Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

After Athens, now Rome?

After all the references to Thucydides and the Sicilian expedition (the best one is here), I suppose it’s refreshing to see someone move on to Rome, with a book for light summer beach reading. I wonder if it contains a discussion of our obsession with food.

Update: Before I let the Rome thing go, let me offer a couple of comments, having just surfaced from teaching Livy in a summer school class. If we’re going to focus on the way that America is like the Roman Empire, let’s not forget about the decline in civic virtue and public spirit, especially among the elites. That was certainly one of Livy’s concerns. I’d also note that after 9/11, President Bush had an opportunity to galvanize us with a call for sacrifice. Instead, he told us to go shopping. And finally, I recently made an argument in a paper for this conference that Livy teaches us about the importance of "family values" for Roman republicanism, something that we who think of family in terms of personal gratification perhaps don’t fully appreciate. So let’s by all means think about the domestic implications of the Roman analogy. If we’re going to apply it to GWB and our foreign policy, let’s look in the mirror.

Discussions - 9 Comments

Dr. Ben Carson has been making the Roman connection on the domestic and civic sides in his books and lectures for awhile now. To me, that application of the analogy is much more valid than the whole "imperial" expansionist aspect that is so prominent.

Joe, the Livy class sounds fascinating. Could you email me a copy of your syllabus or other info about it. Maybe I can do it in my Classical slot soon. Thanks....

Now all of you know that I won't hesitate to unload on the President, but there was a reason he told us all to go shopping. Our economy had come to a standstill. Two/thirds of our economy is consumer driven. It was important that Americans start consuming again.

He should have asked for men. He would have had several million men lining up outside the recruiting depots the very next day.

From the start, he didn't intend to rattle islam. Sure there were certain regimes that were going to go, Saddam and the Taliban come immediately to mind. But if he called for men, that would have sent a message that Powell and Condi considered a bit too bellicose.

The house of al saud should have been swept away by the wrath of the American people. But there are too many people in Washington in one way or another on the dole of that evil family.

Bush had no business wandering then, or now, into some mosque, proclaiming his cluelessness about jihad and islam.

Sacrifices needed to be made. And one of them was jettisoning the image of Prince Bandar, as an urbane, witty social host, who supposedly was a thoroughly Westernized man, the face of a family that was thoroughly Westernized too. That idea was demonstrably false. There's a foolish notion that Bandar and his ilk represent no more a threat to the West than the self-portrait of Rembrandt, on the wall inside The National Gallery. It's a dangerous indulgence.

It needs to be recalled GW has had dinner with Bandar up at Kennebunkport. The Bush family has socialized with people that have warped their view of islam, of jihad. THAT indulgence, that social decadence if you will, all of that needed to be thrown on the altar of sacrifice.

What needed to be sacrificed was our decadent political correctness, our decadent multiculturalism, our decadent belief that America isn't a country, but a glorified market-place.

What needs to be sacrificed is our post-modern scorn for the West.

Rob, why not suggest that the course be made available on the Internet, for free.

I'm about halfway through Cullen Murphy's Rome book, and I can say that it is a lot different than the common Rome analogy stories. Murphy says throughout the entire book that the democracty, innovative technology, and comparatively dynamic economy of America is far from being the static, violent slave-wielding society of ancient Rome.


He does, however, point out several parellels between us and Rome, mostly covering these topics: 1.) A large and multicultural society, 2.) An expensive and over-stretched military, 3.) A messianic sense of global leadership ("last best hope"), 4.) A tendency to misunderstand foreign cultures, 5.) Uneasiness about porous borders, 6.) The insular culture of the Capital, 7.) Corruption in government, and 8.) Fear of certain forms of privatization. Murphy says that a government fails when it becomes too large to manage; Rome became physically too large. Murphy asserts that in our society, bureaucracy is the new geography. He also, of course, says that since America, like Rome, is a superpower, we have geographic size problems as well-- "For a superpower to defend its interests, it has to succeed everywhere; for a smaller enemy to advance its own, it can succeed anywhere."


Murphy is always quick to say, though, that we are not turning into Rome. He says that there are similarities and we face some problems that Rome faced, but we still have democratic ideals to save us from that. Satirist anchor Stephen Colbert interviewed Cullen Murphy on his show, and the one thing that stuck out to me was when, probably just as a joke, Colbert asked: "Rome vs. America, who wins?" Murphy did not even same to hesitate when he answered "Rome." Colbert was flabbergasted, and Murphy explained that the Romans were ruthless, violent people who did not have a sense of morality and were not afraid to "go too far" to achieve their ends; he pointed out that if a pair of insurgents caused a problem in an Iraqi village, the United States would not round up and crucify the entire village like the Romans would.


Anyways, it's a decent book so far. It is intelligently-written and makes good, persuasive arguments when saying that we are not Rome, but we do face the same problems that Rome faced. Murphy warns against stretching our military too much in foreign lands, privatizing too many things (Murphy asserts that government's primary function is to defend our rights, and is worried about corporations increasingly working in the military and private security forces), and allowing corruption in government (and business) to cripple our liberties.

R.O.B., that is a great capsule review. Thanks. Dan, are you serious?

Yea, put the courses on the Internet. Wouldn't be for credit or anything like that. But it would be available to those who are already degreed, but are interested in the subject. I suggested as much to Professor Hanson.

I mean think about it, wouldn't you guys like to see the courses that Professor Kagan has been teaching up at Yale over the last few decades. I know I would. He should put his lectures on the Internet too.

Rob et al.,

I teach Livy as part of a course required of all our juniors in Oglethorpe's core curriculum. The "canonical" authors for the course are Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, and Ibn Khaldun; in addition, we read 1 Samuel. I occasionally also assign a bit of Augustine, and in the past have assigned Robert Kaplan's Warrior Politics. It isn't a detailed "philosophical" examination of any of these authors and texts, though I have a good bit of fun with it. I'd be happy to share reading assignments and so on, but claim only a "teacherly" knowledge of the texts. Some of what I do will appear as a contribution to the proceedings of the ACTC conference from a couple of years ago, and I've submitted a "Livy and family values" paper to the proceedings for this year's conference (which Hampden-Sydney's Roger Barrus is apparently editing). My paper focuses on the Lucretia and Verginia cases as exemplars of the "domestic" case for republicanism in Rome.

Thanks also to R.O.B. for giving us a peek into Murphy's book, which sounds interesting enough to purchase.

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