Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The glory that was...

I just finished reading Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America. It's easy for a book on this topic to go for the facile parallels, and I was pleased to see that this one doesn't.

Although from where I sit the author is a big ol' statist, most of his points are cogent, and he dismisses some of the more oft-offered comparisons via a good grasp of Roman history. Further, the book was worth it if only for this quote:
Rome prized its status as the city around which the world revolved. Official Washington shares that Ptolemaic outlook. Unfortunately, it's not a self-fulfilling prophecy - just a faulty premise. And it leads to an exaggerated sense of Washington's weight in the world: an exaggerated sense of its importance in the eyes of others, and of its ability to act alone. Washington led the fight against some of the twentieth century's most dangerous "-isms". Solipsism is one it missed.


Rabbit said...

I prefer John Ringo's vision of Washington, but I'm torn between the one in which a flu-ravaged nation is saved by an honorable military coup during a mini ice-age, versus the one where it's invaded by big, yellow, flesh-eating 6 legged aliens. I think the aliens would probably be better.

Anonymous said...


I applaud the latter scenario as well, with the caveat that the aliens ultimately succumb to a mysterious gastrointestinal upset promulgated by their new diet. (Thank you, Mr. Wells).


staghounds said...

I'm just loving that I had to look twice to puzzle out that it was Ptolemaic rather than Potomac.

I sort of think we're more England 1912, but then we aren't yet watching the Chinese build aircraft carriers.

Old NFO said...

Good quote, I'll have to go read it on the next flight! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"Rome" may well be analogous to "Washington" if the writer is the statist you allege. But if by Rome he implies the Empire, and by Washington he means America, then his whole premise is fallacious.

Centric status of a (the) world power certainly *is* a self-fulfilling prophecy, but then so is the loss of it due to self-doubt, self-loathing, and ultimately, self-destruction.

"Importance in the eyes of others" is a direct function of the ability to enforce the former without exposing the latter.

Tam said...

Anon. 11:34,

In that particular passage, we are discussing Rome (the city) and Washington (the city).

Pathfinder said...

Ptolemaic? FAIL!!!!

A cute turn of phrase to be sure, but for those who understand what he said, it detracted seriously from reading the rest of the quote.

The Ptolemaic rulers were the 2nd-rate post-Alexander Greek leaders who ruled Egypt, not Rome. So Rome never had a "Ptolemaic outlook" for DC to share.

That aside, his key point is well taken, especially the "faulty premise" part.

Tam said...


Analogy fail!

What celestial object did Ptolemy think was the center of the universe? ;)

Anonymous said...

I thought the writing was good, but there were a few 'fails' for me. The first being the misuse of the word 'solipsism'. ("You keep using that word. I do not think it means..." etc.) I don't know, maybe it has become a fashionable term for monumental self regard, in some circles, but it means something very different to me.

Also, was the second to last sentence, ("Washington led the fight...") an ironic one? Only it rather seems to contradict the statement directly before it. And, besides communism, I can't think of many other dangerous 20th century '-isms' that Washington led the fight against, either. We do appear to be talking about the world stage, at this point, rather than the USA specifically. Again, in order to accept this statement, you would have to hold the position that the rest of the world never did anything against '-isms' without Washington to hold its hand.

I don't know, perhaps the author [i]was[/i] trying to be ironic. S/he seems to be quite clued-up otherwise.

So, apart from the misuse of the word 'solipsism', one contradiction and another very arguable point, I liked it! As with Pathfinder, I think his key point stands.

And no, I've no idea why I'm being so pedantic either. I'll just shut up now...


Anonymous said...

"...we are discussing Rome (the city) and Washington (the city)."

Ah. Politics and politicians then, as opposed to actual world-centric powers; quite a distinction.

So now I've lost interest due to irrelevance. The more things change, eh? And I guess that was his actual point; still irrelevant.

Borepatch said...

Facile comparisons of Rome to modern America is kinda my stock in trade ...

I remember back in the mid 1980s in the Washington DC area. Rigg's National Bank ran a series of ads" "The most important bank in the most important city thinks you're important, too."

Tam said...


That ad was mentioned in the chapter in question. :)

Joseph said...

In view of the resemblance of the current U.S. to the late Roman Republic (circa 100 BC), if we stick to the Roman schedule it will be 500 years before Washington is sacked.

Sit down and wait.

Tam said...


From your lips to God's ears... ;)