The Glue that Binds


A favorite theory of mine about the fall of the Roman Empire states that centrifugal force (outward) eventually became too much for the centripetal forces (inward) to counteract in the whirling machine that was Roman society.  The costs of holding the Empire together became too much for the benefits of Empire to overcome and slowly portions of the Empire were abandoned, forgotten, or fell away from a lack of resources or will to keep hold of certain possessions.

I bring this up because I wonder… I wonder how far along America is down this road once trodden by Rome.

For almost a thousand years, Rome was the shinning city atop seven hills in whose direction her neighbors cast their glare with envy. Rome – at the founding of the Republic – was a revolutionary idea, an idea that  Romans delivered to the world at the tip of the sword, the base of a road, through amazing organizational skills, and a promise.  The promise that no matter how low a station a person might occupy on their birth to this world the rewards of Roman citizenship could be within one’s grasp.  Citizenship was a symbol,  not even a Roman freedman bowed to a foreign king.  A foreign king might have immense power, but was not the equal of even the lowest Roman.

The idea of Rome, more so than her machinery, was the true glue to which divergent cultures, when coming into contact with Rome, could not escape its inward pull.  The benefits from such technological innovations as voting, legal representation,  logistics, and roads helped a great deal.  But still, the idea that with every conquest, ever glory, every extension of Roman roads another mile from the heart of Empire would result in the improvement of the human condition was the true essence of Rome’s might. For centuries these forces helped the Romans to build perhaps the greatest empire in our short-lived history.

However, centrifugal forces eventually ate into the benefits that Rome could provide, and once the cost/benefit swung away from favoring Rome, her hegemonic status wavered and slowly fell.  Pressure from maintaining a standing army responsible for 1,930,511 sq mi, limits of state bureaucracy, the end of conquest as economic policy, public works that were not maintained and allowed to fall into disrepair, and many other factors put pressure on the state’s ability to maintain a machinery of such immense scope.  The greatest centrifugal force was perhaps the eventual establishment of the principate, an institution by its very definition originally put in place as a stop-gap measure against forces pulling the Empire apart.

Circumstances arose within the last century of the Republic that threatened to tear Roman power and society apart.  The accumulation of so much power  and wealth in the hands of so few had led to a wild escalation in a fanciful game known as politics.  To control Rome was to control the world and bestowed upon the ruling faction the ability to completely wipe out one’s political opponents.  Of course this happened multiple times and it was only through the principate that a cap on deadly political ambitions could be placed.  The principate worked as directed for some time, but eventually became the object of concerted and prolonged power-struggles.  Resources were pulled from investing in Rome’s future and protecting her holdings to fighting civil wars for control of the state machinery.

To bring this back to more modern times, we, like Rome, have found ourselves with an accidental Empire, and we, like Rome, find ourselves with an increasingly hectic political theater more interested in fighting over power than with investing in the future of our country.  And as Congress and the Senate become ever more dysfunctional we are blessed with an increasingly insular Presidency in the process of gathering an ever greater amount of power within its institutional walls.  And our greatest strength, that American sheen that draws people around the world to American ideals is starting to tarnish.

Maybe the stench of decay is especially pungent at the moment and the cliff on which we look over a precipitously steep drop to the jagged rocks below, but whatever the situation, it sure feels as if the Chevy V-8 is only clunking along on 2 cylinders.

  1. A friend of mine who is a lifetime student of war – and therefore, the Romans – was just speaking this past week to me about the corruption of the Roman senate and the end result of that corruption.

    After a while, it does’t matter who started what – the proletariat doesn’t want to bother tracing back to figure the blame, they get sick of it all.

    Our government is bought-and-paid-for by the highest bidder. there are very few out there amongst the unwashed masses that, when asked, would deny that. You don’t have to be a radical liberal or a radical tea party person to agree on that one.

    This is no way to run a government. It’s no way to run anything. How in the hell can they accomplish any forward movement when all we do is crisis management guided by, essentially, banking & oil interests?

    A deficit reduction bill with no revenue increases? Can’t even find agreement to eliminate even one tax break?

    I don’t know that “broken” is sufficient enough of a word.

    • Ingemar Johansson

      On to something jgirl.

      It was Big Aqueduct Co and Big Wine that doomed the Romans.

      Public Health
      There were many public health and environmental problems. Many of the wealthy had water brought to their homes through lead pipes. Previously the aqueducts had even purified the water but at the end lead pipes were thought to be preferable. The wealthy death rate was very high. The continuous interaction of people at the Colosseum, the blood and death probable spread disease. Those who lived on the streets in continuous contact allowed for an uninterrupted strain of disease much like the homeless in the poorer run shelters of today. Alcohol use increased as well adding to the incompetency of the general public.

      Probably never taxed them enough.

  2. Escapee

    Hard to imagine your not seeing our invisible government, but since that government also owns the news, we don’t talk much about the corporation as the essential governing force in our society. Just like the church in the middle ages, the feudal lords, the military in many countries, the corporation now overrules the president, owns the Supreme Court and most of the Congress, and surely both parties.

    But we don’t talk about it! The presidency is not insular. He’s merely a face, kind of a mirror we use to reflect our image of ourselves. He’s got little power relative to the oligarchy, and more like a highly paid PR guy. And by design he is the focus of our attention, a nice distraction.

    But the real business of the state is not going on with that office or the floor of Congress.

    “Accidental empire?” You’re kidding right?

    • Carfreestupidity

      I didn’t feel like muddying up my narrative.

      And yes… Accidental empire. This country didn’t start out with grand dreams of being the only super power. Decisions were made along the way that lead us to where we are today but most were not with an eye to reaching this point Yes… some of those decisions were made by people with grand designs for spreading American values and at some point the thinking switched once we had accumulated a certain standing in the world community. We stumbled into it, but by before WWII we decided to run with it.

      • Escapee

        Monroe Doctrine, conquest of natives, Mexican-American War, Spanish-american War, Manifest Destiny sort of suggest otherwise. We’ve been about expansion from the beginning. Maybe not known that we’d be successful, but ambition was always there.

        Put it this way: the 48th parallel represents the power of the British Empire. Were it not for them, we’d own Canada too. The War of 1812 was started by a US Invasion of Canada. We burned their capital, they burned ours in retaliation.

        It’s been about empire from the beginning.

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