Many people compare America and Rome. This has all sorts of problems – in particular, Rome grew through conquest and enslavement, America by trade and capitalism. But what if you ran with it?
America’s been independent for 232 years. 2013 clearly corresponds to somewhere in the mid fourth century – call it 330. This gives us roughly four Roman years per American year.
FDR was obviously Augustus – he transformed the country into an empire, keeping old institutions in name, while greatly expanding central authority and his personal power. (Notably, both are widely seen as good guys.) In the Roman timeline, Augustus took power 360 years ago, corresponding to 90 American years. FDR took power 80 years ago (1933) – pretty close.
The American Civil War was 150 years ago. The closest corresponding event was the Second Punic War (Hannibal = Robert Lee, Grant = Scipio Africanus?), which happened 550 Roman years ago. This equals 140 American years, confirming the timeline. Further obvious mappings are LBJ -> Marcus Aurelius and Reagan -> Diocletian.
In broader terms, both Rome and America did not fall suddenly – there was a slow decline over centuries in government efficacy. Likewise, phrases like “bankrupted by war” misunderstand economics. War is very expensive, but it’s a one-time cost. What matters long-term is a) the fraction of GDP one can extract to fund armies, b) size of GDP, c) growth rate of GDP, and d) how these compare to opponents. In 1960, America and to a lesser extent Russia utterly dominated all four categories – with the US emphasizing b) and Russia emphasizing a) – as did the Romans in 100. Hence, they could fund huge armies and not worry about it.
Rome wasn’t (and America won’t be) conquered like Nazi Germany. There was no one big battle where barbarians lined up and overran the Empire. As barbarians grew in power, they became Romanized, and often were Roman allies. But the central government was increasingly unable to control them, causing a gradual breakdown of Roman authority. One modern analogy is the Arab Spring – popular unrest threw off American-allied governments, and installed more independent leaders.
Extrapolating forward, what’s America’s equivalent to Byzantium? The obvious answer is Canada, and possibly Australia. Both are as similar to us as Roman provinces were to one another, while also being generally wealthier and better-run. It seems reasonable that, over the next two decades, American social, economic, and human capital will gradually flow out as the government continues its decline, leaving the US proper an empty shell like Russia in 1995.
Tell that to Mexico and the Native Americans.
Everyone wants to compare modern America to the Late Roman Empire, but a better comparison, and it fits the timeline much better, is to the late Republic. This period really should be better known. Its remarkable the extent to which the whole thing fell apart between 145 BC and the 49 BC to 29 BC period, when essentially the army stepped in and stabilized things (which, using modern terms, really was what Octavian was doing).
The US is really not even at the beginning of this period. In 145 BC the Senate was sending out armies to other cities in the Mediterranean, threatening to attack them if they didn’t give up all their weapons, and then when the inhabitants gave up their weapons attacked them anyway, destroyed the cities, and made all the survivors slaves. Plus contact out hits on any politicians at home who had even milld objections to how business was being run. And it got worse. Think some mixture of 1930s Japan and 1990s Russia that lasted over a hundred years. Believe me, I worry about the US, but things are just not that bad here yet.
but the idea of Canada/ Australia being Byzantium is really thought provoking.
Interesting, but are you sure that’s right? Rome in the Republican era was rapidly becoming more powerful, and conquering more and more land. Even at the height of the crisis, we still see things like Caesar’s conquest of all of modern-day France. America in 2013 is clearly in decline, relative to competing powers.
Let’s see… If 509 BC is the equivalent of 1649 (I regard the U.S. as an offshoot of Britain), then 145 BC sounds about right for today’s U.S.
Comparisons between Obama and Tiberius Gracchus (or maybe Marius) will be left as an exercise for the reader.
“Rome in the Republican era was rapidly becoming more powerful”
Rome dominated the Mediterranean by 190 BC, after defeating Carthage and Macedon, annexing both countries in 146-145 BC. Actually, for the next century, Ceasar’s conquest of Gaul was their only major conquest, though some kingdoms in the Near East was absorbed more or less peacefully. The Romans during this period had problems dealing with the Spanish tribes, the Pontines, and the Numidians, not exactly the equivalent of Macedon and Carthage.