Imperial Rome and imperial America have many points in common, writes former Atlantic Monthly editor Murphy (Just Curious, 1995, etc.), not least that both “have considered their way to be the world’s way.”
Murphy ventures nothing new with the mere observation that Rome and America have similarities; even the Founding Fathers thought as much. But, writing with fluency and grace and possessing a solid grounding in the classics, he actually serves up specifics: a telling comparison of the Roman road system, for instance, with our interstates, and of our president’s mode of international travel with that of the emperors and their flying squadrons. Murphy draws six major parallels that, he reckons, ought to serve as warnings and guidelines for better behavior. One concerns military power, with considerable points against the use of mercenaries and auxiliaries, for instance, whether Ostrogoths or the “Halliburtoni and the Wackenhuti.” Murphy does acknowledge, however, that “the most capable, well-rounded, and experienced public executives in America today are its senior military officers, not its Washington politicians.” Another parallel is what Murphy loosely terms privatization, “which can often also mean ‘corruption,’” which is to say, the trouble certain Romans had and certain Washingtonians have in drawing the line between their things and those in the public domain. A further point of resemblance is the executive’s arrogating power unto itself without due concern for senatorial counsel, a habit that yields Caesars now as then. And so forth, all adding up to decline and fall, which, Murphy gently observes, doesn’t have to happen so long as we Americans take a broader view of the world and a narrower view of the Constitution and, even if we “don’t live in Mr. Jefferson’s republic anymore,” start comporting ourselves not as Romans but as Americans.
An essay in the Walter Karp-Lewis Lapham mode that’s sure to irk the neocons.