All roads once led to Rome. One of the greatest empires ever to exist on the planet, Rome made such important contributions to human thought and development that we are still using its language, its theology and its most basic scientific and military understandings.
Rome's great hills are no longer the seat of an empire, obviously. Arguably, that seat has traveled across the ocean and now sits on Capitol Hill where senators - now in suits, not togas - preside over the world hegemon that is the United States.
Like Rome of the ancient era, our hegemony is in decline. Lewis Mumford, a scholar who described the rise and fall of civilization, noted in "The Condition of Man" that Rome fell because it lost its drive. Internal strife and an overemphasis on the military security of the state divided the empire such that, when the Mongols came, there was no empire to destroy and only a shell of imperial glory remained.
We're facing a similar situation in our country. There is huge emphasis on security to the point where, on Sunday, the U.S. government warned Americans to be extra-super-careful in Europe in order to avoid terrorist attacks. It's a sad time when our own government doesn't trust our allies to keep Americans safe.
Predator attacks continue in Pakistan - also one of our allies, though for how long nobody can say - and in Afghanistan. Tensions are building in Tehran, Iran where we wait for an excuse to attack. In terms of defense, the U.S. seems like the drunk and washed-up prize fighter who needs to prove to the world that he's still got it even though he thinks he has four fists and a purple kangaroo sitting next to him. Our military, consequently, is stretched thin and, though it does its best, results speak louder than intentions. It's simply not feasible to fight a multi-front war and simultaneously prepare for another.
Our defensive woes, however, pale in comparison to the circus that is the American political system. Welcome to the lunatic bin, where a president with a supermajority in the Senate and the House cannot manage to pass his agenda. In England, that's grounds for dismissal (it's called no confidence); here it's business as usual. It's no wonder we can't get anything done when the sum total of American political maneuvering involves figuring out whether or not a certain action will harm the opposing party. The welfare of the country is no longer the prime concern; beating the [insert party here] has become paramount.
So back to Rome. Rome had two periods of decline: the well-known "fall" and the original fall, in which Caesar crossed the Rubicon and ended the Republic, ushering in the Empire. Will America decline, become the tired old man of North America and lose its hegemony?
Or, more frightening, will a charismatic leader come forth and overthrow our democracy, pay lip service to the republic, and usher in the first American Empire, with all of the manufacturing, military and farming might of North America behind it? And, will we welcome the tyrant?