The End of Empires: Rome and America

Joel has a provocative comparison of the late Roman Empire and the contemporary United States.  Surveying the landscape, he finds much to be concerned about:

When day to day life involves trips to the grocery store, watching TV and living in ever-expanding suburbs, you don’t see it ending. Perhaps we will have another century of more of this, but it seems to me that the end of our order is in sight. The old agrarian republic is long since dead, the Constitution is a meaningless document and we live in a centralized empire that bears only skin-deep resemblance to the Republic or the Colonies. But what does it look like when an empire really dies?

I think that Joel is on to something very important here.  Bill Maher once asked on Real Time, “Why can’t we [America] get anything done anymore?” (or something to that effect).  If I may echo Joel’s observation that we are “a balkanized and incoherent nation which is living on the fumes of past glory,” the culture wars of the 1960s really fractured national culture and I think that it results in an inability to have a common narrative and therefore a common purpose.  I love Ross Douthat’s comment on cultural fragmentation in his review of a book on conservative media.  The breakdown of the single, liberal narrative of the “mainstream media,” he says,

ha[s] less to do with the Right’s advance than with larger, post-1960s trends toward cultural fragmentation. This breakdown has been good for conservatives in certain ways: the genteel and biased liberalism of, say, Walter Cronkite or Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., no longer infuses every nook and cranny of the public sphere. But it’s worth wondering whether trading in a Cronkite for a Paris Hilton—that is, stultifying old-guard liberalism for vulgar libertinism—really represents such a great victory for the Right.

And so we find ourselves, a society divided and often unable to talk across the divide.  All the while, meaninglessness fills so much of our public culture.  To confront the economic, military, political, and diplomatic challenges facing us, we will need an infusion of seriousness and common purpose, but it is hard to see these developing from our current cultural trends.

As Joel notes, the church will go on, preserved by God.  We can certainly place our hope and our ultimate loyalty in Him even as we pray and work for the improvement of the United States.

You can also find Joel’s post on his blog, A Living Text.


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