Rome, Then and Now

Carl Olson has one of his always-fascinating interviews with Carl J. Sommer, author of We Look for the Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians. I'm fascinated by the parallels between ancient Rome and the modern West, so this part was particularly interesting.

There are definite similarities and clear differences between ancient Roman and modern American culture. There are eerie parallels between the types of entertainment some Americans are drifting towards and those favored by the Romans. Also, our societal sexual mores are quite similar to that of the Romans,even to the widespread resort to divorce, contraception, abortion, and occasionally even infanticide. The frightening difference, though, is that while the Romans got better in these regards, we seem to be getting worse.

On the other hand, our political and economic systems are vastly superior to anything the Romans produced. The Romans were never capable of creating a system that would ensure the orderly transfer of power from one administration to the next, nor were they able to provide political freedom to their citizens, despite the fact that their own heritage was republican. Our economic system of regulated capitalism is also vastly superior to anything the Romans produced. The Romans veered from unregulated capitalism in the early empire (the phrase 'caveat emptor' accurately reflects the Roman attitude toward commerce) to over-regulation in the late empire, including wage and price freezes that were designed to prevent inflation, but only succeeded in destroying entrepreneurship...

We can, however, learn some lessons from the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Some day, our preeminence in the world will end. We may pray, with Tertullian, that that dayis far distant, but nothing on this planet lasts forever, and eventually America will be surpassed militarily, politically, and economically. We can only hope to use our time for good, not ill. MORE

The greatest empire in history was brought down not by force, but by its own hubris. While the Romans killed off their own offspring, a little fringe movement called Christianity was growing, slowly but surely. It took time but eventually the fringe overtook the empire.

History doesn't always repeat itself. Will the modern West have a better fate than Rome? I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure it deserves one.

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