Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America by Cullen Murphy

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:

  1. How Americans see America, particularly how those in Washington view Washington itself.
  2. Military power: the shortage of manpower and the widening cultural and social divide between military social and civilian society.
  3. Privatization” (and “corruption”) and the fading distinction between public and private responsibilities and resources.
  4. How Americans view the world.
  5. Borders.
  6. 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.

Click here to read an excerpt or click here to view the table of contents.


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