Happy Friday! Kick off the long weekend by adding Why America Is Not a New Rome to your Memorial Day weekend reading list.
This Monday is Memorial Day—a day to honor America’s past and the people who fought for its future. As with many other countries, America’s past has had its ups and downs; its moments of grandeur and its moments of turbulence. And because of its relative youth, America has garnered many comparisons between itself and places with deeper, richer pasts. Vaclav Smil discusses the most notable comparison in Why America Is Not a New Rome.
After the Cold War, America’s economic growth and strategic dominance led to it being pronounced the New Rome, compared to the ancient empire when it was at its most powerful. But now, with America in an economic crisis and its turn to celebrity worship and violent “sport” spectacles such as professional wrestling, similarities are again struck between America and latter-day Rome, this time in a negative light.
Smil, however, argues against the America-Rome analogy and challenges the ever-growing parallels between the two that are played up by the media. As a scientist and student of Roman history, Smil is able to look closely at why these comparisons exist and what they mean to the way people look at America. The sometimes spooky similarities do not make America another Rome, however, and Smil cautions against expecting America to experience the same outcomes as Rome.
Why America Is Not a New Rome urges us to look beyond the common America-Rome analogy to think of America as its own country, forging its own path.