Thursday, December 27, 2012
sic transit gloria mundi
I've been reading lately and hearing people talking about how we're going the way of them old Romans. Sometimes these people know parts of ancient histories, and sometimes not, but all these parallels are pretty much on track, even though the fall of the Roman Republic in 31 BCE is often confused with the the final collapse of the empire, events separated by more than 500 years.
And there are parallels we can draw from all of it.
Keeping in mind that the Roman Republic really was not one in the way we think of it, but was never more than a Senatorial-class oligarchy, it did have a culturally and politically vigorous era.
One rule of thumb I use to determine whether a society is robust and full of positive energy is to look at the coinage. The strongest societies have governments that mint 90% silver coins, like this one from the Roman Republic.
By the time of the first emperor, the amount of silver in a denarius had been reduced from 1/72 of a pound to 1/84, and currency debasement continued thereafter.
The U.S. minted its last 90-percenters in 1964. It's hard to fix the date when the US went from being a republic to an empire, but 1965 -- the year of the big escalation in Vietnam will serve as well as any.
Another important parallel is concentration of governing power in the executive. In the US it's been a series of gradual encroachments on legislative power, starting with FDR. The first attempt at truly imperial rule, although he didn't quite get there, was mounted by that great Amer-o-can, Drahcir W. Noxin.