Thursday, March 24, 2016

The fall of Rome and a lesson for our times

From Victor Davis Hanson:
And I’ll conclude with a spoiler from his finish because I think it’s so profound. Describing the fall of Rome to a band of thugs after a much smaller Roman Republic had defeated much larger and more dangerous threats:
“Fast forward to the 5th century AD, is this the Roman Republic, 1/4 of Italy? No. It now encompasses 70 million people, from Mesopotamia in the East to the Atlantic ocean in the West, to above Hadrian’s Wall in the North to the Sahara Desert in the South, one million square miles. And they’re attacked, not by a formidable power, the inheritor of classical military science like Hannibal, but a thug like Atilla with some Huns and Visigoths and Vandals. By any measure, the threat was nothing compared to the threat that Romans faced when it was much, much smaller. But why in the world could they not defend themselves….?
The answer is…in 216 BC a Roman knew what it was to be a Roman. And they were under no illusions that they had to be perfect to be good. All they believed was they had an illustrious tradition that was better than alternative and could be better even more…In 450 AD I don’t think the average person who lived under the Roman Empire…knew what it was to be a Roman citizen, he did not believe that it was any better than the alternative. And when that happens in history, history is cruel, it gives nobody a pass. If you cease to believe that your country’s exceptional and has a noble tradition, and it is good without without being perfect, and it’s better than the alternative – If you cease to believe that! – there’s no reason for you to continue, and history says you won’t. And you don’t.”
Can we learn and change course? Or are we doomed to travel that road once more?
It's a long but excellent talk at the link, full of insight.


Guffaw in AZ said...

Yep. But seldom do we learn from history...


matism said...

Trump has learned from history, Guffaw in AZ. And THAT is why he is running.

Jeffrey Smith said...

As often he does, VDH has it wrong. In 200 BCE it was us v them: Romans vs. nonRomans.
In 400 CE it was them vs. them, or us vs. us: a mix of Romans and nonRomans on one side, mostly nonRomans on the other. In 200BCE, Roman citizens were an elite class in the political entity of the Republic. In 400 CE, all those who spoke Greek or Latin, and many who spoke Aramaic, on a daily basis, were either a citizen, a slave, or a "barbarian" enlisted in the Roman army. The whole matrix of homo Romanus was completely different. Alaric and the Goths merely completed a process whose seeds were sown by the first Ceasars.

BTW, Hanson ought to know that. I have found over the years he sometimes distorts the facts of Classical era history to fit his political viewpoint, and this seems to be another instance.