Most conservatives suspect we’re living in the twilight of a new Rome. Like the old Rome, we got our start as a cultural backwater. We came to flourish, against all odds, by embracing certain high-minded ideals: an equal citizenry, representative government, the rule of law, and so on. We traversed the known world, bringing one barbarian horde after the next to heel beneath the mantle of civilization.
Now our empire, too, is faltering under the weight of its own hegemony. The United States has invaded practically every country in the Middle East, and not a single one has been successfully assimilated into Pax Americana. Many suspect President Donald Trump will play the role of Caesar. He’ll destroy the republic in the republic’s name. He’ll drag her lower and lower as he tries to make her great again.
Where the New Rome thesis may fail is that it overestimates America. After all, we’re enchanted by the memory of Rome’s cultural exploits as much as her military ones. Do we have anything that can compare? The little wooden congregational churches that our fathers built won’t leave majestic ruins like the Pantheon. Our greatest philosopher—Ralph Waldo Emerson, say, or even Henry James—can’t compare to Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. George Washington probably won’t go down as a new Romulus and it’s doubtful Honest Abe will be invoked alongside Cato the Younger.
For all we know, we’ll be remembered more like the Goths or the Mongolians: fierce conquerors, but little more.
The answer, I think, will fall somewhere in the middle. America seems to me a modern Troy—noble, strong, and tragic. As the Greeks razed Troy to the ground, they, too, thought they would be remembered for their greatness. Remember Prince Hector’s swan-song:
Tis true, I perish, yet I perish great:
Yet in a mighty deed I shall expire,
Let future ages hear it, and admire!
What do we remember the Trojans for, really? Being duped by a bunch of Greeks in a wooden horse. So while I hope Trump gets his wall, he should remember that Troy’s were razed from the inside.
“Fate gives the wound, and man is born to bear,” Apollo said, dismissing Achilles’ blasphemous rage at the death of Patroclus. Maybe it was America’s fate to follow Troy. English lore once supposed that Britain was first settled by Felix Brutus, a direct descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas. (Romulus and Remus were also born of Aeneas’s line, which makes Britain and Rome cousins.) Because America is a former British colony, that would make us great-grandsons of Ilium…despite our Founding Fathers’ best efforts, which came to fruition on this day some 243 years ago.
[Read more at The American Conservative.]