Many historians have written about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. From Edward Gibbon’s epic work to modern books on the subject, numerous reasons are offered for Rome’s decline that offer interesting parallels to America’s declining power and prestige. Could America also fall?
From the barbarian hordes and the over-extension of the military to moral and political decay, the reasons given by historians for the Roman Empire’s decline and fall are wide-ranging.
Startling comparisons can be made between America and the Roman Empire. For instance, just as Rome lost control of its borders, many rightly charge today that America has lost control of its borders as millions of immigrants have entered America illegally.
Rome could not maintain the expense of a military force sufficient to defend itself everywhere at once. Similarly, America has closed or consolidated strategic military bases. Like Rome, our foreign wars continue to dissipate our national budget. News reports have been made in recent years questioning America’s ability to endure the cost of fighting a war on two or more fronts. Like the ancient Roman superpower, modern day superpower America was recently unable to maintain its fleet of ships or to make repairs to military equipment due to forced cuts to the military’s budget.
As ancient Rome’s spending exceeded revenues, it debased its currency by diminishing the amounts of precious metals in coinage. America has amassed debt at a record pace as government spending has exceeded revenues for decades. Silver and gold were removed from circulating U.S. coinage decades ago (although some is still minted and sold for numismatic purposes). And just as ancient Rome experienced inflation, so has America. What cost $1 in America’s currency in the year 2000 has already inflated to $1.35 in 2013 according to the US Inflation Calculator website. Compared to a 1980 dollar, it would cost $2.83 today. A 1950 dollar is equal to $9.67 today.
Those who managed Imperial Rome became more and more corrupt over time. Wealth was increasingly amassed by the few who ruled. The working class also soured as it was forced to support the government, as well as those “on the dole”—too few producers supporting too many idle bodies. Comparisons can readily be made to our modern welfare state and the marked increase in the number of Americans receiving food, cash and medical assistance—paid for by those who work and pay their taxes.
Many are familiar with the term “bread and circuses” coined by Juvenal the satirist. Circuses dotted the map of the Roman Empire from Egypt and Jordan, to Spain and England; compare to our modern day appetite for leisure, entertainment and distraction through video games, movies, television, sports and seemingly unending sources of amusement.
The early Roman republic was successful but slowly disintegrated. The public morality of the populace and political leaders decayed as sexual immorality and divorce increased, and the family unit, long understood to be the building block of a stable society, was destroyed. Similarly, the early American republic was successful, but today we watch our nation’s decline, easily making odious comparisons to the Roman decline as we read the scandalous news headlines.
Other reasons given for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire include: trade deficits, economic stagnation, degrading infrastructure, governmental usurpation of powers and declining liberty, increasing moral relativism, self-absorption and overindulgence. This sounds all too familiar to today.
Ariel Durant, wife of historian and philosopher Will Durant, observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” The Roman Empire destroyed itself and fell. Will America, on the path to destruction, also fall?