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Leon Krauze


Leon Krauze is a Mexican blogger and a founder of letraslibres.com. Close.

Leon Krauze


Leon Krauze is a Mexican blogger and a founder of letraslibres.com. more »

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Not Roman Military, but Same Arrogance

The question asked by PostGlobal editors this week stems from “Are we Rome?”, Cullen Murphy’s book comparing the United States to the Roman empire. Anyone who reads Murphy’s powerful book will have a long list of examples in which America does indeed resemble Rome: an over-stretched military, increasing mistrust of government, fear of immigrants, even America’s obsession with celebrities (Paris Hilton would fit right in among the decadent Roman elite).

But there are differences as well: Rome was not economically prosperous or particularly democratic. Then there is what could be called the “Ferguson argument.” In his remarkable book “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire,” British historian Niall Ferguson points out one key difference between America and Rome: Romans were eager military expansionists -- true imperialists -- while America is reluctant to embark on any sort of long-term military expedition, with all the costs those entail (let’s just compare George W. Bush’s military service protecting Texas from the Vietcong to Marcus Aurelius’s personal involvement in his grueling Germanic campaigns).

There is one similarity between this America and Rome that is truly worrying, however: both share a striking lack of humility. Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s magazine, made this argument in an essay entitled, precisely, “The American Rome.” The date it was published makes it even more relevant -- and chilling: August, 2001. In the piece, Lapham worries at what can happen when a nation believes itself to be guided by the infallible hand of God. A nation that believes it is always right will eventually be defeated by its own arrogance.

I remembered Lapham’s words when I saw Rudolph Giuliani in the Republican presidential debate on May 15. Representative Ron Paul had just explained what every Osama bin Laden biographer (and the 9-11 Commission) knows: the American presence in Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East in general was the last straw in the development of modern militant Islamism. Paul was correct in suggesting a more moderate, humble foreign policy. This drew Giuliani’s very Roman wrath: “I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11. I would ask the Congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that.” It is this kind of arrogance and ignorance that most resembles Rome at its worst.

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