“Those that cannot remember the pass are condemned to repeat it”, (George Santayana 1863 to 1952), “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme a lot”, (Mark Twain), two of the many quotes honoring historic recurrence, one of my favorite’s is, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, (Commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, but wholly lacking any proof). Most often I hear these astute observations from self identified sages, or the somewhat less than wise politicians defending a flawed ideology. Who can argue with the wisdom of a dead great man or the evocative oratory of a living great man? Especially if the quote fits within the 120 character limit or the 6 second sound bite, all meant to prove that my side is smart while your side is stupid.
Paying homage to the theory of historic recurrence, many ask me if America is repeating the decline of the Roman Empire, or are we traveling the same bunny trail of the British Empire. The short answer is, No, for a better answer, read some history books and decide for yourself.
History repeats because, as near as I can discern, we have not changed since the start of writing and most likely much longer. The major vices of humanity were identified millennia past, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Our demonic dark side battles with our self-sacrificing angelic civilized tendency, more often the dark side wins. The leader ruled by the vices is common. The leader ruled by virtue is rare. In this sense, yes, we are repeating the mistakes of ancient Rome. What we are repeating is abominable leadership guided by vice, with a population following short term self interest for personal gain.
This is the view of the cynic, a cynic currently enjoying the vice of sloth. I have almost perfected the art of procrastination and the practice of doing nothing. Enough bragging, back to the subject of historic recurrence, which is really the subject of human repetition in like circumstance.
History is written about the great, I have read of Caesar, Charlemagne, Kemal Ataturk and Abe Lincoln, little is written about the millions that suffered and died in their time. The story of Jane Doe working and raising her children will not make the best seller list. Without a million Roman Jane Does’, Caesar would have never been. No Roman Jane Doe, no Roman Caesar. This insight by Caesar is what allowed a truly great leader to be truly great, this is the difference between the virtuosity of Caesar and the vileness of Nero, the Roman Emperor that lived the vices of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony doomed the Roman Empire. Generations of parasitic leaders slowly bleed Rome. Eventually Rome fell to the relentless invading Germanic barbarian because of rule by morally corrupt Roman barbarians.
Do not think of only one leader, in America we have currently chosen about a half million elected political leaders. Emperor Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but he had thousands of accomplices. Do not listen to the morally bankrupt Congressperson telling you it is the other politician, all must choose between virtue and vice. Empty political theater is easy, governing is hard. Good governing is very hard, and only possible with personal virtue. It is not what they say, it is what they do. We have a crop of politicians that claim they were elected to not govern. They must stop others from governing. These are misguided individuals that have surrendered to their vices. It is easy to destroy, it is hard to restore.
The grand current of history is the cultural evolution of civilization, and the slow development of better government. We are in a battle between our human vices and our human virtues. Our weapon in this battle is civilization. We police ourselves with moral rules, with the moral rules learned from tragic results. The desperate lives and horrific deaths of billions slowly taught us the rules for civilization. The increasing rapidity of technological discovery has allowed 7 billion living souls to cover the earth, it also allows us to commit species suicide, the difference will be determined in our age old struggle between vice and virtue.
Will America fall like the Roman Empire? Without virtuous leaders, yes it will. Do we have virtuous leaders? Ask Jane Doe.