective a nation as Rome was as two. One side of Rome succeeded for a while longer, but still eventually fell. Which side will succeed in the US, and does one extreme stand a chance at bringing this nation out of despair, or prolong its inevitable collapse? I’m going to say the latter. We need both political parties, because these once gave voice to people who didn’t have one. We may even need a third political party to balance the two out, something completely middle ground. Then again, we may already have them as Independents, which seems to be growing in popularity as people become disgusted with the political side they’ve once had no choice but to take.
As gloom and doom as this may seem, we have something Rome didn’t, which may be our saving grace. We have history to teach us the lessons of our past, and we have the capability to learn and adapt based on observation. The circumstances of Rome’s decline were culturally different, but fundamentally similar to what is happening in this nation today… and perhaps the world. We cannot repeat these mistakes and expect to still evolve into something better than we were. Right now is a pivotal moment in our existence. Apocalypse is said to be a time of enlightenment, something happens that makes everyone stand up and take notice and become better. Cyclical apocalypses only occur when we become comfortable with ignorance and close our minds to the consequences.