Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two Empires: Are These the Last Years of the Roman Empire--or the First of a New Empire?

by Robert Tracinski

Objectivists have frequently compared contemporary America to the last years of the Roman Empire, and the comparison provides many useful parallels to today's situation. The fall of Rome provides timeless lessons about the destructiveness of religious faith, the false alternative between religious traditionalism (at that time, the worship of the old Roman gods) and a new pacifist creed (at that time, the rising faith of Christianity) that disarmed the Romans and allowed them to be destroyed by a horde of primitive barbarians. The players have changed in many way--Christianity is now the established religious tradition, the new pacifist creed is nominally secular, and the barbarians hail from a different part of the world--yet the lessons still apply.

But it is also clear that there is something else going on in the world today--that American power and influence in the world is, in many crucial ways, expanding rather than contracting. When President Bush declares that "freedom is on the march," it is more than mere political rhetoric. The news stories linked to in today's TIA Daily are an indication. If the big story of the previous decade was the fall of Communism and the establishment of free societies in the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe, one of the biggest stories of this decade is the liberation of the former Soviet republics, many of whom were Russian vassals for centuries, and many of whom are now becoming American allies.

And this is not just about Ukraine and Georgia. The events in Eastern Europe are having important reverberations in the Middle East, directly inspiring street protests in Lebanon that drove out (and may yet destroy altogether) the Syrian dictatorship.

Yet any such progress seems improbable, if not impossible. How can liberty be spreading in the world--when it is so lacking in philosophical defenders in its home country, the United States of America? How can freedom be on the march, when hardly anyone fully understands what it means and what it requires?

The fact that America's influence *is* nevertheless spreading, and that it is reaching even the unlikeliest corners of the globe, such as Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, is a fact that I have been documenting day by day in TIA Daily, as relevant news stories come to my attention. I have also shared with you, especially in recent months, my thesis about some of the mechanisms by which American influence is being spread--the process that Jack Wakeland has called the Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness. But this is a much larger topic requiring a much more in-depth exploration and a more detailed analysis, which is why I have chosen to make it the topic of a series of TIA-sponsored teleconference lectures I am giving next month.

For more details, and to sign up for these lectures (either individually or as a package), Click here.

There is a great deal that I have to say on this subject that goes beyond what I have already documented and discussed in TIA Daily--and there is, I think, no topic more important to understanding today's world.

This is also an issue that is personally important in shaping one's view of the future prospects for civilization. Are we living in a re-enactment of the last years of the Roman Empire--or are these the first years of the Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness? That question cannot be answered definitively, of course, because the outcome is not determined by any inevitable force of history. But that is precisely why it is so important to understand what is happening in the world today--to understand, not only the forces for evil, but also the forces for good, and to discover the best way to aid the triumph of the good.