So Do Empires Fall…
I can’t resist a good history lesson.
I have been studying the rise and fall of the Roman Empire for the last four years or so. My girlfriend tells me that a pedantic knowledge of ancient history makes me seem taller, with a resolute hairline and rock-hard abs.
I may be paraphrasing.
I’m currently at the rocking and rolling eighth century AD. The Western Roman Empire fell about three hundred years ago and the Eastern Empire, headquartered at Constantinople, is the keeper of the flame of civilization. The Muslim Caliphate has had an impressive debut century of conquest and pillage, taking away some of the Empire’s favorite provinces — you know, the ones where all the food and money come from.
On the Western side of things, the Bulgar Khanate, having rebranded themselves as the Khazar Empire, is steadily doing the same things as the Arabs — taking away territory, plundering the countryside, and demanding exorbitant annual tributes to stay home and be good.
Overall, a bleak time for the empire.
Internally, they’re a mess. Senate seats are for sale to the highest bidder, the Imperial throne is a cereal box prize for any man with a big enough purse and army to take it (6 men ruled the empire between 695 and 717 alone), and even though tax revenues are falling because of taxpayers being lost to conquest or plague, the rich can still get out of paying them. The Church, as ever, is tax-exempt. Having lost two-thirds of its land and people, the Empire has fallen into a permanent state of war.
With very real and scary threats to its prosperity and future, the empire picked this time to tear itself apart over internal matters of religion, politics, and money. With enemies on every frontier, the Romans decided that the biggest threats to their empire were their own fellow citizens.
There is no denying America’s challenges — staggering debt, perennial budget deficits, crumbling infrastructure, and very real enemies who would cheer our downfall. Even our allies whisper against us. Not to mention the “permanent state of war” I referred to earlier.
There is also no denying our assets. We have in our favor an energetic population, the benefit of technology, a robustly-funded military, and the considerable philosophies of freedom and justice upon which our nation was founded.
Our biggest problem is the war we are fighting with each other. We can’t harness the power of large and successful companies while we’re reviling them for being evil capitalist overlords. We can’t acknowledge and encourage the sheer economic power of the middle and lower classes while we’re lambasting them for laziness, greediness, or living from handout to handout. We can’t speak of a homogenous American citizenry while we’re working hard to separate our people into groups who do or don’t share our religious beliefs, who do or don’t want to pay taxes, who do or don’t want to work, or who do or don’t have the preferred genitalia, country of origin, sexual preference, or skin color.
Solving the problems of a great nation take time and sacrifice — it may be fifty years before our debt is gone, our budgets are balanced, and our people don’t die from poverty, to name just a few of our challenges. There are no candidates for office (at least ones who get air time) who are thinking in these statesmanlike terms. Believing that every problem can be solved in one or two election cycles, or by all the levers of government resting in the hands of a single political party, doesn’t hold water.
It is an argument designed entirely to win elections, not to govern responsibly.
No one has asked the American people to sacrifice anything of substance since World War II. The only thing we are ever asked to do is “vote for me.” It will take the concerted effort of all of us to change the course we are on. The reasons to do so become more compelling with each passing day, and time is running out.
Because I’m a nice guy (with purportedly rock-hard abs), I’ll give you the answer to the final exam of this particular history class.
The Empire fell.