A recent meme has sparked a thought-provoking question: how often do men think about the Roman Empire? Surprisingly, many men have admitted to thinking about it frequently, ranging from daily to once or twice a week. However, this answer seems to surprise women, who may have their minds occupied with other historical civilizations such as the Umayyad Caliphate, the Kingdom of Kush, or the Shang dynasty.
My Focus on the Roman Republic
While many think about the Roman Empire, personally, I find myself contemplating the Roman Republic. The reason for this lies in the striking parallels it shares with its American successor. Let's consider a few common characteristics between the two: both were sprawling, elite-dominated republics with a permanent underclass and a strong martial tradition. Additionally, they both faced aggressive neighboring nations and grappled with issues surrounding dictators. Moreover, both societies sought to appease the masses through mass spectacles and iconic national symbols, like the majestic eagle.
The Caution in Drawing Historical Parallels
Before we delve deeper into these fascinating connections, it is essential to exercise caution. As much as I appreciate historical context, I don't want to upset any academic scholars or receive an influx of irate reactions. It's important to note that it is the American state itself that draws these parallels, rather than me making unfounded claims. The Founding Fathers intentionally selected elements they admired from Rome to incorporate into the fabric of early American society. Just as the Enlightenment influenced the 1776 revolution, ancient Roman practices shaped the formation of the U.S. Constitution in 1788.
The Coexistence of Modernity and Antiquity
America has embraced the ideals of modernity while being governed by a spirit rooted in antiquity. This coexistence has allowed an incredible journey of progress and self-governance. However, as with any nation, sustaining this delicate balance may prove challenging. It leads me to question whether an American trilemma exists - a situation where the nation can only prioritize two out of three pillars of greatness: military supremacy, economic supremacy, and the upholding of Christian or humanist democratic values. Inevitably, these facets may find themselves in competition with one another.
While the parallels between Rome and America are intriguing, it is important to recognize that history is nuanced and complex. By exploring these connections, we gain a deeper understanding of how civilizations are shaped and inspired by their predecessors. As the United States navigates its path forward, it must carefully consider how to maintain its unique identity while managing the challenges and choices that lie ahead.
War-Fighting and Humanist Values
America's involvement in the Vietnam War could have ended differently if the nation had been willing to take more aggressive measures, such as eradicating Hanoi from the air. However, the fear of nuclear escalation with the Communist bloc and the influence of democratic and humanist sentiment at home prevented such actions. It is worth noting that Americans had no qualms about firebombing Tokyo during World War II, but by 1965, the concept of total war had become unappealing.
This dilemma highlights the tension between military supremacy and humanist values when it comes to war-fighting.
The Conflict Between Economic Power and Military Pursuits
President Lyndon B. Johnson faced a dilemma during the Vietnam era. He had to choose between his ambitious Great Society program, aimed at addressing domestic issues, and the costly war in Southeast Asia, which promised glory. However, attempting to pursue both goals simultaneously led to unforeseen consequences. LBJ's decision to do so contributed to an inflationary spiral that ultimately forced Nixon, his successor, to abandon the gold standard.
Expanding territories and engaging in war while trying to provide for the population's basic needs is an arduous task that typically results in financial strain.
Economic Prosperity and Inequality
The United States boasts remarkable economic achievements and holds a prominent position in global finance, commerce, and innovation. Cities like New York represent bustling hubs of activity, from being a major port to housing hedge funds and vibrant nightlife. Meanwhile, San Francisco embodies technological progress, counterculture movements, and self-expression. However, despite these accomplishments, significant disparities exist. During my travels through rural areas of the mountain west and suburbs of Detroit, I witnessed alarming levels of poverty. Even within thriving coastal cities, destitution can be found.
In America, there are those who lack basic necessities like bread and circuses, while simultaneously maintaining an unparalleled military prowess capable of precisely hitting targets around the world.
Reflecting on Priorities
Given these contrasting realities, it is essential for us to reconsider our priorities as a nation. Perhaps it is prudent for us, especially men, to focus less on fantasies of military conquest and the grandeur of empire, and more on preserving and nurturing the ideals upon which our republic was founded. The relevance and urgency of this parallel are unmistakable.