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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The decline and fall of the American empire


It could happen but it won’t.  In comparison to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the U.S. has several factors on its side that weren’t in place then.  As an example, a democracy that works and a constitution that was written by statesmen, not politicians.  Anyway, there are many scholars who are of the belief that there was no “fall” at all, rather a very intricate conversion that took place over several years.

Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in 1776, is the basis for any discussion on this subject.  Most scholars agree his facts are extremely accurate but many do not agree with his interpretations.  And it is in Gibbon’s findings that we can see comparisons between the Roman era and the United States today. 

He blamed Christianity for its promise of the after-life that made the problems of the Roman people irrelevant, much like the religious rights’ hold today on many conservatives.  Further, the conquests of the Roman Emperors that has a direct relationship to the Bush/Cheney invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  And then there are the theories about the general apathy of the Roman population that can be compared to the low voting turnout in American elections and a general disinterest in politics.

More hypotheses include a decline in moral values, public health problems, political corruption and unemployment.  Sound familiar?  You’re surrounded by all four every day.  Although it is probably a stretch, the Romans experienced urban decay which today’s homeowner foreclosures could mirror.  Rome was almost completely abandoned in the 6th century in the wars between the East and West Roman Empires.  And then in the 7th century the East was invaded by Persia (now Iran) followed by Muslim conquests in Egypt.  An invasion by Iran not likely, but Islam is becoming more popular throughout the world

Historians Arnold J. Toynbee and James Burke believe that the Roman Empire was a “rotten system from its inception” and that because of the decay that ensued, Rome could not have lasted any longer because the people in power (the Emperors) were powerless to do anything about it.  This is not a reflection on the United States as a country but rather an image of a Congress and White House that is operating in complete confusion.

But the collapse of the Roman Empire wasn’t a catastrophe for everyone according to anthropologist Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, published in 1988.  Archaeological evidence indicates that nutrition actually improved after the collapse of Rome.  And he points out that the average individual may have benefited because he or she no longer had to invest in the “burdensome complex of the empire.”

And the transformation or intricate conversion mentioned initially that occurred over several years includes all the advanced stages the United States has gone through in its development as a nation.  Although most of our progress has been attained through technology, this article is primarily concerned with political growth.  Is it possible that, with the current state of chaos between liberals and conservatives, and the total dysfunction between the White House and Congress, the benefits of a Social Democracy might just fix what is wrong?

You can read more here and here.

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