The classical education guru Andrew Kern, head of the Circe Institute, writes on Facebook:
I have heard people compare the US to Rome since I was a child, and no wonder since our founders rather self-consciously compared themselves to the Romans and Greeks from time to time.
I can’t say how many times I’ve heard the comparison made in reference to the decline of Rome.
In a way, it’s legitimate to do so because history is the story of analogies across time, and it’s easy enough to see comparisons between any two ages or places or ideas. And I say, go for it. Make the comparison. But then keep going and think about the degree of likeness, so you can leave the realm of impressions and begin to gain something like wisdom.
Are we like Rome in decline? Yes.
Are we like Rome ascending? Yes.
The question that now must be asked is, How? And then, So what?
Please note, the so what question has to come after the are we and how questions. Starting out with “So what?” Is just being stubborn and closed minded.
However, here is my thesis:
We are much more like Carthage than like Rome.
You now ask, how?
Quite a few ways. But I think I can summarize them in three generalizations:
1. We are materialists.
2. We are driven by the love of money
3. We have not valued nobility of bearing and dignity of personhood for quite a long time.
The things I’ve read about Carthage indicate that they worshipped Baal, but as more or less a formality. They were not interested in the world as a good thing in itself, but only as an object for their consumption. So they worshipped Baal because they hoped he would prosper them. Which leads to the second point.
2. Carthage was obsessed with money. They had a fairly sophisticated political system on the Mediterranean pattern, not unlike Rome’s. But it’s sole purpose seems to have been to make them the wealthiest people in the world. Baal, after all, was a pretty money driven god. Carthage was apparently established by Phoenician traders, and that merchant driven philosophy dominated everything. I’m not sure they ever really figured out how to farm or build local communities for example.
We are being a bit presumptuous when we compare ourselves to Rome. They built a Republic that lasted with all its flaws for 500 years, then was replaced by an Empire that adapted and lasted another 500 years, then moved, adapted, and lasted another 1000 years.
The decline and fall of Rome took more time than we have been around. So far we haven’t figured out how to flourish or get along anywhere near as well as the deeply flawed Roman imperium.
I’d be interested to know where you think the greater comparisons lie. How are we like/unlike Rome? Carthage? Britain? Germany? Egypt? China? Ghana? Etc.
Y’all are smart people. What do you think?
(By the way, I’m jealous of all y’all who are going to the Circe Institute national conference next week. Ken Myers is going to be there.)