Doing Like the Romans

Max Boot is back flogging his solution to the U.S. military's acute manpower shortage, brought on by the foreign adventures he and his pals have lobbied for:

offer citizenship to anyone, anywhere on the planet, willing to serve a set term in the U.S. military. We could model a Freedom Legion after the French Foreign Legion. Or we could allow foreigners to join regular units after a period of English-language instruction, if necessary.

While interesting, I think that's a non-starter. What intrigues me more is Boot's handling of the inevitable Roman Empire objection:

Some letter writers invoke the specter of mercenaries leading to the fall of the U.S. as they supposedly led to the fall of Rome. That's a misreading of Roman history. As classicist Victor Davis Hanson points out, by the 1st century AD, the legions "were mostly non-Italian and mercenary, and the empire still endured for nearly another 500 years." If only the Pax Americana were to last half as long!

When war enthusiasts are no longer even defensive about comparisons to the Roman Empire, we have arguably crossed over into new territory. I had this exact same conversation over the weekend with a Marine Iraq War vet, and a civilian pro-war guy. They had me on the defensive for a half-hour -- "What's WRONG with being like the Roman Empire?? They lasted a thousand years, didn't they?" Silly me, I was hoping the United States would hold out a little longer than that....

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  • fyodor||

    I'd say there'd be nothing wrong with being like the Roman Empire, as long as membership was voluntary. But, heh-heh, thar's the rub.

  • Sam Grove||

    Change was much slower back then.

  • David Woycechowsky||

    We are creating marginal terrorists abroad and marginal dunderheads at home. Its all good!

  • ||

    I'm less concerned with being a citizen of a powerful nation than I am with being a citizen of a free nation.

  • ||

    You mean there are still people out there who doubt that we are the Roman Empire?

    Not likely that we'll make it 1000 years (probably already on the decline)...the decline is inevitable, just as it was for Rome.

    Semper ubi sub ubi!

  • ||

    Paging gaius marius! Paging gaius marius!

  • ||

    Apparently Max is among the many who haven't noticed that the lifespan of the average empire is shortening geometrically with the advance of technology.

  • ||

    You mean there are still people out there who doubt that we are the Roman Empire?

    I'll second that. The similarities are downright eerie at times.

  • ||

    Didn't Leonard Piekoff said our ominous parallels were with the Third Reich?

  • ||

    "What's WRONG with being like the Roman Empire??

    Well, slavery, for one.

    And despite being a Republic for part of it's history, in fact it was (or at least functioned like) a despotic regime throughout most of its history. Remember Caligula and Nero?

    And those same nincompoops talking up the virtues of the Roman Empire would blanche at the sexual mores of the core population...especially at homosexuality.

    Then there's the whole animosity towards Christians and Jews in favor of multi-theism.

    Then those dorks even further forget that the Empire survived often by little more than luck than strong government. In many cases the opposition was simply the worse of two bad armies.

    Then there were constant states of war, many bloody internal rebellion, capricious rulers, human sacrifices, blood sports and nothing even approaching a due process legal system.

    True, Rome had spots of incredible glory and it's many accomplishments led to our own country's establishment.

    And to their credit, ancient Romans were remarkably tolerant of a lot of things.

    But typical of the loons who focus on "how great things USED top be," they forget the downsides.

  • ||

    Sorry for the grammatical tense error.

  • ||

    Man, that idea must have the pro-war, anti-immigration conservatives heads spinning. On one hand, it allows us to be more hawkish, on the other hand we're outsourcing more American jobs to foreigners. Worse yet, they become citizens. Eeep!

  • ||

    I'm less concerned with being a citizen of a powerful nation than I am with being a citizen of a free nation.

    I'm not in favor of empire (well, any more empire than we already have and have had for a long while, at the very least), but if the nation doesn't have the power to keep itself free, a citizen needn't bother with either concern.

  • ||

    I'll bet you didn't see this coming...

    I think this is a fine idea. First of all, the comparison to the Romans is inapt, because these troops won't be mercenaries, they'll be Americans. An immigrant who passes his tests and takes the oath is just as good an American as you or me. The Roman Empire cheap shot is just a Latinate version of a Godwin violation.

    But I don't like the "Freedom Legion" aspect - there is no reason to exclude these soldiers from the regular military. Serving side by side with native born Americans is important to our national security, and will also help the immigrants become more adept at interacting with Americans.

    For all of the idiocy Boot wraps around his idea, I think it's very sound at its core.

  • ||

    a despotic regime throughout most of its history

    I seem to remember that being the fault of the Gracchus brothers. Even in anicent times, they blamed the liberals.

  • ||

    Eric-
    We're quite capable of keeping ourselves free, so long as we don't overextend ourselves trying to recreate the entire planet (or at least the valuable parts of it) in our image.

  • ||

    I liked the Sargent from Texas saying, "The last thing we need is an army of illegal immigrants!"

    They won't be illegal, dumbass.

  • ||

    But even so, look at the American on your left. Look at the American on your right. (Not you, kwais).

    Now ask yourself, who would win a fight, those two Americans, or any two Document-deprived America-joiners plucked out of a canyon in Arizona?

  • Jeff||

    I think it's obvious that we need an army of killer robots and cyborg apes.

  • ||

    I think it's obvious that we need an army of killer robots and cyborg apes.

    And sharks with laser beams on their foreheads!

  • ||

    We're quite capable of keeping ourselves free, so long as we don't overextend ourselves trying to recreate the entire planet (or at least the valuable parts of it) in our image.

    I don't disagree.

  • ||

    joe,

    maybe the reason for the "freedom legion" idea is that Boot realizes that our military is made up of people like your sergeant from texas.

  • ||

    Don't we already have immigrant soldiers who get citizenship after their service? I think they actually have to have green-cards, mind.

  • drf||

    just as long as the Judean People's Front is there. I mean the People's Front of Judea. Oh. wait. the popular front (SPLITTERS!!!!!!)


    and WHAT have the Roman's ever done for us?

  • ||

    I have always thought that we should give citizenship to those serving in the military.

    (eerily agreeing with Joe for the second time ever in the same day)

    My old roomate was an Irishman, he had been here since he was 13 and had been in the Corps for 12 years and was still struggling with the INS. I think that was bogus. I had two guys in my team at one time that were born in Mexico, and they too were struggling to stay legal.

    If join the US military to me you are an American, and a patriot. Your English has to be good enought because they don't do the ASVAB in any other language.

  • ||

    I think comparing current US military hegemony to the Roman Empire really doesnt give the Romans much credit at all.

    Just 1 example - in the entire history of our nation, and all the wars we've fought, how much 'territiory' have we ever annexed? aside from the odd island here and there for naval bases.

    I mean, if we had ever been anything like Rome, France should in theory should be like, 'New New Jersey'

    (wouldnt that be great though?)

    Also - comparisons with Rome tend to be focused solely on similarities of military dominance. i dont know if it's a fair or relevant comparison. I dont think it's fair because our superiority with conventional and nuclear weapons have never (up until now) truly been used to bring about one-sided victories and territorial conquest... and the time when they will be useful in such a way seems to be quickly passing.

    Most military conflicts of the future will probably be so assymetrical (like iraq), that we get bled to pieces without ever finding much to actually shoot at. And ballistic nuclear superiority has no deterrent effect against rogue groups with 'suitcase' bio/chem weapons or some other nastyness.

    Plus, we've gotten so gun shy in a cultural sense that 1000 US casualties in a 'war' is considered a high price to pay... which seems almost strange...given that in the not so distant past we'd paid many many thousands of American lives in the past for far less strategic value, in certain senses. And even farther back (WWI) slaughtered tens of thousands for no better reason than to maintain alliances in some theoretical 'balance of power'...which proved meaningless.

    Point being: so what if we've got all this power if actually using it has such adverse political consequences?

    Bah. Whatever. I get picky anytime people compare anyone to 'nazis' as well. It seems incredibly unfair to what bastards they really were.

    JG

  • ||

    Maybe immigration judges should just use the old "...or join the Army" sentence that criminal judges used to use. I'll bet we could even sell this to right wingers as a "tough on crime" program.

  • David Woycechowsky||

    Why don't we just aution citizenship to high bidders at market rates and then use the money to pay homegrown soldiers better. That would seem to involve a bit less immigration.

  • ||

    WRT to what was wrong with the Roman Empire...

    Well, slavery, for one.

    Heh.

    Imagine two American imperialists reading this. One, alarmed, asks, "Slavery? We have to have slavery and multitheism?"

    The other stares at him, then says, "No, we don't."

    Then they go back to their business...

  • ||

    "in the entire history of our nation, and all the wars we've fought, how much 'territiory' have we ever annexed? aside from the odd island here and there for naval bases."

    Um, everything west of the Appalacians?

  • David Woycechowsky||

    Who needs slavery when Asia is full of indentured servitude.

    What is the libertarian position on indentured servitude anyway?

  • ||

    To reiterate - I'm not in favor of America-conquering-the-world and wish we were less of an empire. However, that sort of bit is a piece with every "what about Jim Crow and women not voting?" bit random idiots venture if a libertarian suggests that, say, the commerce clause of the Consitution should be treated more in line with 19th century precedent.

  • ||

    From the article:

    Would foreigners sign up to fight for Uncle Sam? I don't see why not, because so many people are desperate to move here. Serving a few years in the military would seem a small price to pay, and it would establish beyond a doubt that they are the kind of motivated, hardworking immigrants we want.

    Anyway, what's the alternative? $100,000 signing bonuses? Recruiting felons?


    The alternative might be: don't get in wars that many of the soldiers you're ordering around can see for themselves is based on a lie; don't get in wars that don't have anything to do with defending the United States; quit screwing the soldiers and their families on death and injury benefits; quit issuing stop-loss orders that convert volunteers into unwilling and unhappy conscripts; quit standing up in speeches and using the "brave sacrifices" that soldiers make as though their debilitating spinal injury was just as much your bravery and sacrifice as theirs; and start treating soldiers as though their lives have some meaning and value beyond the pittance you pay them and the reckless disregard you employ in sending them off to be killed, dismembered and crippled.

  • fyodor||

    What is the libertarian position on indentured servitude anyway?

    I suppose it would depend on the validity of the applicable contract!

  • ||

    "Anyway, what's the alternative? $100,000 signing bonuses?"

    Huh what? great idea!

  • David Woycechowsky||

    At common law, I think some contracts are invalid for public policy reasons. The first year of law school they teach you that case where the kid can't collect his money his uncle promised for quashing the pottymouth (or something). the public policy was that this apparent contract was a family discipline matter where the law should not be meddling. Of course, this is just an example and kind of a bizarre one at that. Another example would be that a contract to commit insurance fraud would be invalid.

    Is indentured servitude a valid public policy type exception to contract validity then?

    More broadly, should there be any public policy exceptions to contract?

  • gaius marius||

    Paging gaius marius!

    ooh! here i am!

    mr boot gets a few things wrong.

    1) mercenaries are not a cause of decline so much as a symptom of it, particularly the aspect of imperial overstretch. if you've gotten to the point where your armies need to be so vast and constant in order to maintain your position in the world, you've become culturally bankrupt.

    2) the roman state didn't really last five centuries past the end of the 1st ad. roman society became increasingly unattractive and lawless from 2nd c bc -- the second punic war -- forward. decline was already well advanced when a hundred years of persistent civil war (marius and sulla to the second triumvarate) forced/enabled augustus to end the republic for good. augustus's pax was quickly followed by men like nero and caligula, who were followed by civil war again and rapid assassinations, which was followed by the militant vespasian and then the horrific domitian, who was murdered in 86.

    the age of the antonines -- a sort of indian summer -- lasted until marcus aurelius died in 180. and then the real trouble started. by the end of the 3rd c ad, the roman empire was a hollow, fractured shell of itself and unable to defend its borders against incursions. brief respites punctuated long periods of turmoil, including the sackings of all major western roman cities -- and ultimately rome, in 410 by alaric and finally in 476.

    if one sees parallels in the declines of civilizations, i would say that we would be in that process of building the universal western state as a means of keeping the composure of the west where the attractiveness and momentum of culture now fails to. i think the first world war roughly corresponds to the second punic, and the similar period for rome -- the end of the republic -- would grant us some period of temporal continuance.

    but its a mistake to think that these will necessarily be happy and productive times, or that we must be successful in building a universal state.

    anyway, toynbee had a wonderful quote about universal empire:

    As we have seen in the last chapter, the endings of universal states indicate that these institutions are possessed by an almost demonic craving for life; and, if now we look at them, no longer through the eyes of alien observers, but through those of their own citizens, we shall find that these are apt not only to desire with their whole hearts that this earthly commonwealth of theirs may live for ever, but actually to believe that the immortality of this human institution is assured -- and this sometimes in the teeth of contemporary events which, to an observer posted at a different standpoint in Time or Space, declare beyond question that this particular universal state is at this very moment in its last agonies.

    To observers who happen to have been born into the history of their own societies at a time when these have not been passing through the universal state phase, it is manifest that universal states, as a class of polity, are by-products of a process of social disintegration and are stamped by their certificates of origin as being uncreative and ephemeral. Why is it, such observers may well ask, that, in defiance of apparently plain facts, the citizens of a universal state are prone to regard it, not as a night's shelter in the wilderness, but as the Promised Land, the goal of human endeavours? How is it possible for them to mistake this mundane institution for the Civitas Dei itself?

    This misapprehension is so extreme in its degree that its very occurrence might perhaps be called in question, were this not attested by the incontrovertible evidence of a cloud of witnesses who convict themselves, out of their own mouths, of being victims of this strange hallucination.

  • ed||

    Empire of the Ants was quite awesome from a purely fake-historical-B-movie perspective.

  • gaius marius||

    Silly me, I was hoping the United States would hold out a little longer than that....

    nice try, mr welch.

  • ||

    kwais,

    I agree with your sentiment on serving in the military and citizenship. Now I believe it is much easier for foreign nationals in the military to get citizenship.

    However, in the last month or so I read that a much lower number than expected are actually taking advantage of it. Anybody else have info on this?

  • ||

    interesting factoid on taxes in old Rome:
    The tax rate under normal circumstances was 1% and sometimes would climb as high as 3% in situations such as war.
    Forget what I said about similarity.
    http://www.unrv.com/economy/roman-taxes.php

  • ||

    An appropriate America/Rome analogy starts with:

    Osama bin Laden is like Hannibal, 9/11 was like the Battle of Canae, the First Punic War was like the invasion of Afghanistan, and the Second Punic War was like the invasion of Iraq.

    Oh, and the American Republic was like the Roman Republic.

  • ||

    Indeed, stop putting soldiers in the awkward position of actually having to go off to war and let them get back to the important task of saving money for college and grandiose experiments in gender equality...

  • gaius marius||

    Didn't Leonard Piekoff said our ominous parallels were with the Third Reich?

    actually, mr nostar, the comparison is quite valid, i think. the german empire of idealism that first bismarck and then hitler attempted to create was in fact a failed attempt at a western universal state -- a misguided defense/perpetuation/reconstruction of dead culture in a sort of cultivated barbarism. here we are, attempting the same.

  • ||

    I read a book once that opened up statehood to any country on earth, giving each country 2 senators and proportional congresspeople.

    That's one way of building a worldwide empire I never see proposed.

  • ||

    The Battle of Canae was fought between soldiers. I'd go along with the rest.

  • R C Dean||

    if one sees parallels in the declines of civilizations, i would say that we would be in that process of building the universal western state as a means of keeping the composure of the west where the attractiveness and momentum of culture now fails

    Sounds like the EU to me.

    Didn't Leonard Piekoff said our ominous parallels were with the Third Reich?

    actually, mr nostar, the comparison is quite valid


    Godwin calling!

  • R C Dean||

    Osama bin Laden is like Hannibal

    Except for not having an army, not being a general, not fighting a conventional war, and being a total strategic nitwit, the parallels are striking.

  • Adam||

    Anyway, what's the alternative? $100,000 signing bonuses? Recruiting felons?

    I'm willing to make a dent of 1 into the problem but they won't let my pothead ass sign up no matter how many drug tests I pass.

  • ||

    I'm willing to make a dent of 1 into the problem but they won't let my pothead ass sign up no matter how many drug tests I pass.

    No problem, the recruiter will just tell you to lie about it.

  • gaius marius||

    Sounds like the EU to me.

    sounds like the west, us included, mr dean.

    First of all, the comparison to the Romans is inapt, because these troops won't be mercenaries, they'll be Americans.

    actually, the romans did this too, mr joe, under caracalla in 212. it proved insufficient, and the collapsing empire went on hiring some barbarians and paying tribute to others throughout the 3rd c.

  • ||

    The reason the United States looks like SPQR is because we are the active engine for western institutionalization in this new world order (thank you tax payers). Man's order in this universe was once and first Rome ... the "eternal dream".

  • gaius marius||

    Forget what I said about similarity.

    big difference, mr mk, between the taxes on the roman citizens during the republic and those levied against the provinces in the empire. rome became very expensive to run.

  • gaius marius||

    Godwin calling!

    lol -- of course no one here will see it, mr dean. we've mythologized the nazis to the level of ghouls and demons, and we can never see oursleves that way any more than a roman could see in rome an incarnation of carthage. however, from the outside looking in, i think the fundamental similarities would be a lot more obvious -- philosophically, particularly.

    after all, is it merely coincidental that some neoconservatives study and admire italian fascism? i think not.

  • ||

    RC, mk, it's not parallel about their tactics, but about the effect they had on the nation they invaded, the response they inspired, and the changes that came about in that nation once it set about making the world safe for itself.

    Ooh, ooh! I've got a good one! Osama wasn't born in North Africa! *rolls eyes*

  • gaius marius||

    fwiw, the germans weren't alone -- i think you can say that napoleonic france was a prior failed attempt at a universal state, just as alexander was a failed attempt at the hellenic universal state which rome soon became.

  • ||

    Max Boot reads "Hit and Run" and he steals my ideas! Only I was kidding in a Jonathan Swift kind of way. Apparently one libertarian's irony is another neo-con's great idea.

  • R C Dean||

    the effect they had on the nation they invaded

    If OBL invaded anywhere, it was Afghanistan, not the US.

    the response they inspired

    I thought we were rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, not sowing them with salt.

    and the changes that came about in that nation once it set about making the world safe for itself.

    The US embarked on that project back on December 7, 1941. OBL just upped the operational tempo after a post-Cold War pause.

    Still not sold on the analogy, joe.

  • ||

    Great analysis, Mr. Gaius. I've always wanted to read Toynbee.

    I think it is a mistake coming to rest on culture though.

    Culture is ultimately rooted in the economic reality that produced it. Individuals genuinely respect and adhere to its rules only as long as the personal benefits of doing so outweigh the costs. Change that makes the individual a viable economic unit frequently raises the costs and reduces the benefits of sticking with the more rigid demands of culture and society.

    Rapid technological change is boosting the speed of economic change that empowers the individual like never before. Cultures either quickly adapt or they crumble. Based on your posts, I assume you would bemoan either outcome as cultural failure.

  • ||

    is his name really "Max Boot" ?

  • gaius marius||

    Individuals genuinely respect and adhere to its rules only as long as the personal benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

    mr d, i think that's not necessarily so. it would be true if people were solely rational monads held in association with others only through productive synthesis and falling out when more efficient relationships became possible.

    don't get me wrong -- economic analyses have their conditional place. but people don't operate that way. my grandma shops at the corner store because she feels at home there -- the superstore down the block be damned. in the end, we are animals, irrational to the core.

    Change that makes the individual a viable economic unit frequently raises the costs and reduces the benefits of sticking with the more rigid demands of culture and society.

    there's nothing i can see that has made the individual a viable economic unit in isolation -- indeed, individualism (the mindset of seeing oneself as best in isolation) is ultimately economically self-defeating as the predisposition for social rejection ensures the social breakdown by pressures internal or external that manifests the dangers of being outside a society that can protect you by law or collective action -- including the destruction of lawful commerce.

    in the end, periods of individualism such as this are characteristic of societies in decay. if this was the first time individualism had appeared in civility, we could be excused for seeing a utopia ahead. but all major civilizations prior to this -- hellenic notably, but others too -- digressed into antisocial individualism as a vehicle of civilizational suicide. toynbee called it the schism of the body social -- where the creative class which had produced the civilization's gravity was struck mute, becoming obsessed simply with holding it together by any means. that switch from attractive gravity to coercive force is insufficient to keep society together, and people stop seeing themselves as important only as members of something larger.

  • ||

    Gai, Gai, Gai!

    Quod dicis? Meras nugas narras. You're Papist historical bias is showing. Pace Catholic Church history, the Roman Empire did not collapse in 476, nor was it even in terminal decline, it simply moved its capital east where it continued to flourish for several centuries. The so-called "Byzantine" Empire was in every real sense a continuation of the Roman polity, down to the fact that most of the noble old Roman families had moved to Constantinople long before the fall of the city of Rome to Barbarian hands. For all practical purposes the Roman Empire came to an ignomious end at the hands of Western barbarians in the Fourth Crusade in 1203.

  • ||

    To paraphrase gaius marius, "this whole thread is like a puppy in a blender."

    Freedom is good.
    War is bad.
    Empire is bad.
    Standing armies are bad.
    Open borders are good.
    Encouraging more foreigners to come here is good.

  • ||

    Boot's probably on to something. Every Empire has managed to succeed only by enlisting colonials and mercenaries. Niall Ferguson just wrote an article making the point that the British succeeded in Iraq only because more than 80% of the British troops were actually Indian. A large number of the "Russian" and "German" troops on the Eastern Front were neither - there were many Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kalmyks on the one side, Hungarians, Romanians, French and Italians on the other. You can take a surprising number of casualties when you use proxies.

  • ||

    "If OBL invaded anywhere, it was Afghanistan, not the US."

    You don't consider what happened on 9/11 to be a invasion? An enemy came here, launched an attack, and put our city to the torch. What more do you want?

    "I thought we were rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, not sowing them with salt." There's some interesting history that happened in between the glorious march onto the ships and the salting of Carthage. Familiarize yourself.

    "The US embarked on that project back on December 7, 1941. OBL just upped the operational tempo after a post-Cold War pause." Neither the elimination of all powers that could be potential competitors, nor the replacement of governments that were not at war with us (or allied with those who were at war with us), were the goals of our actions during World War Two or the Cold War.

    You seem obsessed with pointing out our moral superiority. Yes, fine, we're the most morally splendiferous people who ever walked the earth. Now, try to think in terms of geopolitics, contests between nations, and the transition of a republic into an empire through the enshrinement of foreign policy dominance as its central organizing principle.

  • ||

    Freedom Legion. Sounds too much like the Pax Force from the Give Me Liberty comics.

  • Vache Folle||

    From what I can tell we have not been able to make Empire pay. I seem to remember that the Romans soaked the provinces. We don't get tribute from conquered states, we send them aid.

    Also, Osama and Hannibal differ in that the former has no elephants.

    Finally, do we really want to absorb an army of foreign mercenaries into our society? Willing killers are not exactly the model immigrant. Let them go home after they are finished killing people for our government. Their pension and savings will go further in their homelands, anyway.

  • gaius marius||

    The so-called "Byzantine" Empire was in every real sense a continuation of the Roman polity, down to the fact that most of the noble old Roman families had moved to Constantinople long before the fall of the city of Rome to Barbarian hands.

    and the egyptian society that began in 2700 bc only petered out finally with alexander in the 4th c bc. what of it? it was a dessicated, shallow shell -- utterly uncreative, mystical, and fossilized, hopelessly trapped in an imitative cultural timewarp. similarly with the anatolian byzantines. look at 5th c byzantine art and 11th c. any difference? not too much -- the byzantines essentially experienced the dark ages with the benefits of broader civil order.

  • ||

    Joe, small quibble:

    Attacks can be invasions or incursions.

    Invasion, the attacker tries to sieze and hold territory.

    Incursion, the attacker passes through the territory either to take stuff or to destroy stuff then leaves.

    The spirit of 9/11 was an incursion, even if the hijakers didn't intend to leave afterward.

  • gaius marius||

    An enemy came here, launched an attack, and put our city to the torch. What more do you want?

    fwiw, mr joe -- i would say that these fine folks perform under the same auspices as the teutons, lombards and goths did to the romans. an external proletariat, no longer hopeful and attracted but alienated and angry, forming a war-band to cross the frontier.

    the first of the barbarian invasions, as it were.

  • gaius marius||

    The spirit of 9/11 was an incursion

    excellent point, mr tarran.

  • ||

    Pace Catholic Church history, the Roman Empire did not collapse in 476, nor was it even in terminal decline, it simply moved its capital east where it continued to flourish for several centuries. The so-called "Byzantine" Empire was in every real sense a continuation of the Roman polity, down to the fact that most of the noble old Roman families had moved to Constantinople long before the fall of the city of Rome to Barbarian hands. For all practical purposes the Roman Empire came to an ignomious end at the hands of Western barbarians in the Fourth Crusade in 1203.

    Why was 476 even chosen? There was nothing special about the sack of Rome that year; there was an emperor in the West before and after that year. It's not a bad date, but it's not really a good one either.

    Hmmm . . . Europe as Greece, Britain as Rome, America as Byzantium? That's not a bad parallel.

    For the hiring of mercenaries, and the difference in the militaries of republics and empires, see Republic and Empire on Jerry Pournelle's site. It's the retirement speech of General Anthony Zinni, USMC, and discussion about it.

  • ||

    Gaius and R.C.
    Which empire serves as the better model for the USA?

  • gaius marius||

    From what I can tell we have not been able to make Empire pay. I seem to remember that the Romans soaked the provinces. We don't get tribute from conquered states, we send them aid.

    i think the euphamism for "soaking", mr folle, is now "bilateral trade agreement". :)

  • ||

    For the hiring of mercenaries, and the difference in the militaries of republics and empires, see Republic and Empire on Jerry Pournelle's site. It's the retirement speech of General Anthony Zinni, USMC, and discussion about it.

    And the relevant part to this discussion starts in Pournelle's commentary, the red text after the speech. Although the speech is good reading, too.

  • gaius marius||

    It's not a bad date, but it's not really a good one either.

    i think alaric's sack in 410 is really much more of a punctuation mark.

    Which empire serves as the better model for the USA?

    unfortunately, one can't answer "none", which is my sincere wish. empire is an awful thing, frought with terrible internal turmoil and bloody, bankrupting wars.

    still, it is quite possible that the united states will fail to materialize as the agent of the western universal state and fall back.

  • ||

    The U.S. parallels the Roman empire? Where's my invite to the Coliseum fun and games?

    And gaius, what's up with the capitalization? This is the first time I've seen it.

  • ||

    tarran,

    Hannibal wasn't trying to add Italy to the Carthaginian Empire, if I recall correctly, but to sack Rome and force concessions related to trade and navigation. In that sense, both were "incursions" - Hannibal's just took longer.

  • ||

    still, it is quite possible that the united states will fail to materialize as the agent of the western universal state and fall back.

    I hope not. I've been practicing my stoic look in the mirror for a while now.

  • ||

    "A fish starts to rot from the head to the tail" is an appropriate proverb for the decline of Rome. The robust Republic began as a meritocracy and was gradually corrupted as the patronage system took over. Sycophantic yes-men were rewarded with wealth and power, dissidents were punished and exiled. Roman leadership declined steadily. Public funds drained away to cronies and well-connected supporters while the infrastructure began to crumble and education suffered. The gap between the wealthy and poor widened. The average Roman citizen no longer wanted to join the Legions as the remuneration decreased and the hazards increased with constant border warfare. The empire really went in the shitter when it succumbed to Christianity.

    Yeah, I see a few analogs with the American Empire.

  • ||

    I'd say that Americans are less individualistic than they were 50, or especially 150 years ago. They were certainly more likely to do whatever damned well pleased themselves, without getting an OK from a cop or politician.

    I don't think 9/11 is the same as a battle in the past, I think a better compariosn would be how the sons of liberty did rabble rousing to make the colonists think they had more in common with each other than with England.

    The concept of a Roman Empire didn't really end until Napoleon's invasion of the germanic states that made up the Holy Roman Empire in 1806(?)

    While the fourth crusade didn't help, Byzantium creaked along until the city fell on May 29th 1453 to the Turks.

  • ||

    Rome wasn't sacked in 476. (That was done in 410 by the Goths under Alaric. After the Romans had continually failed to the Goths what they had promised them for serving as the Romans' foreign legion, Alaric's patience wore out, and he let his troops take their pay out in kind.) In 476, the real power in Rome (the Ostrogothic king, Odoacer) simply decided he didn't need a Roman emperor to be his front man, so he deposed the powerless emperor, Romulus Augustulus. (There was another Western emperor, Julius Nepos, until 480, but he was in Dalmatia rather than Rome.)

  • ||

    The Byzantines were a little more lively and creative than you give them credit for, Gaius, it's just that they decided to devote most of that tremendous energy and intellectual capital to what seems to us to be pointless religious schisms and theological hairsplitting. In reality, I think the true "end" of the Roman Empire is really the reign of Emperor Constantine, even if it wasn't perceived that way by contemporaries. The imposition of Christianity as a state religion marked a dramatic ideological break with the Roman past, no matter how much subsequent Emperors in the East and West tried to deny it. So if the US is really on the Roman timeline and we've hit the late Republican days there should be some small mocked cult hiding in the provinces that will eventually take over our whole civilization. Maybe scientology?

  • ||

    Mr. Marius:

    I concede that your knowledge of history is far superior to mine. All of your posts that I have read seem intelligent, and well-reasoned, though there are times when I disagree, but can?t quite articulate the reason for it.

    I have never seen you offer any kind of advice, other than:

    "Individualism is bad."

    And

    "Institutions are good."

    Simplistic, yes, but feel free to correct me.

    What alternatives are you offering, or are you just criticizing?

    With all due respect, I am genuinely curious.

    Your ideas are intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    J1

  • ||

    Mr. Gaius,

    Our disagreement is one of definition and degree.

    In my view, an economic choice is one that "maximizes your happiness." This is certainly not limited to material wealth. Individuals and their circumstances are unique and their definitions of happiness vary dramatically.

    Your grandma paying $1 more at the corner store vs. a superstore is absolutely an economically rational decision for her. The satifaction of dealing with a clerk who is a long-time friend, supporting a local business, and/or avoiding a car ride is obviously worth a buck to her or she wouldn't do it.

    With regard to the economic viability of the individual, just because individuals can't live in a bubble doesn't mean they must rely on their parents, extended family, clan, tribe, religious or ethnic group for their survival as in most of history.

    That's what differentiates the U.S. and the dynamics that enable it are steadily creeping into other countries. Here, you can tell all of the above to take a flying leap and still find some place where people will accept you enough to find employment, provide youself with adequate food, clothing, and shelter and cultivate a social and spiritual life if you choose. That's where culture and society interface with the individual and it is a far cry from the past.

  • ||

    Well, when the incursion lasts several years, then one can start calling it an invasion I suppose.

    It's hard to figure out what Hannibal was thinking: after Cannae, total victory was in his grasp, yet he didn't take it. *shrug*

    It's not useful to read too much into these things.

  • R C Dean||

    Which empire serves as the better model for the USA?

    Since I don't think the USA is an empire, or is interested in establishing one that is comparable in any way to historical empires, I think this question is a category error.

    joe, if you think Roman goals in Carthage were in any way similar to our goals in Afhganistan and Iraq, then you need to back away from the Chomsky. Maybe a nice dose of Gibbon would help.

  • gaius marius||

    So if the US is really on the Roman timeline and we've hit the late Republican days there should be some small mocked cult hiding in the provinces that will eventually take over our whole civilization. Maybe scientology?

    lmao! it all makes sense now, ms vanya. in two thousand years, tom cruise will be revered as saint peter. :)

    yeh, i shortchange the byzantines regularly, but (as you say) it's wrong to equate the greek orthodox christian civilization that spread from anatolia to russia with pagan imperial rome. i think what we conceive of as byzantium really began in the aftermath of the arab assault on constantinople in 717 and came to full imperial flower in the ottoman and russian empires.

  • R C Dean||

    I give gaius a hard time, but I suspect that for all his anti-individualist rhetoric, he and I probably agree a great deal on the importance of voluntary institutions and civil society.

    gaius just doesn't draw as sharp a distinction as he might between the voluntary institutions of civil society and the coercive institutions of the state.

  • R C Dean||

    Public funds drained away to cronies and well-connected supporters while the infrastructure began to crumble and education suffered. The gap between the wealthy and poor widened. The average Roman citizen no longer wanted to join the Legions as the remuneration decreased and the hazards increased with constant border warfare.

    Again, this applies equally as much to the EU as to America. Which means, I guess, that the Roman analogy isn't particularly powerful.

  • ||

    Well, technically the Roman empire lasted until 1500, so it's more like 2000 years. People tend to split the byzantines off, but they were originally Roman.

    Anyway, nobody has mentioned that nukes change the equation entirely. Nobody will ever invade the US. Period. Or any other nuclear power. That's why everyone wants them.

    Without the threat of external invasion, who knows how long an empire/country could last? Depends of how you define it, I guess. In the sense that France is still France, no matter how many governments it goes through, the US will always be the US. If you define the US by the survival of the federal government as now constituted, that will probably lead to a different result.

    As for the US being in decline... I really doubt that. Fact is that by any economic or military standard, we're haven't even begun to peak. The reason for pessisim on this forum is that the current form of government really pisses us off. The worst that can happen is that someone else begins to approach our level. As much fun as the old (and eternal) saw about how everything is going to hell in a handbasket... by the time the decline is indisputable, it's already well underway. It's possible that this is the case. It's possible that it's not. Who knows. But even if we are in decline, how many centuries will it be before there's another country to rival us? China might do it, India, and Russia might do it, a long time from now. But then they will be far more worried about each other than us...

    Anyway, who knows.

  • gaius marius||

    What alternatives are you offering, or are you just criticizing?

    this is probably confounding, but i see little alternative, mr j1. the course of events can take many paths, but i think they all likely end in a western universal state -- be it administered by america, the eu or an outside group (as the osmanlis administered the byzantine universal state of the ottoman empire in the aftermath of the mongol wars).

  • gaius marius||

    Your grandma paying $1 more at the corner store vs. a superstore is absolutely an economically rational decision for her. The satifaction of dealing with a clerk who is a long-time friend, supporting a local business, and/or avoiding a car ride is obviously worth a buck to her or she wouldn't do it.

    is this rational, mr d, or rationalizing irrational behavior?

    That's what differentiates the U.S. and the dynamics that enable it are steadily creeping into other countries. Here, you can tell all of the above to take a flying leap and still find some place where people will accept you enough to find employment, provide youself with adequate food, clothing, and shelter and cultivate a social and spiritual life if you choose. That's where culture and society interface with the individual and it is a far cry from the past.

    to be honest, i think this was very much the situation in declining hellenic civ as well. many of the changes (softenings) made to roman paterfamilias law over time were made to accomodate the same disintegration of the family we see today. divorce became much easier (seneca observed, "they marry to divorce"), children began to siphon obsequious and doting parents, morals became much looser and family was generally ignored. all this in stark contrast to the severe paterfamilias of early rome, which looks a lot more like sharia.

    and the insidious nature of western individual values is utterly reversible, of course, just as decadent hellenic values throughout the east were supplanted by islamic values -- or, if you like, as decadent persian values were supplanted by hellenic a civilization before.

    but few see it that way. like the man said, "Why is it, such observers may well ask, that, in defiance of apparently plain facts, the citizens of a universal state are prone to regard it, not as a night's shelter in the wilderness, but as the Promised Land, the goal of human endeavours? How is it possible for them to mistake this mundane institution for the Civitas Dei itself?"

  • ||

    it's irrational to choose quality over quantity, or, ironically, to support one institution over a far more alien and insubstantial one?

  • ||

    Your grandma is rational, Mr. Gaius.

    I have a friend who loves old cars. I have no particular interest in them. He may pay $30K for a car I would not buy at any price. Who is rational? Who is irrational?

    A middle aged man visits a neighborhood bar and pays $2 for a beer and chats with an old friend who tends bar. Another middle aged man pays $5 for the same beer at a club and oogles young women. What are each really paying for and which is irrational?

  • ||

    I've changed my mind. I now prefer the idea of entire foreign units. The names would be charming - suppose Pugachev's Brigade of Cossacks or the 3rd Regiment of Bengali Light Infantry - and the cost would be relatively low.

    One month of training, a uniform, a rifle and 270 rounds and they're ready to go. Cannon fodder for the next adventure.

    They survive for ten years, they get a discharge and a blue passport. They commit a war crime and we hang them out to dry. Hell, we could reduce foreign aid dollar for dollar based on their nationality and pay!

    We will paint the map red, white and blue.

    By jingo, I think I've got it!

  • ||

    The problem I have with gaius marius is that all he has is criticism and no ideas or even desires. He sees the doom as inevitable and talks about it, but I never get much from him when I ask what he'd like to see happen.

    For instance, if I criticize a regulatory scheme as populist pandering to those who want to sock it to business owners, gaius will probably agree with me. But if I complain about a regulatory scheme by saying "I should be able to make my own choices!" he'll chide me for my selfish individualism and say that regulated societies offer greater security.

  • Jeff||

    I'm confused. Will we be getting orgies out of all this?

  • ||

    Will we be getting orgies out of all this?

    I know the Arabs have good belly-dancers.

    If we elect a President with an Asian fetish we might have to conquer North Korea. Although emaciated chicks don't really turn me on. Maybe we could invade Vietnam again or something.

  • ||

    Maybe we could invade Vietnam again or something.

    Or how about South Korea? We could liberate the embryos that are being "murdered" by stem cell researchers.

  • ||

    "Another middle aged man pays $5 for the same beer at a club and oogles young women.

    Patrick, are you talking about me? :)

    thoreau - I agree. I actually was laying in bed the other night and I thought of all kinds of things I wanted to say to gaius, in rebuttal to his bemoaning "selfish individualism", as you say. Of course, now I've forgotten most of it.

    But I think what I was mainly going to say was that I believe that the only way humanity is going to continue to survive is through individual enlightenment. And I'm not saying that voluntary participation in "institutions of civil society" (RC) is not to be commended or expected - I'm sure that will be a necessary component. But in the end, humanity will have to wake up and begin seriously taking responsibility for itself. And this will have to come on an individual basis. Right now people are selfish, or scared, or whatever. That needs to change, not be controlled by some institution.

  • ||

    Jason-

    Excellent idea! I'm sure Tom DeLay could give a speech denouncing the merchants of death in Korean labs or whatever. And with troops already in South Korea the conquest wouldn't be difficult. Then, after we add South Korea to our empire, we could grant them citizenship to facilitate their coming to the US. Or maybe just grant citizenship to hot chicks that we want to see in the US.


    Lowdog-

    Yep. I agree. gaius is all about the bemoaning but not about the fixing. He won't even sketch out hypothetical fixes (if doom is inevitable then any fix is of course hypothetical) or talk about his dream scenario. He just laments that the end is near, and chides even those trying to make things better for their selfish individualism and lack of respect for law and tradition.

  • ||

    thoreau - this is what really got me:

    In reponse to this: "Gaius' ideal society works when the vast majority are illiterate cogs in the machine. They can support the aristocracy and clergy, sacrificing their lives to the greater good for the promise of reward in the afterlife."

    Gaius said: "it isn't my "ideal society", mr david. it's just a more durable and stable state than this antisociety, for all its shortcomings in your (and my) judgement."

    What kind of defeatist crap is that?

    My view is that, yes, by being "selfishly individualistic" we may very well doom ourselves to extinction or something nearly as bad, but I also think that's the only way we're ever going to evolve beyond being animals "irrational to the core". As I just said "humanity will have to wake up and begin seriously taking responsibility for itself." Continued control by gaius' vaunted institutions are, in some ways (imho), part of the problem, as they allow people to disperse their responsibilities, and therefore, their awareness.

  • ||

    Lowdog,

    Hmmm... I'm not in a position to assess your judgement when it comes to mixing young women and beer. :)

    Now that I think about it, a better example would have been a guy talking to a friend over a $2 beer one night and the SAME guy staring at women over a $5 beer the next night. Temporary insanity? On which night?

  • ||

    Patrick D,

    Not temporary insanity, because it seems more likely to me that a person's idea of "enjoyable" activities or what brings "happiness" changes quite frequently. Do you want to do the same thing..over and over and over and over and over and over? I don't, no matter how enjoyable it is. The only question is at what point a given activity is no longer enjoyable.

  • ||

    Shawn,

    Exactly! Things are a lot clearer when you get past the idea that economic decisions are only based on calculations regarding material wealth.

  • ||

    Many of us are quite aware that the Bush Administration deceived us and yet, nonetheless, continue to support the President enthusiastically. How should we persuade such people that a leader who persuades us to sacrifice on false pretenses is unworthy of our support?

    ...Quantitative analysis?

    To the extent that our overall sense of morality is a function of the health of our private institutions, I share G. Marius' concern.

  • ||

    Ken - I do too, to a point. And for the record, I'm not trying to be argumentative with gaius. I just want to point out what "bothers" me about his consistent (you gotta give him credit there) and defeatist posts. But I am a fierce individualist and a libertine to many, I'm sure.

    Patrick - I mix beer and young women together quite well, in my judgement, thank you. :)

    Shawn - you're forgetting one thing we all enjoy doing over and over and over. Luckily, it doesn't usually cost anything.

  • ||

    is this rational, mr d, or rationalizing irrational behavior?

    Any excercise of reason on the part of a real human being amounts to rationalizing irrational behavior. Our actions, even the fundamental ones which humanity's continued existence requires (eg eating, breathing, having sex), are rarely inspired by purely rational motivations.

    For instance, you were careful to note that it was your grandma who likes to go to the corner store just because she's used to it -- and no one was surprised. If you had said the same of your teenage niece, many of us would be more skeptical of your story.

    Why? Because the irrational habits and preferences of the typical grandma and the typical teenager differ, the rational means of satisfying them will also vary widely. This doesn't mean that neither of them acts rationally; rather, they both do, but with different first principles.

  • ||

    you're forgetting one thing we all enjoy doing over and over and over. Luckily, it doesn't usually cost anything.

    Sniffing panties at the nursing home?

  • ||

    Again, this applies equally as much to the EU as to America. Which means, I guess, that the Roman analogy isn't particularly powerful.

    No, it applies less to the EU. A superstate with a 60,000 man volunteer army used mostly for peacekeeping and disaster cleanup is a far cry from Rome. But a superstate with a 500,000 man army trained to assault foreign countries anywhere in the world within a matter of days, and willing to use it in wars more related to foreign policy dictums instead of survival, has a lot in common with Rome.

    After all, neither the average EU citizen or American wants to join the army--but the European government isn't working nights and weekends thinking up ways to cajole him into enlisting so he can fight 12,000 miles from home.

  • ||

    McPervert's - I'm lovin' it!

  • ||

    I believe that the only way humanity is going to continue to survive is through individual enlightenment.

    Lowdog -- was it Buddha who said that, or somebody else? I think it could have been anyone.

    Point being, what's it mean to finally be "enlightened"? Or self-responsible?

    I agree with your sentiment, as a libertarian. But even us libertarians disagree.

    People have always disagreed. About everything. Somehow the race survives anyway.


    How should we persuade such people that a leader who persuades us to sacrifice on false pretenses is unworthy of our support?

    Ken -- I've heard you express this frustration for a long, long, time. Want to know why you'll never get a mass following? As an old saying puts it, "better a little injustice than anarchy".

    The saying understated its point. People will generally tolerate a lot of injustice before they'll choose anarchy. Which is the risk you run if you declare your gov't null and void.


    But I'm a libertarian who sees a central paradox in libertarianism. And all other philosophies too....which can only be resolved by a clear understanding of philosophical context. Hear me out.

    We libertarians champion individual choice, coupled with individual responsibility. Fine and good -- but how do you suppose we ever got a whole nation full of people who can understand this idea? Let alone voluntarily accept it?

    It wasn't because The First Libertarian got on his soap box and began to preach The L Words. The masses are not, to begin with, converted by words, but only by force. I mean, at the beginning of civilization.

    The foundation of every civilization is a war of conquest, by some group over other groups. Follow history back to its originating springs, and this is always what you find.

    The paradox is that we impose free choice with force. Any civilization imposes a morality of some kind, by force, through police and the military.

    The paradox is resolved by a clear distinction between "civlization" and "not-civilization" (anarchy). The two are distinct states of being, and though the lines can blur -- you simply cannot apply the same rules, and the same moral standards, to both states of being.

    Civilization is imposed by force at a very fundamental level. And that is why I am not opposed to empire building in principle. I will say Bush's venture was really really stupid. But I see no valid moral case against a war of conquest per se.

    This may bring the wrath of libertarians upon me, but nobody has ever convinced me this logic is flawed.

    We Americans aren't Romans. Not even close. The Romans implicitly (but probably not explicitly) understood what I'm saying. We reject it, explicitly.

    On this count, I say the Romans made more sense than we do.

  • ||

    If we ARE going to model ourselves after Rome, I think it would be really cool to see Laura Bush as Messalina.

  • ||

    I'd like to wear them short skirts that the legionaires wear in the movies...

    wait.. did I just say that out loud?

  • ||

    Don't ask, don't tell, Kwais.

  • gaius marius||

    What are each really paying for and which is irrational?

    i thank you for the kind words for grandma marius, mr d. :) but you see my point -- what is rational is often only what we want to believe is rational. if all these things are rational, what isn't?

    efficient-market economists hide behind rational behavior because its so broad a shield. almost any bizarre behavior can be said to be rational in some interpretation or another. (remember economists rationalizing the nasdaq bubble?) but are the interpretations rational?

    i find that rationality is an almost useless term in the postmodern context. it's abuse simply highlights how almost no one is rational -- we are all idealists now, and being an idealist about rationality is still being irrational.

    i think its more producive to delineate the empirical and ideal. and i do think grandma is being empirical. ;)

  • gaius marius||

    Messalina

    again with the implications of plots against the king! ms jennifer, "bear low, therefore, give god the stern/for sure, circa regna tonat!"

  • ||

    Actually, Gaius, I was thinking it would be cool if Laura invited DC's top prostitute to the White House to see who could do the most guys before getting tired.

  • ||

    "Well, technically the Roman empire lasted until 1500, so it's more like 2000 years."

    It actually until 1453, but who's counting?

  • ||

    Laura Bush is perhaps the best looking first lady ever.

  • gaius marius||

    what he'd like to see happen.

    For instance, if I criticize a regulatory scheme as populist pandering to those who want to sock it to business owners, gaius will probably agree with me. But if I complain about a regulatory scheme by saying "I should be able to make my own choices!" he'll chide me for my selfish individualism and say that regulated societies offer greater security.

    in the former case, mr thoreau, you could speak as a defender of the aristocracy, such as it may still be. in the latter, you speak as one who has succumbed to the affliction of the age. i'm sure i needn't say that acting well for the wrong reasons is merely an accident. but all depends on the particularity of the case.

    as to what i think we should do, i think the cult of ideas is overrated, mr thoreau -- these days, rather like opinions and certain unmentionables, everyone has one. :) i'm not a believer in predestination -- this is not planned. but human society, being the complex system is it, does render itself subject to patterns of probability.

    i really don't think what ideas may come form my mind matter much. ideas cannot be great in and of themselves; only in implementation do they become memorable, and implementation is only possible with some manner of consensus. actionable consensus is just about the opposite of what this society is now capable of.

    history indicates that the chances of any great idea emerging to rescuscitate western vitality are nil. it's coming apart, and there's nothing to be done about it -- as antithetical as that is the the philosophical tenets of the nietzschean heroic individual will.

  • ||

    From what I can tell we have not been able to make Empire pay. I seem to remember that the Romans soaked the provinces. We don't get tribute from conquered states, we send them aid.

    ----

    i think the euphamism for "soaking", mr folle, is now "bilateral trade agreement". :)

    A point that's not getting nearly enough airtime. We also have a Fed. It adds up to trillions kindly sat on by our tacit provinces abroad. Indeed we are soaking them...in paper.

    I'm thinking that as a ratio of all dominating influence, what we're doing today easily matches what Rome did then.

    The other point not getting enough play is that of the increasingly autonomous central government in the US virtually matching that of Rome. Sure we have an infinite number of external differences, not least of which is our moral superiority (complex) but my money says that when you boil both sides of the analogy down, you end up with pretty much the same thing.

  • ||

    Don't get suspended again, jennifer...

  • gaius marius||

    What kind of defeatist crap is that?

    lol -- maybe just acceptance, mr lowdog.

    My view is that, yes, by being "selfishly individualistic" we may very well doom ourselves to extinction or something nearly as bad, but I also think that's the only way we're ever going to evolve beyond being animals "irrational to the core". As I just said "humanity will have to wake up and begin seriously taking responsibility for itself." Continued control by gaius' vaunted institutions are, in some ways (imho), part of the problem, as they allow people to disperse their responsibilities, and therefore, their awareness.

    i think, mr lowdog, that i agree with you -- w/r/t postmodern "institutions" of fiat, there is little worthwhile. the centralized nanny state is a manner of foisting off individual responsibility -- the basic working part of representative government -- onto authority as a manner of freeing the individual to be irresponsible. what is to admire in that? such "institutions" are not institutions, but individualistic perversions thereof.

    and that is the core problem -- people want their institutions to be this way for their own freiheit, but are simultaneously nervous about the paradoxical encroachment upon their freedom will have on their freedom. people are not going to "begin seriously taking responsibility for" themselves. and our pseudoinstitutions, as products of paradox, are destined not to last. western government will be unrecognizable in today's terms within a hundred years, maybe 50 -- and history's example is of resolution in lawless, antiinstitutional tyranny.

  • ||

    gaius, I asked you a question in another thread, but you may not have seen it. So I'll repeat it here because I'm really interested in your answer. Here goes. Which of the following two statements do you think is closer to the truth?

    1. The purpose of society is to meet the needs of the people in it; or,

    2. The purpose of people is to meet the needs of the society in which they live.

  • gaius marius||

    the former.

    that said, the wants of people are not the needs of the people, would you agree, ms jennifer?

    it is my conviction that the needs of the people are best met by a society comprised of people who genuinely believe that their purpose is to meet the needs of society -- because they know their needs will be met in union, not isolation.

    isolation emergent from union, on the other hand, is where both their wants and needs can be met -- for a while. but this state of indulgence is followed by the incapacity to satisfy either, as union collapses and with it the underpinnings of civilization.

    it's that faith in union that, i think, was lost in the metastasis of the romantic movement.

  • ||

    But gaius, what is individualism if not the idea that the people themselves should decide what they want or need, not have others decide for them?

  • gaius marius||

    what is individualism if not the idea that the people themselves should decide what they want or need, not have others decide for them?

    i think individualism in its extreme form is this -- each deciding for themselves irrespective of tradition or others. but, as we've said, the vast majority do not know what ends they really desire, much less what means may get them there.

    this is why tradition and law and institution are important. they are the product of accumulated experience. when you reject them -- as people inevitably do, in time -- you reject what time has shown we all need, whether you individually know it or not.

    note that this is not tyranny -- where one person's needs are satisfied by enslaving all others irrespective of theirs. it is a codex of life written by experience that meets all people's needs as is best possible.

    when "all our needs" are made to pale next to "what i want" -- that's when the trouble starts.

  • ||

    1453, 1500... come on, man, honestly. Close enough for a blog comment.

  • ||

    the wants of people are not the needs of the people

    Come now, gaius, let's stop being so idealistic and get practical. The wants of the people are surely known to the people themselves. But just who is in a position to determine the needs of the people?

    As one who's constantly castigating his opponents for being overly idealistic, you'd better have a good, practical response, not some elegiac bullshit about the greatness of institutions.

  • ||

    Damn good point, crimethink!

    As always, I think gaius marius raises some interesting points to keep in mind. However, his insistence that everything is ultimately part of our downfall, including various diametrically opposed philosophies, is just too much.

  • gaius marius||

    But just who is in a position to determine the needs of the people?

    the $64,000 question, mr crimethink. who or what determines need?

    no man's perception, i think, but long experience. the needs of people change very little from age to age. tradition, encoded in law, protected by institution, is the vehicle by which that experience can be accumulated over generations.

    but i do think there is a mechanism at work -- as prosperity resulting of civility grows, the immediacy of need fades next to the luxury of want. it is perhaps inevitable that law and institution -- which are products of fear, i think -- is overcome in the end by greed for more than civility can fairly provide. in seeking it, men abandon civility for immodest desire and succumb to the fate of icarus.

  • ||

    Alright, gaius, let's get past the high falutin stuff about institutions and law and tradition. After the collapse, after people emerge from the ashes, when they have a chance to start over, what advice would you like to pass on to them? How would you encourage them to organize their society in that distant day when people are able to start afresh on the ruins of the west?

  • ||

    the needs of people change very little from age to age. tradition, encoded in law, protected by institution, is the vehicle by which that experience can be accumulated over generations.

    Elegiac, idealistic bullshit. But I expected no more.

    Laws and institutions serve the wants of the lawmakers, not the needs of the people. They will never indeed serve those needs; in a democracy, they serve the wants of the people, which is as close as you're going to get.

    You seem to be idealizing institutions and traditions that held blacks in slavery, kept women constantly barefoot and pregnant, and offered zero opportunity for a better life to the poor. None of those people had their needs served by tradition's generations of experience. Indeed, you speak as if aristocrats are the only people who exist, or at least the only ones who matter.

  • ||

    And if you think it's inevitable that the next civilization will rise, peak, decline, and collapse, well, what's the big deal? If we're all actors on a stage of inevitability then why lambast us? What are we doing wrong? This is the way it has to be, right?

    OTOH, if you think we are all free individuals who can decide our own fates (gasp!) then we do have some moral responsibility for what happens to our civilization. But that notion of free individuals who can decide our own fates doesn't really appeal to you, does it?

    Basically, I struggle to figure out what your point is.

  • ||

    R C Dean,

    Let me start off by saying that, of course, we are the most splendiferously moralotastic branch of the human race ever to grace the earth with our angelic presence, and of course it would be wrong, libelous, and unsupportive of The Troops to suggest that our motives are sullied by ignoble concerns, or that our political leadership allows it foreign and military policy decisions to be influenced by the type of worldly quest for power that motivated the nasty, non-American Romans.

    That said, I'd like to perform a thought exercise, in which we pretend that America is, in fact, one of a number of powers that have existed in world history, and its actions can be analyzed as such.

    In this otherworldly exercise, I would take exception to this: "joe, if you think Roman goals in Carthage were in any way similar to our goals in Afhganistan and Iraq, then you need to back away from the Chomsky."

    Rome felt the need to start the 2nd Punic War because 1) it felt threatened in its homeland as a result of the recent incursion/invasion by Hannibal, and wanted to neuter that potentially-hostile power, 2) it felt threatened in its foreign trading and military position, as Carthage engaged in low-level war against Rome's presence around the Mediterranean, 3) the existing state of continual low-grade war (and war by other means) reduced the psychic leap necessary for the government and population to accept the transition to a hot war, 4) the psychic damage done by the incursion enhanced the militarization of the culture and government, creating a critical mass of militant "potential energy," which naturally sought an outlet, and 5) it felt that the Carthagiain society was so corrupt and destructive that a war to establish Roman, as opposed to Carthaginian dominance, across the world was a noble cause.

    I believe that each one of these points bears a strong resemblance to what has happened in our society, and in our foreign/military policy, since 9/11, especially in the wars we've engaged in. Remember, the first blows against Carthage were not attacks on the homeland, but efforts to redress localized Carthaginian aggression. Which bears some resemblance to our efforts in Aghanistan, then the Phillipines, then striking in the Islamic heartland for the purpose of upsetting the whole apple cart.

    Now certainly, our superior morality and charitable disposition towards all Muslim people, be they Afghan or Arab, is an important difference - we won't be salting anyone's cities. But the purpose of an historical parallel is not to assert absolute and total correspondance (hence the mocking posts about Osama's elephants and place of birth), but rather to demonstrate some degree of correspondance.

    I fear that our aggressive defensiveness, our determination to pre-empt even "gathering," non-immanent threats, and the identification of the very existence of a hostile Islamist element anywhere in the world as one of these threats, bears a great deal of similarity to the sentiment "Carthago Delenda Est." I fear that this is going to lead us into the sort of imperialistic expansion by necessity that the Romans went through. I fear that the loss of Republican restraint and governance, in favor of Imperial glory, that attended Rome's expression of its hyperpower will attend ours. And I fear that, despite the good intentions of those setting us on this course, we are on a road to hell.

  • ||

    Laws and institutions serve the wants of the lawmakers, not the needs of the people.

    This always seems to be the end game, doesn't it? Which is rotten.

    But a pure democracy is no more just, Athens being the ultimate example. It was Athens for which the phrase "tyranny of the majority" was coined.

    I don't believe pure democracy is a good keeper of the libertarian ethos. I like the idea of a republic, with lots of checks and balances. "A nation of laws, not men."




    when "all our needs" are made to pale next to "what i want" -- that's when the trouble starts.

    This is just a tad too simple, mr gauis.

    It's easy enough to find scenerios where "what I want" and "what our society needs", or the company I work for needs, are at odds -- and not because either party is irrational.

    In a wealthy, highly developed society, if you're born low on the economic ladder and want to move up, you must do things to make yourself stand out in the crowd. But the wealthier and more developed a society becomes, the harder this gets to do. Because there are more and more people, everybody else wants to get ahead too, and think about it -- there's still only one President.

    Every nation must find outlets for the talents and ambitions of its citizens. Productive outlets, that is.

    When productive outlets don't exist, leaving "I" with no way to better my station in life, that's when the really big trouble begins. Because now, nobody can get ahead without resorting to increasingly nasty politics.


    My point being, it's really really easy to look at civilization and blame the people for it's collapse. Yes the people deserve some of that blame. But I contend, the bigger half of the "blame" is due to problems that we haven't yet figured out how to solve.

    As a nation grows wealthier, populations generally increase and so do educational levels. More people's ambition and talent then wakes up with education.

    One of those problems that has to be solved is finding places for all these people to carve their niches out in the world. The U.S. is still doing okay at it, but I wonder if that trend line is shifting. I don't know. I just know that it's shifted sooner or later in every major nation I ever read about in the history books.

    btw, wars of conquest, and then ruling over the conquests, were Rome's chief outlet for talent and ambition.

  • ||

    Somebody above said the US hasn't fought wars of conquest. Not so. There was the Mexican war, which got us the whole southwest. Some Mexicans are still saying "gimme back".

    And what were all those Indian wars about, anyway?

    I've yet to read about a nation in history that wasn't based, directly or otherwise, on wars of conquest. No wars = no great civilizations.

    War is funny. Nobody, me included, likes it. But nobody eschews its benefits, when they acrue. And some wars have in fact accured benefits.

    War is a form of fire. A form we haven't figured out how to tame just yet.

  • ||

    I fear that, despite the good intentions of those setting us on this course, we are on a road to hell.

    I find Bush unnerving too, for a million reasons. But I'd also say the same thing about the course you'd set us on, too.

    Don't worry though, joe. If I had to bet on whose road to hell we're going to take, I think it'll look more like the one the democrats would choose, and less like Bush's.

    Bush is a one-shot dipwad, and nobody is going to take his ideas seriously once he's gone. Bush is not an intellectual and there's no intellectual substance behind his actions. I predict his "doctrines" won't have long term staying power.

  • kgsam||

    Human cultures contain the seeds of destruction for any attempt at institutional order. Institutions are manifestations of culture which is a manifestation of the human animal in aggregate.
    Humans are adapted to tribal order. The survival instinct manifests through those adaptations. Thus government is not a container and regulator of human behavior, but rather a manifestation of same.
    The hierarchical structure of tribal institutions found suport in the structural rigidity of the triangle, hence the pyramid found on the back of the dollar, for instance. It could've been a cone, but cutting stones to the round is more difficult than cutting them flat.

  • kgsam||

    "War is a form of fire. A form we haven't figured out how to tame just yet."

    Because we haven't, in the whole, tamed ourselves yet.

  • ||

    conqueror,

    Perhaps Bush's doctrines, such as they are, won't survive past his term.

    But he has made a point of committing our country to courses of action that may be very difficult to reverse - sometimes deliberately, in my opinion, to tie the hands of his successors. Who, for example, is going to sign a bilateral arms treaty with us, after the way he unilaterally pulled out of our agreements with the Russians?

    When it comes to imperialist wars, these things tend to take on a life of their own. As Barney Frank said, it's hard to find a good reason to stop doing something, when you didn't have a good reason to start doing it in the first place.

  • ||

    Because we haven't, in the whole, tamed ourselves yet.

    Well put kgsam.

    But he has made a point of committing our country to courses of action that may be very difficult to reverse

    In Iraq, yes. Iraq was pure stupidity, and who knows what the long term repercussions will be.

    Who, for example, is going to sign a bilateral arms treaty with us, after the way he unilaterally pulled out of our agreements with the Russians?

    If you trust the Russians to honor their treaties, then I've got a bridge for sale that you may be interested in. Dumping treaties with the Russians is one of the few smart things Bush has done.

    That's one of my biggest beefs with the democrats -- they trusted the Soviets.

    Not that I'm a republican either...

    I, the evil conquerer, am not opposed to wars in general, just opposed to wars that make no sense.

    With the Soviets we had reason to fear for our survival as a nation. Fighting the Soviets made sense.

    With Iraq there was no threat to our suvival. Fighting Iraqis makes no sense.

  • ||

    Countries will still sign treaties with the US, bilateral or milti-lateral, or whatever. The treaties joe's talking about required that the US or the USSR give notice prior to withdrawing from the treaty. We did that, we upheld the conditions of the treaty even in ending it (we did NOT break the treaty). Face it, there are no treaties or alliances that last forever.

    joe's argument is akin to arguing that if country A was aligned with country B at one point based on treaties and self-interest that they must remain forever wed as allies even if their interests no longer converged.

    This is a common, foolish criticism of realpolitik. It usually comes about as a variation of the "it's so hypocritical for Rumsfeld to shake hands with Saddam/Albright to cozy up to Kim Jong Il and now we declare them bad guys!" It's a Chomskyian ruse - and so it's understandable that someone might accuse joe of falling for it based on earlier statements.

    There's nothing surprising about allying with someone distasteful while there are worse enemies on the horizon. (Look at Western Europe positioning itself to compete against the US, when for decades they were united against the USSR. Perfectly normal, understandable and acceptable.)

    It's the way of politics, of economics - frankly of the world - to decide that it's a good idea to ally ourselves with a gov't that is brutal to its citizens but willing to turn its nation's resources toward a common political or economic goal. Then, when those interests are no longer something we have in common, it may make more sense for us to try to turn that country to a more democratic, capitalistic, less brutal form of gov't.

    The more often we do that, the more likely it is that our economic treaties will last. It's also much less likely that our political self-protective treaties will truly be necessary. (Hence the death of the US-USSR treaty).

  • ||

    Besides, the whole "the US's foreign policies will lead it to the same fate as that of the Roman Empire in a matter of decades" is a tired meme that can't be proven until it has occurred (at which point it's too late to worry about it).

    I wonder if anyone has taken the trouble to map out the point at which a nation is far enough ahead (politically, technologically and militarily) in relation to its potential competitors in order to simply coast forever. Like getting off the starting blocks fast enough in a race to make it impossible to be caught by other racers...

    Of course, the idea that your nation can comfortably coast is probably a good indicator of impending doom in itself...

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