There comes a time in every politically-minded person’s life when they compare America to the Roman empire. Basing one’s political arguments on comparisons between the United States and the Roman Empire is kind of like wetting your bed. Up to a certain young age it’s understandable, but thereafter it’s a sign that you have a serious problem. For a case study, take a look at this beautiful, classic take-down of a John Stossel piece on Gin & Tacos.
As the reader might have guessed, America/Rome comparisons drive me up the fucking wall. While the John Stossel piece comes from his libertarian point of view, this trope is most often wielded by more traditional conservative forces, as well as some far right extremists as well. The typical fairy tale is that Rome became too tolerant, too decadent, and as a result too corrupt, and therefore it collapsed. Utter bullshit. For one thing, when Rome was tolerant, it was at the height of its existence as an empire. And what was the Roman state religion throughout its decline? Christianity. Are you sure you want to use that trope, Mr. Conservative? People even further to the right insist that Rome fell because it’s culture and blood became too mixed. Again, utter bullshit. Rome at its height was cosmopolitan, tolerant, and accepting of other cultures and religion. As for mixing of blood well, a lot of that foreign blood came from the very same Germanic barbarians that far right extremists constantly fap to. Shouldn’t the influx of precious Germanic blood plus the imposition of one state religion have strengthened the Roman empire? Forget it. The question is rhetorical because this is all bullshit in the first place.
Next time you hear someone say “America’s like Rome,” ask them when the Roman empire fell. If they don’t go full deer-in-headlights right there, they’ll probably come up with 476 AD. Not even close. If you’re an informed reader, you might say 1453. Not bad. But if you want to get technical the answer is 1923. The Roman Empire fell in 1923. That’s not a typo. Ottoman Sultan Beyazit I claimed to be Sultan of Rum(Rome) even before the capture of Constantinople by his descendant Mehmet II, but after the latter finally achieved what Beyazit could not, he claimed the title Kayser(Caesar) and declared himself the successor to the Roman Empire. Prior to the conquest of the Middle East under Selim I “The Grim,” Arabs sometimes referred to the Ottoman Turks as “Romans.” Since Ottoman sultans continued to claim this title after 1453, it is fair to say that the Roman empire truly collapsed with the Ottoman Empire, and that was in 1923. My great-grandfather fought against the true successor of the Roman empire. Yours might have as well.
At this point if the person in question can’t get their head around 1453, they probably shouldn’t be talking about the Roman empire. They should probably start with something much more manageable, such as the history of modern Finland.
I think America/Rome comparisons go hand in hand with other tropes such as using The Matrix in philosophical debates and discussions, thinking Fight Club is deep, invoking 1984, comparing every drawn-out conflict to Vietnam, and assorted other lazy shortcuts which help otherwise stupid people sound smart and politically savvy in the company of other stupid people. All the ignorant sheeple suck down Coca-Cola and plop themselves in front of the idiot box to watch reality TV after they get home from the shopping mall with their precious material goods, but I know what’s really going on! We’re Rome, and their Wal-Marts, fast food joints, professional sports, and cheap consumer goods are nothing but the modern equivalent of bread and circuses!
Okay maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe their are a lot of parallels between America today and the late Roman empire, which of course must only refer to the Western Roman empire because West = good. Let me see…
-America has a state religion, the imposition of which ended a long tradition of religious tolerance and acceptance.
-America directly occupies and administers foreign territory all over the globe.
-Faced with dire conflicts all over the world, the US military has had to increasingly rely on foreign mercenaries to fill out its ranks. The US Army is full of men recruited from Iraq and Afghanistan. Now many of these mercenaries have managed to rise to high ranking positions in the military.
-Large migrations of warrior peoples are threatening the borders of the United States.
Yup. Just like Rome! Oh wait, none of those things are actually happening! And that is just a handful of differences we could point to. As Ed from Gin & Tacos points out, you could find all kinds of trivial details with which to compare two states, but this doesn’t make your overall comparison accurate in the slightest. Cows and tables have four legs, but cows are not tables.
So the next time you see someone making a comparison between America and Rome, do yourself, the historical record, and them a huge favor. Punch them in the head.