With the upheaval in the financial markets these past few weeks, it’s been especially interesting to read Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (click here to view all my posts about this book). I had high expectations for this book and I have not been disappointed.
Murphy begins by telling readers how the Roman emperor Diocletian and his imperial entourage can be easily compared to President George W. Bush and his entourage:
- mensores: advance men who requisition supplies and arrange for security
- protectores: imperial bodyguards / secret service
- comitatus: caravan / all people in the Executive Office of the President
- pragustatores: food-tasters / undercover agents who purchase food supplies anonymously at American supermarkets
- nomenklatura: name-callers of emperor’s visitors
- haurs pices: oracles who interpret entrails of sheep
- augurs: oracles who interpret the flight of birds
He also explained that the thumbs-down sign originated from the gladiatorial turned thumb sign “pollice verso” before eventually summarizing the six parallels between Rome and America that Murphy focuses his book on:
- How Americans see America, particularly how those in Washington view Washington itself.
- Military power: the shortage of manpower and the widening cultural and social divide between military social and civilian society.
- “Privatization” (and “corruption”) and the fading distinction between public and private responsibilities and resources.
- How Americans view the world.
- The inevitable complexity that comes with being a large empire/country.
I’ll write more after I get further along, but in the meantime thought I would share this typical George W. Bush quote that Murphy used to illustrate the consolidation of power in the executive branch that has happened in the past 8 years:
I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain . . . . I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.