Our Own Tiberius and His Empire

Email Print

work stopped in Paris as people commemorated Victory in Europe Day.
When the war was over in Europe in May of ’45, people celebrated.
Americans in Paris were cheered as heroes and liberators…barkeepers
poured them free drinks and women offered free kisses. And everyone
was glad the fight was finished. On both sides of the Atlantic,
it was time to get back to work and families…the war was over.

We stoop to
history again, dear reader. You will pardon us, I hope. But what
else can we do? What else do we have…other than the record of
what Voltaire called the “crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”?
Though we know little about what actually happened…and are suspicious
about how people interpret it…we know nothing at all about the
future…except that it is an extension of what came before it.

“It’s all happened
before,” said Jim Rogers on the phone yesterday, referring to the
boom/bust cycle. “Just look at history. You know, I teach college
classes here in New York. My students sometimes ask me what they
should study if they want to be successful. I tell them to read
history and philosophy. They say, ‘shouldn’t we be studying accounting
or business…?’ I say, ‘No, you’ve got to study history because
that is all we have…a record of all we’ve learned or should have

What Europe
learned from WWI and WWII was not to do that again. This was not
so much an intellectual lesson as a sentimental one. Those who lived
though the wars…the occupations…the uniforms…wanted nothing
more to do with them. The anti-war sentiment was on their lips and
in their blood.

But now the
old soldiers are dying off. We missed the little gathering in Lathus,
but there were only a handful of veterans left, Mr. Minig told us….this
past winter had claimed a couple more. Soon, there will be no one
to recall what it was really like.

The new generation
of warriors – mainly in America – has a different sentiment.

Arnold Toynbee

“The survivors
of a generation that has been of military age during a bout of war
will be shy, for the rest of their lives, of bringing a repetition
of this tragic experience either upon themselves or upon their children,
and…therefore the psychological resistance of any move towards
the breaking of a peace…is likely to be prohibitively strong until
a new generation…has had the time to grow up and come into power.
On the same showing, a bout of war, once precipitated, is likely
to persist until the peace-bread generation that has lightheartedly
run into war has been replaced, in its turn, by a warworn generation.”

War is still
a lark to the peace-bred generation in the U.S….still an exercise
in geo-political jingoism as daft as Wilson’s “making the world
safe for democracy,” but without the casualties! They think they
are defending western civilization…fighting terrorism…spreading
democracy and freedom.

It is a different
world for them than it was for the survivors of ’45. Then, it was
the Europeans who stirred up war…and a reluctant American who
helped put things right. Now, it is the Americans who go looking
for trouble…but who will sort out the mess they make?

Then, it was
the Germans who tried to crush everyone who got in their way. Now,
it is the Americans who are on the move…offering a new kind of
Empire…a soft empire…whose intention is not to conquer and steal,
but merely to slather peace and democracy throughout forlorn areas
of the world…thereby making the rest of it safer and more prosperous,
too. This new Empire of Goodwill is led by a warrior…but not a
Commodus (who fought hundreds of combats in the arena…the spectators
scarcely noticed that his opponents had their feet cut off in advance
to make sure the Emperor won…)

No, Mr. Bush
sees himself as Tiberius or Hadrian or Marcus Aurelius…a fighter,
but not a tyrant.

Things have
changed. It is not the world of 1945. The U.S. stands on the threshold
of a new era in world politics.

Rome stood
in a similar position in 146 BC. In that year, Scipio Emilius finally
put an end to Rome’s ancient enemy – Carthage. He lay siege to the
city, then took it and destroyed it.

But as Carthage
burned before him, Scipio is said to have cried; he seemed to understand
that a new era had come to Rome. She no longer had a rival; she
was now master of the Mediterranean world. She was an empire. Scipio
must have looked ahead…and seen the spectral image of Rome in
the smoke of Carthage. Sooner or later, all empires collapse. This
was not necessarily the beginning of the end for Rome, he may have
thought…but perhaps the end of the beginning.

About that
same time, the consul Metellus put down a revolt in Macedonia…and
Mummius took Corinth and razed it. Greece, formerly the great power
of the region, became a Roman province.

Like Europe
compared to the U.S. today, the Greek city-states were the old world.
They were the source of much of the culture and learning of the
Romans, but they had lost their military edge. If they had ever
really had an empire of their own, it was definitely yesterday’s
empire. The empire of today and tomorrow was Rome.

But before
destroying Corinth and enslaving the Greeks, the Romans first rescued

“In the spring
of the year 176 before Christ [that is about a quarter of a century
before Greece was made a Roman province],” writes Peter Bender,
“all of the notables of Greece assembled at Corinth in order to
hear what Rome had decided for them. After a century and a half
of oppression of the Greeks by the Macedonians, the Romans had beaten
Philip V and had made him renounce all his possessions in Greece.
But all their experience suggested that the Greeks were merely exchanging
one master for another.”

“At the sound
of a trumpet, the herald of the assembly imposed silence and read
the message from the senate: ‘We give you liberty and administrative
independence; there will be no occupation and no obligation to pay

The Greeks
couldn’t believe their ears. But when the word got around, and they
realized what had been said, they gave the Romans a loud ‘Huzzah!’
and tried to get rid of them as soon as possible.

Everyone had
the best of intentions. But history had intentions of her own.

“Every super-power
has, by nature, a tendency to oppress more and more inferior nations,”
a Greek orator had warned after the Romans imposed their “soft empire”
in ’76.

Like markets,
politics has to run its course…from the beginning to the end.

10, 2003

Bonner [send
him mail
] is the
founder and president of Agora Publishing, and the author of The
Daily Reckoning


Email Print