America’s Cycles of Change

America as Rome, Part 4: A Century of Good Emperors – and Less Good Presidents

Fri, 14 October 2016

After yet another unfortunate short era of scandal and murderous rule under Domitian, the Romans arranged to have a century of really good emperors again from Trajan to Marcus Aurelius.

Trajan set the standard by withdrawing Rome from Eastern Europe and the deeper Middle East. He pulled the Roman Army out of what is today Iraq and Romania. He refused to start any new wars in Syria, and flatly refused to “liberate” or “defend” Germany, Poland or Ukraine. He was convinced it wasn’t Rome’s business.

Trajan was a Wise Man.

Instead we got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Rome flourished after Vespasian and Domitian because the hereditary principle was abandoned. Sons of emperors were not allowed to succeed their father’s. The next time it happened – 90 years later – under Commodus (played by Joachim Phoenix memorably in the hokum movie Gladiator) it proved to be a very bad idea indeed.

With Hillary Clinton poised to succeed George W. Bush after a gap of only eight years, we are getting ready to replace a Nero or a Domitian with a Commodus far more quickly.

In Ancient Rome, there were plenty of warning signs that the bad and feckless “sons” and family heirs – Caligula, Nero, Domitian and eventually Commodus – were very bad news indeed. But no one had the courage or simple initiative to tweak the succession and say “No.”

Rome, as the British libertine and wit Lord Robert Boothby liked to say 50 years ago, had a couple of centuries of perfectly enjoyable decadence before it collapsed. The bungling British prime ministers of the 1930s, culminating on Neville Chamberlain, achieved the same imperial collapse in less than a decade, Boothby pointed out.

One wonders what Booth by would have said about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

America as Rome, Part 1: Emperors in Rome and the United States: At First They Seemed Like a Good Idea

America as Rome, Part 2: The Secret Scandals of Tiberius, John F. Kennedy & Lyndon Johnson

America as Rome, Part 3: The Clintons and Nero

America as Rome, Part 4: A Century of Good Emperors – and Less Good Presidents