America as the New Roman Empire

I was talking to a friend the other day who remarked that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire had some unusual parallels with the current situation in the United States of America.

I'm not going to agree or disagree with this notion, however I must point out that the analogy of the Roman Empire being used to describe modern America is a common one, and one that is present in both sides of political discourse.

Fundamentalist Christians, for example, point to the moral decadence of Rome and then use that as a springboard to condemn homosexuality, abortion and atheism.

Left-wingers will point to an over-extended military, decaying public infrastructure and greater disparities between rich and poor.

But there are some important things we need to remember as we compare the US to Rome:

  1. The United States has not been invaded by hordes of vandals and barbarians destroying outlying cities of the Empire.
  2. The United States has not suffered massive and protracted deaths because of plagues.
  3. The United States has not needed to split itself into two distinct sections in order to maintain governance.
  4. The United States has not gone through periods of great famine that have resulted in the deaths of large swathes of the population.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that America is different to ancient Rome. Moreover, the broad message we get about all empires is that they eventually decline and America is no exception to this - in which case, arguments about poverty, infrastructure, the military and morals are important as general indications of decline without it needing a direct comparison. The British Empire, for example, has shrunk quite considerably from what it was hundreds of years ago but you can't really make the case that further decline is inevitable.

Sadly, I think that, just like Godwin's Law, we need to be judicious in our use of the Roman Empire in our discussions about America and its (so called) decline.

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