Why history may frown upon the United States

Part I of Julian Drury’s American Empire Series

USA_Imperial_standard_coatHistory has never smiled eternally on empires, from the sands of Egypt and Persia, to the columns of Greece and Rome, to the never settling Great Britain and now to the exceptional United States of America.

Some may still ask themselves if America is truly an empire. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my mind that America is going down the same track of past imperial states and this path inevitably spells doom for the country as a whole.

The United States at face value may not seem like an empire or imperial state, dig a little deeper though and you will see things much different. Since its founding the United States has been a nation that has constantly sought expansion. First it was expansion of territory and then this expansionist attitude evolved into economics and political influence. As times changed so too did the empire.

An empire is not determined solely by the subjugating of nations, but by the wealth it wields and the influence it can buy as well. The United States today does not have colonies or annexed states conquered by imperial cannon, but that does not mean the United States itself is not an imperial state.

Instead the US uses its military and wealth to project control over the rest of the world, usually by overthrowing regimes (democratic or not) and installing their puppets of choice. It started in Asia, then focus moved to Central and South America and now the Middle East. The definition of an empire has changed somewhat in its thousands of years of history, but its purpose has not.

Since World War II, the United States has evolved to become the sole hegemon of world geopolitics. This was not an immediate occurrence, but with the USSR out of the way America became the Rome of its time. A nation so mighty in both tanks and banks (military and economics) that no other nation on earth could challenge it alone.

There is a stunning allegory to Rome with the current United States. Let’s take a look at that, shall we?

romeAccording to legend, Rome was initially founded in the 700’s B.C. as a city-state that was opened for runaway slaves, ex-cons and any other tired and washed up souls seeking a new start. Sound familiar? The original 13 British colonies (that became the United States) were founded with very similar intents in mind as is famously said.

Rome was initially ruled by a monarchy, which supposedly lasted two-hundred years until it was overthrown in some sort of revolt and was replaced by a Republic. The United States was similarly ruled by a monarchy for over two-hundred years and also overthrew its monarchy and replacing it with a Republic. It’s not just there that similarities lie, in fact it get quite unnerving as you compare histories.

Today the United States finds itself at a very peculiar political crossroads. For once in hundreds of years, the United States government is debating whether or not it can even function properly as a state (due to harsh and unprecedented political strife and division). Rome faced very similar issues in its late Republican period.

Two factions (parties) known as the Optimates (conservative elites) and the Populares (more liberal reformers) fought against each other over political ideology. The fighting became so heated and deadlocked; nothing could pass the Roman Senate to become law. Neither side would support the others legislation, even if it was legislation that they personally agreed with. Sound familiar?

This partisan deadlock got so bad that Rome could only function under the rule of military dictators. A little guy named Caesar came along, seized power completely for himself and changed the state of Rome as it was known. The Republic merely became an illusion for the looming empire that became Pax-Romana.

Does any of this prove the United States is headed down the same imperial path? Well, it doesn’t directly, but if you relate our current political situation to the history lesson that was presented, perhaps you can see why we historians feel history constantly repeats itself.

In this case, there are frightening similarities between the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the rise and inevitable fall of the American Empire. The politics in America has become so divisive that the populace increasingly divide themselves from each other, which is exactly what the imperial brokers want.

breach and circusesRome kept its populace content through bread and circuses. Today in America this similarity is found in the right-wing’s media division, prompting false equivalencies and only furthering the citizenry from uniting under common interest. This division makes it easier for creeping authoritarian minds to seek tighter control and broader powers than is specified by law.

Those who say the American empire is in a decline, I’ve got news for you. Not only is the empire not in decline, but the empire has barely even emerged yet. This is still an early phase. For those who think it is not possible that America can become an authoritarian imperial state like Rome, you need only look at the recent path America has taken.

Laws like the Patriot Act and NDAA have given the state power to not only tap phones, check emails, and search one’s property without a warrant. It now has the power to detain anyone it deems undesirable without charges or trial. Recent actions by the Obama administration have also solidified the legal precedent for the execution of American citizens again without trial or charges.

These are not abstractions of a paranoid mind, this is real. Pax-Americana can be a reality. America does not have to go down this road. The citizens can make a difference if we finally wake up and realize that what our country has been doing so far is not working. The only way to fix things is to radically change the way we understand the state and its relationship to its citizens and the rest of the world. History has never smiled eternally on empires.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. “The United States today does not have colonies or annexed states conquered by imperial cannon, but that does not mean the United States itself is not an imperial state.”
    Actually, they were conquered by cannon (or equivalent) but not by canon.

  2. Mr Simmons, you are coming off as someone who has not read the column in full context and has not pieced together what was laid out. I never claimed there is a direct comparison between Rome and the US, only allegorical comparisons. You also seem to lack the concept of what an allegory is. As my colleague Quiet Mike explained, I never stated America has an equivalent to Caesar (yet). My point is the definition of empire has changed, and that in context of this changing definition, the US has many historic allegories to ancient Rome. I used the best history that has been made available to me. If you don’t like that, take it up with Tulane University and all the Roman history professors I’ve studied there. They’ve all told me basically the same history. Also, keep in mind sir, this is a short opinion piece, not a Harvard Grade thesis paper. Your critiques might best be served on an academic board, not here.

  3. He doesn’t make a longevity comparison the way you’re describing it. Expansion is expansion no matter how the territory is obtained, even still wars were still fought to expand on the continent. Furthermore, he describes how expansion has changed from one of command and conquer, to control and conquer… He never stated that America had an equal to Julius Caesar, only that one might be on the way.

  4. I find Mr. Drury’s analogy to be a a stretch at best and fallacious at worst. For example, the founding of the city of Rome is rooted in mythology, but it certainly was not as a haven for “runaway slaves, ex-cons and any other tired and washed up souls seeking a new start”. Drury’s analogy gets worse, but the bottom line is that Rome grew too large through external expansion and eventually “fell” due to its own weight (read: over expansion) some 400 years later for the Western Empire but more than 1,000 years later the for Eastern Empire. Thus “Rome” lasted for nearly 2,000 years (700 BC – 1453 AD). The U.S. has a very long way to go for any longevity-based comparison to be true. Also, apart from internal expansion on the North American continent, the U.S. has not sought to conquer and hold territory as did the Roman Empire. If this were the case, the U.S. would already control large portions of Europe and Asia (as a result of victory in WWII). Roman expansion into an empire was facilitated by the breakdown of the Roman constitution and overthrow of that Republic by autocrats , starting with Julius Caesar. This event has no parallel in U.S. history. I could go on, but this should be enough to offer fair points for argument against Mr. Drury’s analogy.

    • Mr. Simmons, I think you’re looking for exact parallels for comparisons to Rome- these will not come. There are however numerous and incredible social, economic and martial parallels to be drawn. Particularly the treatment of everyone else of difference upon their own soil.

      What is worse and more chilling is that by the 1876 World’s Fair America harkened its heritage all the way back to the same Teutonic inheritance as that of Hitler- only they ascribed it as applying in succession from the illuminated minds of German Forest dwellers to the Magna Carta and then into the Declaration of Independence.

      What America has attempted and worse accomplished since 1776 has outstripped the definition of despicable, awful, terrible and indecent in both historical and global definitions- it has become to the point where a new terminology will have to emerge to adequately describe that which best characterises inhuman behaviour with ‘American’.

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