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21 April 2017

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Grimgrin

If the US is still in its equivalent of the Julio-Claudians, then the empire has a good long way to go yet, and it'll be a relative eternity before the last light goes out. Though I don't think the US is there yet. Just as Rome was an Empire long before it got an Emperor, I think the US is still an Empire without an Emperor.

If I'm making a parallel, I'd tend to place the US in the late Republican period, where the norms and rules are being broken apart. What I see in Roman histor was a constant bending. The Populares bend things their way, the Optimaes bend things back, and with the constant bending, the contentions and traditions, the iron that stabilized the republic starts to snap. Once all the conventions are gone, then it all just degenerates into a raw scramble for power. That's what I'm seeing in the US now.

It's also worth remembering with gloomy predictions that you never quite know when a Trajan or a Diocletian is going to show up and turn the inevitable collapse on its head.

Cortes

The Emperor Gaius (Caligula was a nickname ("Babyboots") conferred on him when he was shown to his father's troops dressed up as a tiny legionary) has had a very bad press. See:


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incitatus

re his horse, for example. His wit was perhaps his undoing.

The comparison with Rome has been building since the days of Harold Macmillan who's supposed to have envisaged a new role for post-imperial Britain as "Greece to their Rome " in reference to the USA of JFK.

Suetonius, Tacitus and the rest were doing what anyone with the most meagre amount of common sense would do: telling history that their rulers could feel comfortable with.

If it's true that President Trump is hostage to his security services then perhaps the situation is similar to Claudius's.

LeaNder

Great contribution FBI Ali.

Could the inner "barbarians" receive whatever type of echo to their outer "barbarian" counterparts? ... And not least who are they/or how expansive can this group get beyond the familiar sleeper individuals or cells?

Lars

A very good macro analysis of the current state of affairs based on a historical context. Of course, as far as the US, there is a growing resistance to our latest Emperor wannabe and his enablers. Whether this will make the pendulum swing too far is yet unknown. The good news is that our Constitution, by design, tries to avoid mob rule and a monarchy. It may be out of whack right now, but historically, it has had a tendency to revert to norm.

You would think that a nation that prevailed in WWII and put men on the moon could create a functional political system. My personal remedy would be to avoid electing anyone who wants the job. Let's draft our political leaders.

As pointed out, there could be a serious correlation between what happens in the US and what will happen in the rest of the world. It a more connected and interdependent world today and that may be what eventually causes the proper remedies, as the economic fallout from dysfunction becomes apparent. At least I hope so. We will soon know whether we learned anything in the last 100 years.

divadab

The Roman Empire never went away. It evolved. So will this one. The key is incorporating the barbarians into your polity. But which barbarians? Choose wrong, go the way of the Byzantines.

David E. Solomon

FBI Ali,

This is a really terrific piece.

As an historian of ancient history, I have always thought history was cyclical.

In my later life, I spent years at Standard & Poors, Bank of New York, and other banking institutions as a computer project manager and programmer. It is amazing what you come to realize when you get a deep exposure to banking, and in particular bonds and bond trading.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been trying to maximize our income without taking on too much risk. In order to do that, I have been searching though bonds on offer from the brokerage firm my wife and I use.

It is really unnerving to see the names of long dead banks and other financial institutions attached to a great many of these bonds which were simply repackaged and once again foisted off on the general public.

I am rambling a bit, but the point really is that Rome used their wars to cover the instability of their financial condition.

The ancient world also devalued their respective currencies by mixing more and more tin in with their coins.

I am not advocating for a return to gold as a currency backing, because in the end nothing has any intrinsic value. The only value is the value we assign to it by common agreement.

This brings me to the current state of the economy. It is nearly ten years since the last financial debacle and the next one cannot be far off.

This time, the major culprit will be automobiles. The bankers have done the same thing this time with automobile loans that they did last go round with homes. Sub-prime automobile loans (which have enabled the auto market to grow and the cars to grow in size with the individual girth of the drivers) are now nearly as large a problem as they were for home loans in 2008.

In addition, the banks have once again repackaged these loans so that they could get the credit agencies to improve the bonds ratings without paying any attention to the underlying value of the originating loans.

This is also happening in other spheres of the banking world.

The proven way to take attention away from a deteriorating financial situation is to start wars.

This is a very unfortunate time.

Regards,

David

ex-PFC Chuck

Thank you for this post. Several times in recent months the blogger Charles Hugh Smith has recommended the book The Fall Of The Roman Empire: A Reappraisal, by Michael Grant, as a reference with which to compare the present day decline of western societies with that of ancient Rome. After at least his third mention of it I finally checked out the single copy available in our county library system and, after getting about half way through it, have found it indeed sobering. Writing over forty years ago, Grant was already seeing striking parallels, and they’ve become only more glaring over time. In a single volume of 325 pages, which include a lot of pictures of Roman relics, reading Grant’s book is a much less ambitious undertaking than Gibbon’s classic and, of course, it takes advantage of two centuries of subsequent research. I recommend it highly for anyone who would like to follow up this topic. It is available at reasonable prices from used book sites.
http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/

Trinlae

Since you brought it up, here's a 1961 harbinger recording of JFK addressing the press on the topic of secrecy:

https://youtu.be/Gpmi7dBet0c

Old Microbiologist

Related to what you say. It goes beyond politics and wars and can be seen as a decay of society in general and follows a trend. A more comprehensive look at this can be read here:https://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/the-life-cycles-of-empires-lessons-for-america-today

eakens

I agree with you that subprime auto lending is a risk, however I disagree that it is anywhere nearly as big of a problem as homes. The entire auto loan market is about $1T, with only about 15% of it being sub-prime. Even if you assume another 10% slips as the economy turns into sub-prime, that entire market represents $250B. Let's assume collateral value drops by 50% (which would be massive), that's a $125B to bail-out the entire subprime sector. The FED creates that in less than 2 months.

Degringolade

I guess that I will only disagree with you on which empire, the East or the West "Chose Wrong".

The Western Empire chose the Germans and collapsed in the fifth century. The Eastern empire chose a smattering of different "barbarians" and lasted until the thirteenth.

So, why are you "harshing" on the Eastern Roman Empire? Eight centuries is an excellent run.

Will.2718

Too long, for sure. I stopped it before getting into the two Third Romes. The Holy Roman Empire and Holy Russia.

On the topic of cyclical currents in government, this is a good start:
“The political doctrine of anacyclosis (or anakyklosis from Greek: ἀνακύκλωσις) is a cyclical theory of political evolution. The theory of anacyclosis is based upon the Greek typology of constitutional forms of rule by the one, the few, and the many. Anacyclosis states that three basic forms of "benign" government (monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy) are inherently weak and unstable, tending to degenerate rapidly into the three basic forms of "malignant" government (tyranny, oligarchy, and ochlocracy). "Ochlocracy" refers to mob rule, not the concept of democracy created in the late-18th century.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anacyclosis
Republican Rome started out as a reformation after the abuses of the last king, “Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Lucius Junius Brutus led the revolt that overthrew the last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, after the rape of the noblewoman (and kinswoman of Brutus) Lucretia at the hands of Tarquin's son Sextus Tarquinius.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucius_Junius_Brutus
The Republic had many checks and balances. The executive power was divided among tribunes and two Consuls. The two Consuls were appointed for only a year. After the Punic Wars, the Republic’s holdings encompassed much of Hispania and near North Africa. Julius Casesar added Gaul, Egypt, and others had added more. The Republican system became unwieldy. There has been the dictatorship of Sulla for a time during the Social Wars. Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger, of the Brutus gens, fearful that Casesar was headed toward a kingship and wishing to preserve the republican ideals of his ancestor, was one of the assassins of Caesar (et tu Brute).

After the conclusion of the Civil Wars, Octavian founded the Principate. He was the Imperator, or Commander. He did it with kid gloves & sheathed his powers. He was simply the Principes, the first among equals. It was not quite a monarchy, successors were named, and often adopted. There were low spots, the year of the three emperors, the year of the five emperors, Commodus, ElGalbus, etc. Eventually, also divided rule was tried- a system of an Augustus and Caesar ruling together. The ‘barbarians’ were incorporated- Flavius Stilicho, perhaps the most famous commander. The Western Rome eventually fell and the Senate sent the diadem to Constantinople saying there was no need of two emperors. In the next century the Eastern Emperor laid more waste to Italy trying to reconquer it, than the Barbarians had ever done. Yet, Rome continued to exercise tremendous power & influence, but not in the traditional secular way.

The decline of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Persian Empire was not at the hands of the northern or eastern barbarians but from a Black Swan Event (to use Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s term)- an unexpected, unpredicted event of cataclysmic consequences. (Rumsfeld’s Unknown Unknown). The Byzantines withstood defeat by the Goth’s at Adrionople & rise of Muhammed & Islam and the unification of the Arabians. They lost much territory, lost Crete, Cyprus, withstood several sieges, a Latin plunder & rule (to come later from 1204-1261), but still held on. But a fatal blunder, as Col. Lang once said, cost them. They has weakened the Armenians by moving some of the Armenian lords from their mountain home to Eastern Syria-Anatolia. This left an easy invasion path for the Seljuk Turks. After the battle of Manizerkt (1071), they lost Anatolia. And finally, Constantinople to the Osmanli Turks (Ottomans) on May 29th, 1453.

The Beaver

Brig. Ali

Thank you for this piece.
Just want to share the following also:

https://medium.com/@nntaleb/on-neo-cons-and-their-mental-defects-d12685585b11

A collection of people classified as interventionists (t0 name names, Bill Kristol, Thomas Friedman, and others) who promoted of the Iraq invasion of 2003, as well as the removal of the Libyan leader, are advocating the imposition of additional such regime change on another batch of countries, which includes Syria, because “it has a dictator”.

These interventionistas and their friends in the U.S. State Department helped create, train, and support, Islamist rebels, then “moderates”, but who eventually evolved to become part of Al-Qaeda, the same Al-Qaeda that blew up the New York City towers during the events of Sep 11 2001. They mysteriously failed to remember that Al-Qaeda itself was composed of “moderate rebels” created (or reared) by the U.S. to help fight Soviet Russia because, as we will see, these educated people’s reasoning doesn’t entail such recursions.

gnv377

Byzantium (actually Reastern Roman Empire) lasted more like 1000 years, it ended in 1453

Tom Cafferty

Scientific American reports that atmospheric CO2 just breached 410ppm. Not seen in the last 4 million years.
I think Mother Nature gets to play barbarian this time around when she decides to breach the gates of planetary coastal cities with storm and water.
Trump has the "wall" thing right, but it's sea walls he should be focusing on.
We might get to see the presidential palace at Mar-A-Lago laid to waste. Now wouldn't that be something.

Will.2718

thnx Chuck, just snagged the book from Alibris.

Will.2718

Meant to say the Armenian lords were relocated to Western Syria/Anatolia. And ever since Latin I class when I found out Julius Ceaser was pronounced Yulius Kaisaar, I struggle to spell the name. A lot of the Greek & Latin names pronounced with a 'c' are really K's. Kikero, Kyprus, Kyklos, etc. Likewise, the J's are Y's. A really good read in Alternative History is Turtledove's "Agent of Byzantium." In that time stream, St. Mohammet is a Byzantine saint, and the Empire keeps Egypt & the Levant.

Babak Makkinejad

Only over Antarctica.

Here is a history of CO_2 over the last 500 million years:

http://www.pnas.org/content/99/7/4167.full

Babak Makkinejad

And their solidi coinage was never debased.

Babak Makkinejad

All:

You might find this book instructive:

The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline

https://www.amazon.com/Count-Duke-Olivares-Statesman-Age-Decline/dp/0300044992/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492886527&sr=8-1&keywords=count+duke+of+olivares

David E. Solomon

Yes but sub-prime auto lines will also do a huge amount of damage to the market for all automobiles (not to mention the giant trucks that just about everyone in rural areas of this country, like ours, insist upon driving).

So do we once again bail out the manufacturers?

Last time we bailed out the banks and the auto producers. Many of the bankers deserved to go to jail, but of course that did not happen. Instead we put the burden of their respective bailouts on the shoulders of the common people.

Goldman Sachs backs many of Trump's properties and they certainly poured enough money into Hillary's and Bill's pockets.

I have been around long enough to remember the savings and loan crises, and other gems. The only time we every stop the bankers is when we can find someone like Madoff who did not even bother to follow the pretend rules of banking and investment vehicles.

That said, my wife and I sit with a fairly large chunk (at least for us - small for most upper middle class people) of Goldman Sacks long dated bonds. I intended to sell them before Trump revealed in his first one-hundred days that nothing has actually changed. Only the names of the players have changed.

Ah well, at least we are elderly and do not have offspring to consider.

Regards,

David

The Beaver

BTW: The 1/4 Turkish British MP , also the FM , BoJo has this this to say:

http://news.sky.com/story/boris-johnson-calls-assad-a-monster-who-needs-decapitating-10842503

"The essential thing will be to have a political process that preserves the institutions of the Syrian state while decapitating the monster", he said.

And yet he bends over backwards for the GCC. Nice he must think that it is 1920 all over again.

Eadwacer

I prefer Terry Pratchett's version: Sometimes History doesn't repeat itself. Sometimes it picks up a club and says "Weren't you listening the first time?"

VietnamVet

FBI Ali

Excellent Post.

Yes, there is an American Empire. It is facing a black swan event this year if Le Pen (right) or Mélenchon (left) is elected President of France. Most recently, the fall of the Soviet Union was due to the party elite finding a way to cash out and the people feeling that they no longer had a vested interest in their government thanks to the gulf between reality and the propaganda. This is occurring, once again, in the West. The consent of the governed is being withdrawn.

The trillion-dollar question is if a North American Free Trade & Political Alliance will arise after NATO collapses. If a War with Russia is started because it stabbed the West in the back or if California leaves; it is all over. If mankind survives, a resource depleted North America will devolve into cartel cities and no man’s land between.

Chris Chuba

The Romans, were obsessed w/maintaining order and perceived threats to their stability, it wasn't all about plunder. They instituted free trade between their realm that allowed trade to bypass the home province of Rome that worked against their interests. I'm mentioning this because many go nuclear at comparing the U.S. to an empire in any way, shape or form. It's not all about economics.

Here is my main point. In the latter stages of the empire, the Romans had difficulty keeping a standing army large enough to control their provinces so they started raising legions by granting citizenship to barbarians with dubious loyalty. If Trump introduces a 'visas for military service' program to staff our military then we have arrived.

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