Via James Fallows, Eric Scnurer worries that we've gone from the Gracci to Sulla to Cataline—a span of 57 years of Roman history—in only two years of ours:
Despite...Catiline’s intent to murder Cicero and various other members of the Senate, to stop the vote count and overturn the foregone election results, and unlawfully to seize the levers of government through violence is well known to all of them, a good number of these very same legislators and leaders shrug the whole thing off. Some sympathized with his political program; others were implicated in the plot; still others were basically in the same boat as Catiline, having committed similar crimes and sexual debaucheries that limited their political futures; and still others were perfectly fine with ending the trappings of republicanism if it meant they retained their power and Senate seats. And some simply couldn’t be roused to care.
The conspiracy ultimately collapsed and was defeated, but not without further militant uprisings aided by Rome’s enemies abroad. Catiline, a demagogue but in the end not the best of politicians or insurrectionists, was killed. Democracy, and the old order of things, seemed to have survived, and matters returned to a more-or-less normal state under Cicero’s stable hand.
But it turned out to be a brief reprieve. The rot had already set in. What mattered most in the long-term was not the immediate threat of the insurrectionists, but rather the complacency, if not sympathy, of the other ostensibly-republican leaders. It revealed the hollowness of not just their own souls but also the nation’s.
Another 10 months in America, another 15 years forward on the Roman sundial. At this rate, we’re about a year before midnight.
History doesn't actually repeat itself. But it does rhyme...
While we wait for former FBI Director James Comey to finish testifying before the Senate today, take a look at this really cool thing:
They say all roads lead to Rome, but they also lead outward to a number of intriguing places. There’s Antinoopolis in northern Africa, Londinium in what we now know as the U.K., and—should funding from the mighty Emperor Hadrian arrive—the yet-built Panticapaeum station along the Pontus Euxinus, or Black Sea.
Or so says this wonderfully thought-out fantasy transit map from Sasha Trubetskoy, showing the major thoroughfares of the Roman Empire circa 125 A.D. as dozens of stops along multicolored subway lines. Trubetskoy, who when not dabbling in history has explored the judgmental cartography of the Bay Area, started poking into the idea after noticing there was a dearth of good maps of Rome’s old road network, let alone train-themed ones. So he decided to go for it, pouring about 50 hours of research and design work into his sprawling “Roman Roads.”
“I enjoy reading about history, though I’m not a huge classics buff,” says Trubetskoy, a 20-year-old statistics major at the University of Chicago. “But there’s something alluring about Rome’s ability to carve out such a huge and advanced empire, with a legacy that lasts today.”
And hey, he's in Chicago.
I'll have more on this when I digest it further. This week, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released a report showing that the Department of Defense has spent $7m sponsoring patriotic displays at sports events. I am horrified. James Fallows is gobsmacked, saying: "I wasn't cynical enough."
The title of this post comes from a circa-1900 essay by Mark Twain. And, of course, we should all re-read Sinclair Lewis. And Edward Gibbon.
The end is not near. We still have hundreds of years for American civilization to run. Rome was still Rome long after Caesar, after all.
Like I said, I'm still digesting this. But I feel like the caretaker of a beachfront estate in Bangladesh more and more.