Sunday, September 18, 2005

Watching the Train Wreck

I've been watching the HBO miniseries, Rome, but I have mixed feelings about the program. For starters, Rome compares poorly to I, Claudius which is an all-time classic in my opinion. I, Claudius was a sharp satire on government and human frailty while Rome plays it straight and relies too heavily on sex and nudity to maintain interest. The main problem for me, though, is watching the collapse of the Roman Republic; it's far too close to present-day America. I don't claim to have any formal training in Roman history but I do have some interest in the subject. In many ways, we are very close to Rome. Western culture is a direct descendent of Rome but the U.S. seems to have more in common with it than the rest of the world. Rome was an Etruscan-dominated monarchy which was alleged to be morally corrupt. The Romans claimed they revolted against the Etruscans for reasons of piety, patriotism, civic virtue, etc. The revolution resulted in a type of representative democracy which favored the aristocracy while giving a limited voice to the plebians. In some degree, this is reminiscent of the Puritans in the Colonial Era and the American Revolutionary War. In any case, Rome grew to dominate its neighbors. Her armies brought home plunder in the form of gold, slaves, and tribute. Rome conquered Egypt, whose farmers could bring in two crops per year. The grain surplus fed the Roman populace. Slaves from conquered nations fueled industry like oil does today. Rome's greatest rival was Carthage, which was eventually defeated in the Punic Wars. For Carthage, one could liken it to the USSR. After the defeat of Carthage, Rome grew far more prosperous and its aristocrats became incredibly wealthy. The vast majority of Roman citizens lived in poverty with high unemployment rates. They survived on a welfare system underwritten by war conquests and aristocrats who bought votes and support with their wealth. The people were pacified with bread and circuses, not unlike Monday Night Football and American Idol. Traditional Roman virtues decayed and sexual mores loosened. Divorce rates skyrocketed and lawyers became wealthy as Roman citizens constantly sued each other in civil lawsuits. Government corruption and cronyism was rampant. In a society like Rome which based its power on military conquest, reverses on the battlefield created fear and panic in their people. This made Roman society susceptible to ambitious aristocrats who sought more and more wealth and power. Generals battled each other and civil war raged for decades. Eventually, the senatorial ranks were decimated until there was little opposition to a monarchy/dictatorship which could provide stability to a war-weary country. Are we there yet? No, Bush is too incompetent. The U.S. military wouldn't follow him in a coup to topple the government. Who will follow Bush? In the aftermath of an economic breakdown, a demagogue could seize power by promising to reform government corruption. Bush isn't the fascist we should fear. It's the competent fascist who comes after him that scares me.


Blogger Jeff Huber said...

Well said.

9/19/2005 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I've wondered the same thing -- about 2 years ago, as the 10 Commandments Rock fiasco played out (2 blocks from my office!), I feared Roy Moore might be that guy. It won't be him now, but someone similar will no doubt come along...

9/19/2005 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

Dubya keeps trying to destroy the country. Historically, when an economic crisis hits the America, there's a movement to reform government corruption.

When/if that happens, we could get either an FDR or another Hitler.

9/19/2005 10:25:00 AM  
Blogger Bob Sakowski said...

"Bush isn't the fascist we should fear."

Actually we should because it is he who will make:

"..the competent fascist who comes after him..."

A reality and...

"...that scares me."

As well it should. It should scare everyone who remembers America as it once was.

Remember though, the series Rome seems primarily to view the collapse of the republic through the eyes of the two soldiers, their families & friends.

I said of the South Vietnamese during the Vietnam War that the rice farmer in the countryside couldn't care less about who lead the country as long as the government allowed him to make a decent living and properly care for their family.
I have since come to believe that standard is valid for any country.

The "I've got mine, the hell with you" attitude of conservative republicans would seem to lend credence to my belief as concerns the US of A.

We are one, perhaps two elections away from disaster or one disaster away from having elections discontinued.

9/19/2005 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

Bob, I hope you're wrong because TS Rita is about to hit the Florida Keys, turn into a strong Cat 2 by Wed, cross the Gulf, strengthen further, hit oil platforms/facilities, and procede to landfall somewhere on TX and LA.

If Rita hits anywhere near NO, the levees repairs will break.

I also wonder what will happen if Rita hits Houston. According to Wikipedia, they got hit pretty hard by TS Allison in 2001 and Hurricane Alicia in 1983.

FEMA can't handle Katrina, much less another disaster.

9/19/2005 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great fun. I've been watching the parallels since a classics professor tipped me in about 1975 that he and his colleagues had been watching for years.

The more you learn about the fall of the Roman Republic, the more you'll enjoy the show.

Serial Catowner

9/19/2005 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave Trowbridge said...

The Senatorial class was as much responsible for what happened as anyone, as they had long ago abandoned the old Roman virtues (which were conservative in the best sense of the word) in a scramble for power that was perhaps inevitable given the loose nature of Roman governance. Augustus, I think rightly, was seen as the savior of Rome--the next 300 years were pretty much a Golden Age for the average citizen, compared to what existed before and what came after.

In any case, our end will not, I think, be as bloody. American democracy will end with a whimper as we give up our freedoms little by little in exchange for a specious security obtained by a regime that increasingly divides us from each other and sets citizen against citizen based on race, class, or economic position.

9/19/2005 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

The senators were complicit in the decay of the Republic. Money and power trumped their patriotism.

The Roman emperors were a mixed bag but the crazy ones like Caligula usually didn't last long. The Praetorian Guard would step in and clean up.

A benevolent dictator can create a more efficient and less corrupt government than a democratically elected legislature/leader but when you get a Hitler running the show, well, the capacity for destruction is almost unlimited. This is particularly true if you have a nuclear arsenal.

BTW, it really bothers me that Bush could launch a nuclear strike in the Middle East. There was a news article in the Washington Post that the Pentagon was investigating the use of nuclear weapons to forestall a terrorist attack.

9/19/2005 09:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting comparison, and quite valid, to several decimal places. However, i'm not sure Bush is going to be replaced. There is already a bill in the House hopper to repeal the 22nd Amendment.

If next autumn's Congressional elections look to be a disaster for the R's I expect we'll see an ever-helpful OBL stir up a nasty attack, and it will probably be even bigger than the last. There's only one leader who can keep us safe, and he wants to be President for life.


9/21/2005 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger Bob Sakowski said...

"If next autumn's Congressional elections look to be a disaster for the R's..."

Not a chance as long as Diebold, ES&S, etc. are doing the tabulating.

"...I expect we'll see an ever-helpful OBL stir up a nasty attack, and it will probably be even bigger than the last."

OBL? So you think OBL was behind 9/11 then?

"There's only one leader who can keep us safe, and he wants to be President for life."

The idea that republicans in general and GWB in particular are strong on defense ended when the first aircraft hit the WTC on 09-11-01. Another such "strong on defense action" will cause blood in the streets I'm afraid.

9/21/2005 10:50:00 AM  

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