Historical comparisons between ancient Rome and the contemporary US are tough. It’s easy to fall into the trap of inevitability about how things will be based on how things have been. And spergs will inevitably point out the places where the comparisons break down.
When a big-brained brow ridge takes a stab at it, though, it’s as good an excuse as any to do the same:
Razib Khan is fond of noting we’ve yet to have our Sulla. He has, among other contexts, said this dismissively to people who pretend Trump is something like a Sulla.
I’ve variously thought of Trump as a Gracchan figure, a class traitor who is willing to piss all over the reigning power structure to do what he thinks needs to be done; a Julius Caesar–this one is so easy even historically illiterate thespians, who risibly use women and minorities as stand-ins for the conservative senators who assassinated the progressive Trump/Caesar, see it; a Hadrian who built a wall and pulled back the overextended boundaries of the empire; an Aurelian who was well on his way to putting things back together before prematurely being assassinated, an assassination that nearly led to the permanent dissolution of the empire; a Constantine who forever reorients politics and the understanding of the state; and a Justinian who gives Rome one last grasp at greatness before it collapses, never to become anything more than the shadow of its former self.
So in no particular order, some thoughts:
– Z’s understanding of the intelligence agencies as a contemporary praetorian guard is a great way to think about it. From the Julio-Claudians all the way through to the tetrarchy, the praetorians played a major role in the power politics of the Roman state. It wasn’t until Constantine literally went to war with them in the early 4th century that their influence was eliminated.
The decisive point in that war was the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Prior to that battle is when Constantine is said to have had a vision from God wherein he was told that in the sign of chi roh, he would conquer. To greatly oversimplify, he won the battle, eventually became sole emperor, and converted the empire to Christianity.
If Trump ends up in the same league as Constantine, the “god-emperor” stuff will move from memery to monuments. Considering that a real possibility may have been understandable a couple of years ago. It just feels silly now.
– The political class hate the idea of an interloper who does not work his way up the cursus honorum in the prescribed way. The path to the top is supposed to be through the legislative branch, preferably as house member and then senator, or through a governorship. Prior to Trump, we have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower for someone who got to the presidency without checking any of those boxes. Winning the second world war helped Ike, though. Trump doesn’t have a legacy like that to trade on. It’s another reason the Establishment hates him so much.
– Edward Gibbon famously designated the imperial reign from Nerva through Marcus Aurelius as the time of the five good emperors. I’ve thought of that as corresponding to America from the end of the WWII through the mid-60s, with the fifties as the zenith, the calm before the storm, the years of the golden boy, Antoninus Pius. It is in this rendering that Trump is an Aurelian figure, one who briefly emerges to cut against the grain of the time period he exists in but who is ultimately snuffed out by the dysfunctional power structure of the day.
The chaos he emerged from subsequently gets worse before it gets better. In Rome’s case, the political dissolution that followed, with multiple proclaimed emperors fighting for control from different parts of the empire, was put back together again under Diocletian. It took a fundamental change the way Rome operated to stick. This is a parallel commenter Dissident Right can probably get on board with.
– Our impending dissolution may not be temporary, however. While Diocletian was able to put the Roman egg back together again, in a relatively short historical period of time the empire cracked harder, and Rome–ported 850 miles east–proceeded to live on as a shell of its former self for another millennia, trading on its former glory and its impenetrable walls (nuclear weapons!).
An American future comparable to that of Constantinople from the 6th century through the 15th century aligns well enough with the second of three possible scenarios the Derb sees for the US:
A different option, one which appeals to me more, would be to reconcile ourselves to relative decline. We could withdraw from our global commitments and settle down as a middling nation, well able to defend our sovereignty and with strictly controlled borders, but geostrategically unambitious. We could devote our national energies to commerce and culture. That is, after all, what our Founders intended.
– Derb’s scenarios presume an effectively unified political entity. As Heartiste puts it, the contemporary US is an empire existing almost entirely within the borders of the mother country herself. Instead of maintaining an external empire, America invited one in.
The western Roman empire–the one that contained Italy itself–is conventionally said to have fallen in the 5th century. But Justinian reconquered Italy 100 years later. Few people remember this, though, because Italy was no longer Roman by this point. The potential parallels with the American Southwest are obvious.
Parenthetically, this is why I’m increasingly more comfortable with the “identitarian” label than with the “nationalist” one. I feel more solidarity with Anatoly Karlin or a guy in Stratford who voted for Brexit than I do with Miguel who invaded through southern California last week or D’Brickshaw who drove by a funeral for La’quintisha and shot three of her cousins on the other side of the state line.
To the charge that the term “identitarian” is just an attempt to repurpose “white nationalist”, I say identitarianism isn’t just for whites. Maybe it’s a more sophisticated-sounding way of saying “ethnic nationalist”. That’s fine, though it begs for “nationalist” to be distinguished from “ethnic nationalist” as something like “civic nationalist”. And now we’re getting into pretty thick spergweeds.
– Z admonishes those who see dissolution coming in the near future, reminding us that there is a lot of ruin in a nation. The point is well taken, though the sheer number of people within the American empire who hope for its ruination is surely much higher–in absolute terms, obviously, but also proportionally–than was ever the case in ancient Rome.
Self-determination based on identity is increasingly the prevailing idea of our age, the Demographic Age. One-in-three people living inside the American empire are open to the idea of it breaking up. That sentiment is only going to grow.