What do Sodom, Pompeii, Rome, Greece, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and countless other ancient empires have in common? Each were immensely strong nations that conquered large areas and influenced history in countless ways. Each were what we would today deem as “superpowers.” Each gained extreme wealth, and began to live in luxury and vice. And yet, out of all of them, not one stands strong today; what history remembers them most for is their collapses.
The Roman Empire is perhaps the most well documented of the ancient nations. Numerous Roman historians recorded insights into the way Romans lived. We know that in the decades preceding the fall of Rome, a few things happened. Agriculture in the areas surrounding Rome began to decline. This not only shrank the food supply, but fed an already bad unemployment problem. Reportedly, at least a hundred thousand people were being fed imported grain by the government. To do so, they raised taxes for those that were still working, and used less gold in new coins, but declared them of the same value- what we would now call inflation.
An incredible amount of money was put into sports, in the form of the fights in the Colosseum. Both the wealthy and the poor attended the frequent “games” that essentially amounted to the slaughter of many lives. The people were quite distracted by the entertainment, and many were content to receive their food for no work, all because of the “generosity” of the Emperor. The Roman people lost the vigilant watchfulness they had once had. The barbarians to the north began encroaching on Roman land, but even more terrible was the Romans’ ignorance of the terrible corruption much closer to home.
From year 186 to 286, 25 of 37 emperors were removed from office by assassination. Backstabbing, lying, and deceit were commonplace. However, terrible morals weren’t exclusive to the Roman government. Crime was rampant. The use of foul language was frequent. It is recorded that there was at one point over thirty thousand prostitutes within the walls of Rome. The virtue of the people was compromised. Without virtue and vigilance, it was only a matter of time before the Roman Empire crumbled.
The men who wrote the Constitution studied the great nations of the past. They identified the causes of previous nations’ falls that I have just shared. James Madison firmly believed that America would be able to be different. He believed that if America headed too far down the path towards destruction, the virtuous and vigilant people of the states would rise up and call for a change. So far, we haven’t done so: We are falling into the exact same patterns our predecessors fell into. Sports, while not inherently bad, are distracting us in the same way they distracted the Romans. Many people could rattle off the names of dozens of football or basketball players, and yet don’t know their representatives in Congress. People are content to simply sit at home, receive a check from the government for simply existing, and wallow in self-pity for their lack of wealth. Sounds like the Romans and their free grain, huh? There is undeniably corruption in the government, and this can be attributed to our lack of vigilance.
Even more concerning is our lack of virtue. It is an uncomfortable topic, but it is impossible to make change without addressing the true issues. It’s impossible to go to a supermarket without hearing vulgar language. Most terribly, the use of pornography has swept the population. We cannot expect to live in such moral filth and remain free. In innumerous ways, our liberty is slowly being taken away, just as it was from the Romans. The collapse of our beautiful country is imminent if we don’t change our course. History is repeating itself again. A lot more could be said on our flaws as a society, but it is sufficient to say that history is repeating itself. We are making the same mistakes as the Romans. If we don’t learn from their mistakes, a modern day fall of Rome can and will happen.
James Madison believed that we could break that fatal cycle history has been shown to follow. I, too, believe that we can. It remains to be seen if we will.