Tuesday, January 03, 2006

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be History


Going forward I’d like to devote Beacon’s Tuesday posts to history, which serves the dual purposes of putting today’s struggles over soft versus hard power in context and allows me to
justify the incredible amount of time I spent reading history over the holiday break.

Your author has gone Roman in a big way, first by finishing Tom Holland’s Rubicon and second by finally starting Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The first largely ends with Julius Caesar stomping all competitors in 44 BC and becoming an authentic dictator (though not generally considered an emperor), while Decline doesn’t really give more than background until the reign of Commodus begins in 177 AD.

The parallels between the period of the late Republic and today—a single superpower with an irresistible military, a potentially lasting switch from defensive to preemptive war, corruption in a legislature increasingly devoted to personality, a populace enthralled by the “vice” of luxury—are eerie, but I take comfort in knowing that it took around two centuries for the Republic to go completely off the rails. In the meantime, Rome spent a lot of energy establishing the Pax Romana and convincing the world of its good intentions; there were many effective emperors and multiple points at which the Empire’s slide toward frank dictatorship and dissolution could have been reversed.

I’ll hope to discuss the soft power of Rome and other historic entities, and how their experiences may be useful as context for today’s world, on Tuesdays.

No comments:

Site Meter