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Bread, Circuses & Bombs – Decline of the American Empire

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: Bread and Circuses.” –Juvenal – Satire (100 A.D.)

Roman satirist and poet Juvenal was displaying contempt for a degraded Roman citizenry that had shunned civic responsibility, shirked their duties of citizenship within a republic, and had chosen to sell their votes to feckless politicians for assurances of bread and circuses. Rather than govern according to noble principles based upon reason, striving for public policies that led to long term sustainability and benefitting the majority of citizens, politicians chose superficial displays and appeasing the masses utilizing the lowest common denominator of “free” food and bountiful spectacles, pageants, and ceremonies in order to retain power.

The Roman Empire’s decline stretched across centuries as the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizenry allowed demagogues to gain power and barbarians to eventually overrun the weakened empire. While the [amazon asin=0199540667&template=*lrc ad (right)]peasants were distracted with shallow exhibitions of palliative pleasures, those in power were debasing the currency, enriching themselves, and living pampered lives of luxury. The Roman leaders bought public approval and support, not through exemplary public service, but through diversion, distraction, and the satisfaction of base immediate needs and desires of the populace. Satisfying the crude motivations of the ignorant peasants (cheap food and entertainment) is how Roman politicians bought votes and retained power. Free wheat, circus games, and feeding Christians to lions kept the commoners from focusing on politicians pillaging and wasting the empire’s wealth.

History may not repeat exactly because technology, resource discoveries, and political dynamics change the nature of society, but it does rhyme because the human foibles of greed, lust for power, arrogance, and desire for conquest do not vary across the ages. The corruption, arrogance, hubris, currency debasement, materialism, imperialism, and civic decay that led to the ultimate downfall of the Roman Empire is being repeated on an even far greater scale today as the American Empire flames out after only two centuries. The pillars of western society are crumbling under the sustained pressure of an immense mountain of debt, created by crooked bankers and utilized by corrupt politicians to sustain and expand their welfare/warfare state. Recklessness, myopia, greed, willful ignorance, and selfish disregard for unborn generations are the earmarks of decline in this modern day empire of debt, delusion and decay.

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are over-[amazon asin=0140437649&template=*lrc ad (right)]consuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.” –Aldous Huxley – Island

Rome was eight and a half centuries old when Juvenal scornfully described the degenerative spiral of the Roman populace. Still, the Western Empire lasted another three centuries before finally succumbing to the Visigoths and Vandals. The far slower pace of history and lack of other equally matched competing nation states allowed Rome to exist for centuries beyond its Pax Romana period of unprecedented political stability and prosperity, which lasted for two centuries. Prior to becoming an empire, the Roman Republic was a network of towns left to rule themselves with varying degrees of independence from the Roman Senate and provinces administered by military commanders. It was ruled, not by Emperors, but by annually elected magistrates known as Roman Consuls. The Roman citizens were a proud people who had a strong sense of civic duty and made government work for the people.

During the 1st century B.C. Rome suffered a long series of internal conflicts, conspiracies and civil wars, while greatly extending their imperial power beyond Italy through military conquest. After the assassination of Julius Caesar and the ascension of Augustus to emperor in 27 BC, after a century of civil wars, Rome experienced an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. During this era, the solidity of the Empire was furthered by a degree of societal stability and economic prosperity. But it didn’t last. The successors to Augustus contributed to the progressive ruination of the empire. The repugnant reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero [amazon asin=0061561797&template=*lrc ad (right)]reflected the true nature of the Roman people, who had relinquished their sovereignty to government administrators to whom they had granted absolute powers, in return for food and entertainment. It was the beginning of the end.

The American Republic began as a loose confederation of states who ruled themselves, with little or no direction from a central authority. The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781 by all 13 States, limited the powers of the central government. The Confederation Congress could make decisions, but lacked enforcement powers. Implementation of most decisions, including modifications to the Articles, required unanimous approval of all thirteen state legislatures. After winning the war for independence from England, the U.S. Constitution, which shifted power to a central authority, was ratified in 1789. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was passed in 1791 with the purpose of protecting individual liberties and insuring justice for all. Their function was to safeguard the citizens from an authoritarian federal government. These imperfect documents would benefit and protect the rights of the American people only if applied by moral, just, incorruptible, noble, honorable leaders and enforced by an educated, concerned, vigilant citizenry.

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