America is on course to fall like the Roman Empire. Sagacious wisdom delivered by serious individuals. A prediction at least a century old, I have heard some say Nostradamus predicted our Latin destiny in the 16th century. I have listened to many sages talk of America’s demise since a small child, this story proved helpful by teaching me to ignore the wise sage’s moralistic pontification. I predict that America will decline and then fall, I also predict an earthquake will happen in California, Turkey or Japan. I foresee pestilence, war and famine, we are all doomed. Sound familiar? Now I add some time lines, the end is 15 to 20 years in the future. My solution will prevent our failure for 75 years. Currently we hear this spiel about Social Security dysfunction. In 1983 Ronald Reagan used the same argument to modify Social Security, which saved Social Security for 75 years. We need not worry about Social Security until 2058 due to the fixes instituted by President Reagan. Part of President Reagan’s argument was the Fall of Rome comparison. The Fall of Rome paragon is a red flag, a warning that the sales pitch has begun.
Our contemporary sages compare the moral decay and economic collapse of America to Rome, history will repeat unless we do as they say. Warnings are presented with feeble ideas that have never produced positive results. The poor ideas are hidden by the emotional argument, if you hear a lecture about America repeating Roman history, change the channel, there are some great sports programs available.
Why did the Roman Empire fall is a valid question. German professor Alexander Demandt published, in 1984, a compilation of 210 theories explaining why Rome fell. An alphabetized list is available from the University of Texas. These theories can be grouped into four broad categories. Loss of morals, disease and earthquakes, economic collapse, and last, Rome did not fall, instead it devolved into the European dark ages. As a history buff, I have read many of the presentations by professors, and I have developed my own thoughts.
Is there a lesson to be learned from the collapse of the Roman Empire? There is a lesson, a story repeated across time and cultures, always with the same end game. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire, several Chinese dynasties, the French monarchy, the Persian Empire, even the Greek city state of Sparta, all civil organizations that loss the support of the civilian masses. It is a lesson of greed, pride and power by the elite, while for the common man, life became unbearable, with starvation wages, abusive conditions, staggering inequity and justice for sale.
The source of success, is the root of the failure. As a society’s wealth increases, the difference between have and have-not increases. Initially the concentration of wealth and power aides the entire society, this concentration allows for larger endeavors, it provides direction and success for the society. Inevitably the elite go too far, conditions for the common individual deteriorates, the society losses the support of the common citizen. In the case of the Roman Empire, by the fifth century, the abuse of the common citizen was so bad that surrender to a barbarian King could be an improvement. In the case of America, at the turn of the 20th century, the abuse by the “robber barons” was so extensive that America’s political system was on the edge of collapse. The political system, and culture, was saved by legislative action creating the Interstate Commerce Commission and laws regulating monopolies, later combined with the Labor Union action which improved wages, work safety and conditions, benefits and the 40 hour work week.
We should not look to Roman history for the answer. We should look to American history for the answer. The Romans failed, as did the French Monarchy, while America succeeded. America survived the crisis of the “robber barons” and went on to create the “American Century”.
The Roman Empire started as a Republic, all male citizens had a political voice, a thousand years later only the elite had political power. This is the pattern. The elite slowly reduce the number of people at the table, eventually only the elite sit at the table. Initially the elite solicit the voluntary support of the populace, later the elite compels their support by force.
America in the early 1900’s solved the problem by giving workers a political voice, a seat at the table.
The elite learned the lesson, the attempts to buy the Presidency failed, the attempts to murder labor leaders failed. Today their grandchildren play a far more sophisticated game, with the same objective, remove people from the table. The short term results will be greater wealth and power for the elites, the long term result will be the same as that of the Roman Emperors, or the French King.
The lesson of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is to have all citizens at the table.