Cullen Murphy. Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America Boston. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Reviewed by T. Hatch
Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome? is a concise look at how the “decline and fall” of the
Roman Empire can provide a set of cautionary lessons for the United States. An America invicta, suffering from a hubris born of a sense of exceptionalism and an intractable ignorance of the world, that is in need of some solid historical examples. In Murphy’s book the contrast of America to ancient Rome is viewed through an historicist’s binoculars set against the backdrop of the current war in Iraq.
Murphy sets about his task relying entirely upon secondary source documents. He argues that both Rome and Washington D.C., as centers of their respective political universes, were presided over by an elite that witnessed a growing divide between military and civil society where issues of what is in the public good versus what is of a private advantage were contentious questions frequently asked. Both ruling elites were hostage to a nationalcentric worldview that struggled with the problems associated with their borders and the impossibility of managing imperial projects that were of ever-expanding bigness.
Mr. Murphy concludes with a hopeful prescription for the future of the United States that he calls the Titus Livius Plan. If Americans (presumably thorough their elite leaders) would only cultivate an appreciation of the wider world, stop treating government as an necessary evil, fortify those institutions in society that promote assimilation, and ease the demands on the military our inevitable demise might be delayed. Whether any of Murphy’s remedies are politically possible is, at best, highly problematic.
Rubbish: the Archaeology of Garbage, Science Library TD793.3 .R38, 1992.
The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own,
BS680.W7 M87, 1998.