Michael Anton evaluates America's unique and unprecedented position in history, addressing America in decline with insights on immigration, culture, our 'late republic' status, parallels to Rome, and more.
The theme is “Western civilization at the crossroads.” Far be it from me to doubt that the West is on the precipice of something enormous. But “crossroads” implies a map. Do we have one? Is a piece of paper showing the way forward—whether predictive or hopeful—even possible?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people more or less “on my side,” or who see things basically as I do, are extremely confident that they know what is going to happen next. Their certainty is entirely independent of what they think they know.
Some believe that the end—the collapse of present ruling arrangements—is imminent, if not tomorrow or next week, then soon, within a year or five. Others assert that the present regime is stable and not only can but will last for decades or even centuries. Some insist that the regime will fall of its own incompetence, others that its end will require an external push—which some are certain will come, and others are equally sure will not.
When I have thought about this, I have been in some part inclined to the opinion that present arrangements are unstable and may be approaching their end. Yet in thinking it through further, I am forced to admit that our times are marked by so many unprecedented trends and events that making predictions seems foolhardy.
But before going into those differences, let’s first consider the one historical parallel that all sides of this debate draw on for precedent: the rise, peak, decline, and fall of Rome. At first glance, the two cases seem to have a lot in common. Not only was the United States founded by men educated in the classics who took Roman pseudonyms and named the government’s top legislative body after Rome’s, and not only did those founders revive republicanism after centuries of abeyance following the transformation of the Roman republic into an empire, but our country’s history itself seems to have tracked Rome’s, if not precisely then certainly thematically.
Both Rome and America were founded by kings—or, in our case, under the auspices of a king. In both instances, the descendants of those kings ruled in ways their subjects found intolerable and were overthrown. Both peoples then established a mixed-republican form of government, with monarchical, aristocratic, and popular elements. Both of those governments were, at first, weighted toward their aristocratic elements but gradually—owing in part to popular discontent and strife—became more balanced and eventually biased toward the popular element. Both societies fought constant wars, self-justified as “defensive” but more often than not expansionist. Both rapidly conquered what we might call their immediate “neighborhoods”—the Italian peninsula and major Mediterranean islands, the North American continent, respectively—and then went on to win major wars against competing “superpowers,” in the process becoming world-bestriding hegemons. Indeed, we may say that no other power in history, save for perhaps the British Empire, acquired such extensive spheres of influence and so dominated their respective eras for so long. If other empires held more territory, or perhaps technically lasted longer, none exerted nearly as much enduring influence on the rest of the world.