Guest Post by Julius DeGrandin
If you have been paying attention you’ve noticed that the words “decline” and “collapse” are becoming more common in reference to the United States of America. Even GOP establishment voices like Erick Erickson are starting to see America’s decline as worrisome.
Supporters of President Donald Trump first began talking about a “national divorce” not long after November 2020. They had and continue to have good reason to doubt American stability. After all, as Revolver has shown, the election was a shambles rife with questionable and downright illegal activity. From the convenient closing of polls overnight only in swing states, to the use of cardboard barriers and sectarian muscle to stop observers from watching the count, Americans experienced Third World-style corruption.
Things only got worse once questions arose about Dominion software. A large segment of the United States continues to believe that unaccountable companies, many with reported ties to Democrats and their law firms of choice, conspired to rob Trump of his rightful victory. On top of this, fraud and graft were baked into the results long before the first votes were cast, as several states used COVID-19 as an excuse to implement mail-in voting, which is far more susceptible to cheating than traditional methods. As for the continuing audits, which hope to uncover just how much fraud was committed last November, they are being downplayed and censored by the media and even characterized as potential vectors for terrorism by the Justice Department.
When millions believe that the ruling government is illegitimate, you have the first step towards regime change or revolution. And things have only gotten worse since the election: the January 6th fiasco and its invocation as a way to kickstart a “Domestic War on Terror” (despite, or maybe because of, possible FBI involvement); the continuation of COVID-19 tyranny and the push for vaccine passports that would create a Chinese-style social credit system; rising inflation at the pump and the supermarket; and the malignant growth of Critical Race Theory and “woke” politics within the central government. The border crisis in the Southwest walks together with a declining white population while the latter is loudly celebrated. Afghanistan can now be added to this list of disasters and failures.
It is hard to understate the significance of the Afghanistan failure to the Biden regime. From almost every angle it not just undermines confidence in the U.S. government, but infuriates a wide swath of the domestic population. British intelligence agents characterize Biden’s blunder as the West’s “biggest defeat since Suez,” while millions of Americans watch in horror as the administration admits to leaving hundreds, if not thousands of Americans behind in Taliban-controlled Kabul.
The Biden administration considers Afghan refugees to be a higher priority than American citizens, most likely because Afghan refugees and their children will help to change the racial, religious, and political demographics of places like Wisconsin, Texas, and Florida. Thirteen Marines died needlessly so that their own regime could put as many unvetted Afghans on military airplanes as possible. When a brave few speak up about the insanity, they, in turn, are dubbed insane by their own government.
Given this reality, it is no wonder so many are talking about America’s imminent collapse. There are those who celebrate it and wish to push it over the cliff. Many are followers of the British philosopher Nick Land and his idea of accelerationism, or the notion that capitalism, digital culture, and neoliberal politics should be pursued with gusto until they inevitably collapse. This is the “meltdown” that Land predicts in the “near-future.”
Others, such as the Claremont Institute’s Michael Anton and prolific political philosopher Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug, openly talk about what comes next after the end of the American Republic. Collapse is a given; the only question remains is whether the United States is in its late republic phase or late imperial phase.
The terms “late republic” and “late empire” come from Roman history. Roman history was near and dear to the Founding Fathers, and much of America’s political culture seeks, or rather used to seek, a return to Roman traditions. As such, one can learn a lot about America’s past and its possible future by studying Rome.
The Roman Republic is generally agreed to have begun in the year 509 B.C. In that year, the Latin-speaking citizens of Rome overthrew their last king, an Etruscan by the name of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Rather than replace one king for another, the wealthy class of Romans, known as patricians, established a democratic republic made up of popular assemblies and the Senate. The Senate, which was controlled by the patricians, was the source of power in Rome despite its official role as a body dedicated to suggesting policies rather than implementing them.
The Roman Republic was designed to be a “republic of virtue,” wherein mos maiorum, or ancestral Latin customs passed down through history, united society. The early republic produced fine specimens of Roman civic virtue. Chief among them was the farmer Cincinnatus, who put down his plow and picked up his sword to lead Rome’s city militia against an invading tribe. The story of Cincinnatus inspired the citizen-soldier idea that animated American armed forces until the twentieth century.
However, despite Rome’s cultivation of civic virtue, its politics began fracturing just as Rome reached new heights of power.
Rome’s dominant position on the Italian peninsula and its military victories against Carthage and Macedonia expanded the size, strength, and wealth of the Republic. The city-state grew into an empire that included citizens who had never been to Rome. Many, especially the majority plebeians, felt that Rome’s institutions needed to change for it to be governed equally. The Council of the Plebs and various tribal assemblies were created to give the plebeians a greater voice in politics. It was still not enough, so, in the second century BC, Tiberius Gracchus and his brother Gaius Gracchus became radical populist agitators. They sought the redistribution of land and an increase in the grain dole. For these suggestions, conservatives in the Senate (optimates) created street gangs and urban riots, one of which killed Tiberius Gracchus and his supporters.
The execution of the Gracchi did little to solve Rome’s woes. Military reforms instituted under Gaius Marius, who was a popular consul and general of the Roman army, forever ended the citizen militia of Cincinnatus. Rome’s military thus became a professional force with divisions, better equipment, and standard pay. As a result, Marius’s men became loyal to him rather than the Senate. This unsettling trend was further increased by Marius’ status among the populares, a political faction of Romans who supported radical populist reforms. As recounted in the brilliant book Party Politics in the Age of Caesar by scholar Lily Ross Taylor, Rome lacked political parties in the modern sense. Rather, wealthy and well-connected men became patrons for others, who in turn made and executed decisions for their supporters. To squash Marius and his supporters, the Senate turn to another brilliant general, Sulla.
In 82 BC, following his victory at the Battle of the Colline Gate, Sulla used his dictatorial powers to murder, rob, and exile Marian supporters. One of the victims of Sulla’s proscription was a young Gaius Julius Caesar. Decades later, as a consul and general, Caesar would lead his loyal legions into Gaul and Britain, and then back into Italy and across the Rubicon to start another civil war. Caesar triumphed. His next moves spelled the end of the Roman Republic, as he, a member of the populares, became dictator for life on the strength of his appeal to Rome’s masses. For this sin, members of the Senate murdered him.
Ironically, the Senate would turn to Caesar’s adopted nephew, Octavian, to put down another aspiring dictator named Marc Antony. Like his uncle, Octavian proved to be an excellent military commander. He was an even shrewder politician, for Octavian declared his triumph over Marcus Antonius and his Egyptian allies as a victory for the Senate. This magnanimity convinced the Senate to heap titles upon Octavian, who in turn renamed himself Augustus. In saving the Senate, Augustus weakened it and created the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire was cheered by the majority of Romans, most of whom had no clue that the Republic was dead. The Roman Empire brought peace for centuries. In the East, where the grand Christian city of Constantinople was founded by Constantine the Great, Rome’s first Christian emperor, Rome would last until 1453. The Eastern Roman Empire continues to be a force in world politics. Russia and the Orthodox Church have even gone so far as to claim the mantle of the Third Rome. However, in the West, the Roman Empire lasted from 27 BC until 476 AD. In was here, in the lands stretching from Italy to Iberia and Great Britain, that the Roman Empire collapsed and scattered.
The late empire of the West was characterized by many problems that we would immediately recognize today. High inflation, which rose to about 150 percent in the third and fourth centuries, made daily difficult for Roman citizens and provincials alike. Emperor Diocletian, who divided the empire into a more manageable tetrarchy, attacked inflation by introducing price controls and greater centralization. During these years, economic inequality expanded at the same time as impoverished rural provincials felt more and more the pinch of higher taxation.
During the Crisis of the Third Century, power in Rome fell more and more into the hands of the military, whose commanders were crowned as emperors. These so-called “barracks emperors” ruled with only the army in mind. The incestuous political elite made a mockery of the empire’s continuing use of republican traditions and ideals, thus causing further demoralization among Roman citizens.
While Edward Gibbon’s magisterial Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire places much of the blame on Christianity and its upending of the Roman religion, more contemporary scholars understand that Christianity reinvigorated Rome, especially in the East. In Western Rome, traditions were kept alive by what would become the Roman Catholic Church. Rather than faith, immigration was the major reason for Western Rome’s fall.
During the height of the Roman Empire, Romanization took place in Gaul (France), Spain, Portugal, and even Britain. There, Celtic tribes were taught Latin, Roman customs, and what it meant to be a Roman citizen. While not always peaceful–local tribes did rebel often–these Roman provinces would go on to produce Roman emperors like Trajan, and keep Rome’s memory alive long after the city itself fell to barbarians. As for the barbarians, Rome spent centuries keeping them in check in Germania and elsewhere. Some even pledged loyalty to the empire and served as auxiliary troops.
Things changed drastically in the fourth century AD as Germanic tribes, most notably the Goths, began flowing across Rome’s borders en-masse to escape the marauding Huns, a still mysterious tribal people from either Central or East Asia. Rome’s tradition of border security broke down as waves of war refugees made their homes in Eastern and Central Europe. In 378 AD, Emperor Valens of the Eastern Roman Empire sought to bring the Goths to heel at the Battle of Adrianople. Valens failed, and the Gothic victory signaled to other barbarian tribes Rome’s weakness. By the fifth century, Rome’s military was reliant on Germanic foederati for military campaigns and internal security. Many of these Germanic mercenaries became loyal Romans (even including generals like Stilicho); others maintained their unique identities as Germanic tribesmen. Near the end, many Roman politicians dealt with the increasing power and prevalence of Germanic outsiders by seeing them as “more Roman than the Romans themselves.” The desire to use the Germanic barbarians to restore Rome failed, although, many centuries later, the Visigoths in Spain and the Ostrogoths in Italy did much to maintain Roman culture. Some Germanic kings also pledged loyalty to the Roman emperor in Constantinople.
History is never as far away as we like to think. The ills of both the late republic and the late empire affect the United States today. Like the late republic, we are sharply divided by warring political factions, subjected to street violence, and grappling with how to save traditional political institutions in the face of wanton rot. Like the late empire, the United States is crippled with debt, inflicted with imperial overreach in military affairs, and unable to beat back unchecked immigration from foreign cultures. Indeed, in the last regard, America is in a worse predicament than Rome, for our immigrants come from across the globe and many have absolutely no interest in assimilating to American folkways and culture.
Understanding where America stands in relation to Roman history is important insofar as solutions are concerned. If we are in our Late Republic phase, then like the Roman Republic we may be able to solve our problems by discarding a rotten political structure and submitting to authoritarian rule based in Caesarism. Many in the obscure “neoreaction” sphere of online politics see this as a solution. They believe a pro-American, populist, strong dictator could solve many of America’s woes.
But, if we are in the Late Empire phase, then America as a united entity cannot and should not be saved. Like the battle-scarred Romans before us, we can find salvation in local autonomy and the creation of limited political structures based in city-states. Before becoming a powerful republic, Venice was born as a way for Italians of the war-ravaged north to save themselves. The Venetians built their city’s walls, and then expanded to become the premiere mercantile power of the Christian world. This process was repeated throughout Italy. It could be repeated here in the United States at the regional, municipal, and state level.
Rome withstood centuries of instability and civil war. The US is unlikely to do the same, and the rise and speed of digital technology means that history moves much faster.
In the end, we Americans must embrace either our own version of Caesarean authoritarianism, or work with the barbarians to effect the complete breakup of the Empire, in the hopes that something altogether new, beautiful, and grand might be build upon the ashes of our former greatness.
In either case we have a Rubicon to cross with the strictures and restraints of the past on one side, and a tumultuous, uncertain future on the other—a future that, despite its many secrets, promises to bestow its favor on the Wise and the Bold.
Julius DeGrandin is a writer in rural America.