America and Rome : Compare

A few days ago I was reading a book called “Empire” by Orson Scott Card. It was a frightening book — albiet unrealistic — of what happened if there was a civil war between left wing hi-tech lunatics and hardcore rightwing survivalists. That premise, I felt, wasn’t very realistic.

But a part of the book dealt with a series of lectures that I found the idea of both fascinating and appalling — the fall of America.

I will summarize the main salient points. While an avid reader of history, I am not a historian and would appreciate corrections being made.

Rome was founded as an aristocratically lead nation in the hills of Italy. At some point, they turned into a republic, where citizens were represented by their Senate. This representation was not very absolute — the needs of the common people were often over looked — but there WAS attempts (the plebian tribunes, the land reforms of the Grachii) at making sure government was … well, representative.

Rome grew in power and size, and her bureaucacy swelled. Increasingly, the republic was beset with internal problems and external issues. Increasingly, the Senate became filled with corrupt senators in the pay and bidding of the Legions, or local businessmen, or corrupt smugglers — one senator was even paid by pirates!

As a result of the increasing corruption and wasting of money, taxes became ever more onerous, and elections were mob affairs — canidates murdered in the streets. The upstanding were butchered, like Cicero, and the base and venal were hailed as heroes.

Eventually, there was very little left. A long string of ineffective Senate leaders culminated in allowing a few powerful men — Caesar, Pompey, Crassius — to take most control of the Republic. The three plotted to rule jointly, then turned on one another. Caesar? won and began using his absolute power to try to derail the Republic. He failed — a patriot named Brutus and the rest of the Senate saw to that — but that did not stop the fall. Octavian, a strong man and a cunning one, played to the mob and the business leaders, and before long the proud history of the Republic was ashes, the Senate little more than a rubber stamp, the people’s rights thrown to the ground and replaced with bread and circuses.


America started as an aristocratically lead society, with the powerful and influential leading the people to revolt against tyranny. These leaders, much like the ancient Roman founders of the Republic, tried to create a government that was fair. They paid much more attention to givng power to the people, to stopping tyranny, and almost none to making themselves powerful — they were, without a doubt, great men and human beings.

But they were all too mortal, and they died, and much like Rome, less able men took their place, and as the country prospered, interests found reasons to chip away at the structure.

Just as the practice in Rome of allowing outlying regions to govern their own affairs lead to outlying corruption, so did in the early years the nation struggle with corruption on a state level, with Tammany Hall a symbol of everything wrong with government. Much like Rome swelled and grew fat on the conquest and expansion, so did America expand, until we held islands in the Atlantic and Pacific, armies flung all over the world (Legion style), and interfering with every nation within our reach.

Like Rome, our government has become more corrupt, more attuned to listening to big business than to the small man, the plebian, the everyday Joe.

Like Rome, the very offiicials elected to protect us from corruption are often found themselves to be corrupted, like Mr. Spitzer.

Like Rome, we are engaged in a seemingly unending series of small wars that serve mostly to antagonize those around us and drain our wealth and treasure — yet fatten the pockets of the military industrial complex. (Roman arms manufacturers and the armorers who made segmenta lorica, the Legionary armor, had more sway in the Senate than entire segments of Rome).

Like Rome, the government defines new roles for itself on a regular basis — with no limits or checks.

Like Rome, the government panders to the mob, saying what they think they wish to hear and doing little. It matters not if it’s a mob in ancient Rome baying for free bread, taxes on big landowners, and to fling the Germans out, or if it’s a mob in America baying for more welfare, taxes on big businesses, and to fling the illegal aliens out.

Like Rome, we have become paralyzed to fix anything.

Here’s one that should please the Ron Paul supporters: he had an ancient predecessor, the Brothers Grachii, who advocated increased participation in the Senate by the people, more protections for the people’s rights to own land and property, less restrictions on the people’s travel, the right for redress against patricians, land reform (the equivilent, really of money reform back then), and smaller government.

Rome, of course, was a lot more hardcore than America. They murdered the elder, and then the younger brother, in shockingly gruesome fashion. That was the end of the Brother Gratchi Revolution.

Not long after, a series of strongmen like Pompey and Sulla (Bush, anyone) ran the country, running over the rights of everyone, engaging in petty wars, running up debts. (Some say that Sulla did good things. Some people think Bush is a good president, too. Your miliage may vary).

And then? The collapse, the fall, the Republic replaced with an Empire, starting so slowly that by the time it was done, everyone had already become complicit in it.

Is America showing parallels to Rome, in the last days of the Republic?

If the economy goes to pieces, and terrorism becomes so rampant that we live in terror, if the population feels powerless and impotent, if the government is so steeped in corruption that it can accomplish nothing but spend more money than it can take in, and take in so much money it bankrupts businesses and drives them away … do you *really* think the average person of this country would not accept a strong, cunning leader?

A leader that might suspend some “rights” in the name of security? Bush has only started.

A leader that might put a government stranglehold on the economy to “save it”? Enough people are in credit and financial trouble that they wouldn’t care.

A leader who would manipulate the press? Or create an educational system so inefficiently run that any change would seem positive, even if it ended up brainwashing children into adoration of the “leader”?

If you think it cannot happen … maybe you should read your history some more.

Logical Premise

Logical Premise

Senior Research Analyst at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas
Former Lead Ops Analyst for HMS
Former Lead Statistical Analyst, BNSF
Former Internal Revenue Officer, IRS
Logical Premise

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author/contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nolan Chart or its ownership


  1. Terryeo says

    I appreciate such a comparison, possibly the best way to understand a broad issue such as a culture or government is by comparison with another. Roman history is well past and documented and can be understood as past events. Clearly, both Rome and America were created with popular support and created by men whose interests included the well – being of other men, too. However, I feel there are additional conclusions and more important conclusions than those drawn here. Both the Roman culture and the American one rose from humble roots. It appears to me that both governments were designed (yes, designed, governments can be designed) — to spin off and cast away the negative influences that government succumb to. Graft, bribery, an accumulation of power into the hands of a single man, or a single family — these things are not helpful to governments. America’s design and its resulting culture has resisted these undesirable situations. Both Roman and American culture grew and both reached a plateau of power. Rome’s power (the power of the old culture) failed and there are strong hints that America might likewise be heading toward failure.

    The potential to fail in American culture is not coming from the Courts, from the branch of government that holds the other two in check from accumulating great power. Its courts have, in the main, withstood the test of time and remained relatively free of powerful influence. And the executive branch’s term of service is too short for it to accumulate great power. But its legislature has become, more and more, a pawn of big business and strong lobby influence, rather than the law-making arm of the people. Dwight D. Eisenhower might have been the first to point out how the military and industry, together, naturally create strong ties that can influence the activity of government. This happens because those people who let out expensive contracts, for say, an aircraft carrier, are influenced by the industry that wants the contract to build the ship. And in turn the military wants congress to budget the money to let the military close a big contract with an industry, with a business of the military’s choice. Congressmen are invited to luncheons, sometimes provided with inexpensive travel, with various “favors” that lead to wealth and power and influence. And this can become the failure point of American Government and American Culture. Indeed, in recent time Congress, rather than leading government, stalls a good deal of what the standing President wants to accomplish. And at the same time, Congress offers little solution to Americans, to American Cultural problems.

  2. Doc3 says

    The Founder’s tried to avoid this by establishing aFedeation of States. The Federsl Government is slowly rendering the Constitution and stripping the State’s of their rights.

    • Ernest says

      State’s rights is BS. I would have some respect if sometime in my life (62) I had actually seen it in use to expand the liberty of the peoples. Instead all I have seen it used for is to steal away the rights of minorities. State’s rights is a Gholem. And Rome had similar problems, the plebs were all in favor of expanding their own benefits, but when it came to expanding it to the Italian allies they refused. Led to the Social Wars around 90 BCE and the loss of a few 100,000 lives only to have the franchise of Citizenship offered to those communities who would willingly rejoin the alliance with Rome. Rome could have avoided that war at the start by simply compromising and offering what they ended up proffering at the very beginning. All the Italians wanted was a fair share crack at the plunder that they as allies helped to make available to Rome. The Samnites never caved in though.

      • Doc3 says

        Let me guess, public school education? State’s rights are all that has held the monster our Federal Government has become in check. Over the last 90 years the Constitution has been rendered by progressives to allow massive entitlements that were never intended under the Constitution. That was in large part due to FDR and the threats he made to get the SCOTUS to follow his lead on Social Security and other unconstitutional acts. One problem is that the SCOTUS has become a functioning arm of the Federal Government. Maybe it would be better to move them out of DC to someplace in middle America to separate them from DC.

        States must begin to exercise their rights and refuse to bend their knee to an every growing and menacing Federal Government. The Nation is now as divided as it has ever been. With all of the scandal now breaking the growing danger of a Federal Government run a muck should be clear to all.

        Your understanding of American and Roman history are sorely lacking.

        • LogicalPremise says

          Points for getting the thrust, but points off for not getting the bigger picture.

          The truth is states rights took a serious blow during the Farmer’s Rebellion, and a death blow after the Civil War. Like any other observational bias, history tends to record only the ‘bad things’ that states rights and state sovereignty caused. FDR’s crude but effective blackmail allowed him to massively centralize things, but the wartime helped with that, and the threat of the Soviet Union allowed his successors to continue down that path.

          However, the problem with simply championing ‘states rights’ is that the states of today are not the semi-sovereign states of the time of the writing of the Constitution. States today are linked by hundreds of interstate deals, multi-state corporations, and the like. Much of the fabric of the country is now ‘national’ and not ‘state-based’ or local in flavor, and states can’t effectively coordinate that.

          Additionally, the state legislatures are deep in hock to the Federal Government for money. This makes them less than capable of actually standing up or exercising their rights, as Congress is truculent at the best of times.

          • Doc3 says

            The Whiskey Rebellion, or Farmer’s Rebellion was fought in Penn. interestingly by an army led by Washington. Imagine the hilarity of Obama leading an army into battle. Other States reversed the tax, it was on Penn. that did not and farmers whose livelihood depended on growing crops to produce the whiskey rebelled.

            It is true that the Federal government has tried to tie the States to the government tete and some Blue States are now like crack addicts dependent on government handouts. There are many States that will turn it away. How many States have approved the Obamacaretete?

  3. jrdel says

    America is, I believe well on the way to repeating the Roman experience. In some ways we have deviated. We abolished slavery (and very hard to do it was too), but in the main we stepping in their footprints. We are the only world power, Rome was(for a while) ruler of the western world. Very similar to our circumstance. And, we are similar in other ways.

    We are following the path taken by the social economic history of Rome. The basis of the early Roman Republic was small farmers who, militia-like marched to (usually) successful wars and surprised (probably) even themselves with their success. Their conquests and need for security required (gradually) a professional full time army. Conquest provided slaves. No more farmer militia needed. Small farms could not compete with slave operated big estates. The small farmers gradually lost their land holdings and were replaced by great estates served by slaves. The farmers became the landless people of Rome and other cities of the ‘Republic’, given bread and circuses and condemned for their uselessness and for living on welfare.

    An oligarchy of big landowners effectively ruled Rome and then Emperors. The Gracchi brothers tried to introduce reforms to restore some economic security and independence, and a measure of democracy to the people of Rome. They failed.

    Now we repeat the history of Rome here in America. The independent small farmers of America’s past have been superceeded by employees (whether of business or government) or else on welfare. We have a dependent (and declining) middle class, bread and circuses: TV, video games, food stamps. The ‘people’ have no economic base for independence or personal security (as the Roman people did not). The people are dependent on the largess, on the will of new oligarchs whether corporations or government.. We are well on the way down the path to a Roman Empire-like future. How can this be stopped, reversed, prevented? Do we even want to? is it even possible?

    I believe we should fight the current trend of history, The eventual fate of the Roman world was not pretty. (The dark ages). What must we do?

    We must take up the failed cause of the Gracchi brothers. Their cause was to restore the economic viability and independence of the (once) small farmers of Rome. Land reform to break up the great estates. Economic reform to help these farmers be efficient and productive. Political reform to give them power in government(which they never really had) so they could keep their holdings from being taken away again by the oligarchs. (And I’m sure the Gracchi brothers favored an eventual end to slavery.) America did exactly this in the early years. End slavery. Give free land in the West to the people. Voting rights gradually expanded to all adults and representative government. Early America UNDERSTOOD what the Gracchi brothers were trying to do, and what was necessary to maintain a Republic.

    We must UNDERSTAND again what they understood, and carry it out. We must not let economic and political oligarchies hog all of the wealth and power as happened in ancient Rome and reduced the people to dependence and bread and circuses. We must restore the economic power and viability of a NEW and INDEPENDENT (of government and corporations and landlords) middle class. Not employees of corporations or government ( like the currrent dependent and declining middle classes) but a society more like the old small farmers of early America, who did not need to work for anyone, who owed no rent to a landlord or a mortgage payment to a bank, or heavy taxes to a government.

    And we must abandon our Roman Empire like circumstance, where we maintain the overwhelmingly dominant military power on earth and so are stuck with the thankless task of trying to keep the peace in every casbah in the Middle East, in every remote valley in Afghanistan, in every trackless jungle of Africa, Asia, or South America, in every rogue or rebellious corner of the earth.

    I believe it is possible to change fate, to change history, not easy, very hard in fact, but possible.

    (Sorry for the crudity of this but summarizing several thousand years of history in a few paragraphs is a stretch for me).

    • Ernest says

      You are right. Even one of the Scipio’s argued against the destruction of Carthage because he viewed it’s absence as intoxicating the Senate into a view of total expansion. Yes I see too many other parallels as well. Most small Roman landholders lost their lands to their rich neighbors who could afford to own a small army of slaves which they would use to occupy the land. The example today are the Banksters and MERS. Back then you had rights, you could go and arrest the rich neighbor, but you were required to detain him within your own facilities and at your own expense. Some thing very difficult to do I suspect since his own private Army just whipped your ass. We see the same going on today with the failure to prosecute those considered to big to fail. The only people prosecuted so far are those who ripped off some of the 1%.

  4. Thaddeus Hildebrand says

    I think you comparison with Rome is very apt. One aspect I would particularly stress is that imperialism abroad coincided with the loss of democracy at home. Instead of a republic there was an empire … and an emperor! There are other examples in history. The revolutionary France, a democracy quickly degenerated into a Napoleonic empire. Here again the loss of democracy coincided with imperialism and conquest. Yet another example is the Weimar Republic. These events happened on different timescales but the the two metamorphoses are closely intertwined.

    I am afraid we are witnessing something similar in the United States. The U.S. establishment apparently thinks it is at the apex of the world and the other countries are its vassals. They can have their own local elections as long as they follow orders from Washington. The vassals have limited autonomy and can take care of local affairs such as traffic rules or garbage collection. But ultimately Uncle Sam is the boss. It is a feudal system of sorts. This imperialism will likely lead to the demise of democracy at home. You start disregarding Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution and international law, the rest will follow. But America had democracy for 200 years, how could she lose it!? Nothing lasts for ever.

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