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Dr. Salvatore R.


26 September 2017

Are We Rome by Cullen Murphy


Are We Rome- Chapter 1: Capitals Outline by Daniel Crandol

Thesis Statement: This chapter discusses the many parallels yet at the same time differences
between imperial Rome and Washington D.C., and how they each epitomized the true essence of
each civilization for better or worse. With imperial Rome, its capital highlights its economic
stagnation and political complacency that led to the fall of the Roman Empire while Washington
D.C. showcases the progressive role the government plays in our everyday lives and how it has
formed the centralized nucleus of the entire United States. Though both capitals of the American
and Roman societies share superficial similarities mainly regarding their structural rules and
surrounding iconography, the diverging point between their two histories is epitomized mainly
through their political leadership, with the Roman emperor falling victim to hubris and
complacency and thus dooming his people while the American President reinforced the consent
of the governed through active leadership and continuous involvement in all matters domestic
and foreign.

1. The Capitals: Where Republic Meets Empire (Page 24-27)

a. Fall of Rome (Page 24-25)
i. The fall of the Roman Empire officially came in 476 A.D. when a
barbarian invasion led by Odoacer defeated the same imperial army that
he had once joined ranks with, captured the then-capital of Ravenna, and
dethroned Emperor Romulus Augustus.
ii. This was cited as a political victory, as the fact that Odoacer was not
recognized as a legitimate emperor signified that there would be no further
successors to the Roman bureaucracy and thus a symbolic end to the
Roman empire and the emergence of European nation-states that continues
to exist today.
b. Comparisons between the Roman Capitoline Hill and Capitol Hill: (Page 26)
i. Capitol Hills very namesake is meant as a direct homage to its Roman
ii. Both contain cherished and sacred artifacts like the hut of the mythical
Romulus for Rome and the contents from Abraham Lincolns pocket when
he was assassinated.
iii. On an architectural level, the Jefferson Memorial is a smaller version of
the Roman Pantheon while the Washington Monument evokes the
imagery of obelisks brought to Rome as tribute after the conquest of
c. Murphy then asks if how the Capitol will be seen in the distant future when its
many buildings and monuments have been eroded by the sands of time and left to
be interpreted in its dilapidated decadence. (Page 27)
2. What Went Wrong? (Page 27-35)
a. By 476 A.D., Rome was far from the centralized and political entity it once was
(Page 28):
i. Its once pagan philosophy was now replaced by Christianity.
ii. Its previously sovereign republic was now a tumultuous autocracy rife
with political infighting.
b. Origins (Page 28-35)
i. Rome in its earliest historical incarnation was founded as a farming
settlement east of the Tiber River in 753 B.C., with its mythological
origins going back even further to the Trojan warrior Aeneas who
journeyed to Italy after the Fall of Troy to start life anew with family and
ii. It underwent several governmental changes before finally becoming a
formal republic with a Senate and consuls.
iii. By 146 B.C. Rome had expanded its borders to encompass all the Italian
peninsula before continuing to expand its sphere of influence throughout
the rest of the Mediterranean bolstered by swift military action and sharp
administrative acumen.
iv. The republic would eventually implode from internal civil war and crisis
by 31 B.C., allowing for Octavian, grandnephew of Julius Caesar, to
capitalize on its fractured state by becoming emperor and initiating a
principate under the pretense of restoring the republic.
v. Scholars have theorized the decline of Rome to be mainly attributed to a
plethora of theories, including the degradation of infrastructure, a growing
disillusionment amongst the Romans, moral and economic issues like
slavery and a social class disparity perpetuated by heavy taxes, a virtually
nonexistent military, internal weakness, the conquest of Rome by the
hands of several barbarian tribes or even the marriage between people of
differing social classes (ex: the patricians and plebeians).
3. Americas Turn (Page 35-43)
a. Virtus (Page 36)
i. The highly educated and enlightened wealthy elite of the original thirteen
American colonies were also well-versed in Virtus.
ii. Here, the importance of the self was secondary to the obligation to adhere
to duty.
iii. They were the ideals that the Founding Fathers believed that all
Americans should strive towards.
b. Marcus Porcius Cato (Page 36)
i. Cato was a senator who staunchly embodied the republican ideals and
virtues of Rome.
ii. He grew wary of Julius Caesars ambition and tyrannical lust for power,
and as a result sided against him on the Senate floor.
iii. He would eventually take his own life to avoid being indebted to Julius
Caesar for sparing it.
iv. After his death, his legacy would live on in the words of future rebels who
would take a stand against the tyranny of unjust rulers even at the cost of
their own lives like Nathan Hale who regretted that he had only one life to
give for his country.
c. Government of Rome (Page 37-38)
i. After the American colonies overthrew the British empire, they looked to
Rome for a republican model to emulate.
ii. This led to the implementation of checks and balances for the American
government, inspired by the Romans creating an effective trifecta of three
forms of government- kingship, aristocracy, and democracy.
iii. Through this form of government, executive power was vested firmly in
two consuls with limited terms along with a senate of lifelong members
and a civilian population who were delegated suffrage on certain social
iv. This would be reflected in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, with
Americas new government taking cues from the Roman Republic and in
many respects learning from them.
d. George Washington (Page 38-39)
i. He embodied the American interpretation of Roman virtue, most notably
through the art of surveying and by being an avid enthusiast of Roman
ii. Due to his abrupt retirement from government after the American
Revolution, he was often hailed as Americas Cincinnatus, a reference to a
Roman appointed as emperor during an almost overwhelming outside
invasion of Barbarians who led his fellow Romans away from the brink of
destruction before gracefully relinquishing his power and returning to tend
his farmland.
e. Role of the Executive in Both Societies (Page 40-41)
i. In Rome, the executive power especially in times of crisis was ceded to a
single man responsible for acting boldly and quickly to diffuse enemy
hostilities and maintain the republic while keeping a confident and
resolute public face always.
ii. In America, the president often acts in a similar manner by expanding his
authority and powers as necessary to deal with ongoing domestic and
foreign issues.
iii. For both societies, the advent of government-sanctioned surveillance on
civilians has always been prevalent and sanctioned. For the Romans,
undercover operatives known as curiosi would try to coax citizens into
speaking ill of the emperor so that they could be arrested for perceived
treason against the state. In the U.S. however, technological advances
allow for the National Security Agency to monitor peoples telephone and
online activities for possible hints at terrorist activity.
f. Role of the Legislative in Both Societies (Page 42)
i. In Rome, the Senate was essentially a millionaires club run by public
servants with none of the deliberative mechanists that allows the U.S.
Congress to be successful. Matters regarding foreign policy and war
declarations were delegated solely to the emperor and his advisors. Thus,
putting the sole power to declare military action and have full say about
foreign policy in the hands of the emperor led to an imbalance of power
within the imperial government that only hastened Romes fall.
ii. With the U.S. Legislative, Congress reserves the right to declare war as
opposed to a single person and can also check any powers given to the
President. However, the president still maintains considerable power along
with the legislative to continue to perpetuate the idea of checks and
4. The Omphalos Syndrome (Page 43-48)
a. Similarity Between Both Capitals (Page 43)
i. Imperial Rome and Washington are both seen as the focal point of each
society, with the ideas and traits of the elite that inhabits these capitals
ranking of paramount importance.
ii. As a result, the matters of the outside world can seem insignificant and
minimal as a result.
b. Omphalos Syndrome (Page 43-44)
i. Derived from the Greek word navel, it was a stone monument found in
many ancient civilizations that marked the center of the world with its
Roman counterpart being a marble one that supposedly demarcated the
entrance of the mythical Underworld.
ii. Thus, Omphalos Syndrome describes a group of people who believe
themselves to be divinely positioned at the very center of the universe.
iii. For the Romans, this sociocentric thinking prompted Emperor Augustus to
construct a sundial in his honor to not only commemorate his rule but to
boldly declare that the universe now existed as part of the Augustan
iv. Augustuss ego that helped perpetuated this omphalos syndrome was
inflated even further by the great extols of rhetoricians like Aelius
c. Rome as a Capital (Page 45-46)
i. Rome was always a heavy importer of goods and riches but never a key
exporter of anything economic tangible.
ii. Its very infrastructure expended an excessive amount of natural resources.
iii. To appease its citizens, a tax levied by Rome on outside exporters called
Annona was given in the form of fine grain to the people as a form of tax
d. Hubris of Rome (Page 47-48)
i. Due to Romans inflated sense of jingoism and sociocentric nationalism, it
became infamous for its hubris and outright mockery as well as
condescension towards outside cultures.
ii. Even its vast network of roads scattered across Italy had regular points that
indicated Rome as the center of the world which only reinforced the
arrogance of the Roman collectivity.
5. Inside the Bubble (Page 48-58)
a. Washington (Page 48-50)
i. Washington is also comparable to imperial Rome in this type of
sociocentric thinking.
ii. The energy that fuels the city comes from its own version of Annona, a
seemingly never-ending flow of revenue and borrowed money that
propagates a sphere of influence virtually nonexistent in any other region
of America.
iii. Its due to the federal government being intricately tied to the citys
identity in almost all aspects that Washington looks and feels completely
different than the rest of America.
iv. The President himself epitomizes this nationalistic pride by adopting an
extremely conspicuous moniker that makes him the most important
person in the most important city in the world.
b. Pomerium of Washington (Page 50-55)
i. It is the sacred boundary of Rome.
ii. For America, its the Beltway located in Washington that helps to
propagate its sense of self-importance. This is especially evident at the
Naval Observatory, which defines the modern age of technological
innovations like cell phones and satellites.
iii. For Washington, the once coveted brick of Rome is now information, and
the demand of which is nigh insatiable. Its what helps to maintain
Washington as a city.
iv. The real focal point of Washington is embodied by the Washington press
corps, whose media news scrutiny provides the lens through which the
capital is seen by the greater population.
v. Washington has been described as existing in its own bubble and deeming
any matters outside of its immediate influence secondary.
vi. Overall, subscribing to omphalos syndrome can paint a view of yourself
and your surroundings in a way that is almost harmfully ignorant and
contradictory to the true state of the world.
6. Fall of Rome v. Rise of America (Page 56-58)
a. Romes downfall came in the form of overtly passive emperors who spent more
time worrying about maintaining their public images and rendering macro
decisions like the expansion of territory with some input of others than focusing
on much more specialized micro issues like civil rights, social programs, and new
governmental changes that affected the entire population. (Page 57)
b. In stark contrast, Americas equivalent in the President is a much more active and
involved leader who maintains a proactive public image. His political stance
reflects the capitals, as it is the prime agent of change in U.S. society. He also
epitomizes the idea of self-actualization and free will, that the world can be
malleable to the convictions of mankind instead of simply be beholden to a single
destiny. (Page 57-58)
7. Modern Example
a. A modern-day parallel between Rome and the United States can be found in the
most recent Election of 2016 between presidential candidates Donald Trump and
Hillary Clinton. This is highly reminiscent of the power struggle fought between
Mark Antony and Octavian for the throne of Rome. In both cases, the candidates
were highly polarizing and controversial figures with well-publicized pasts that
often disputed their claim to political leadership. Since the line between
entertainment and politics were virtually nonexistent during Romans time, this
highly contested struggle was always at the center of peoples attention. And with
the advent of mass media allowing the campaign proceedings to be easily
accessible for public consumption, the Election of 2016 was also at the forefront
of Americans minds. In both cases, they were all flawed individuals vying for the
highest position of power possible with a public divided about who should win.
b. However, this is where the parallels end as the two political events each signified
something different for their form of government. For Rome, the eventual victory
of Octavian over Anthony led to him becoming the first emperor and transitioning
the then-republic into a more imperialist empire. On the other hand, the Election
of 2016 produced the 45th President in Donald Trump but continued the same
constitutional democracy that has become synonymous with America over the
past three centuries.
c. Citation: Strauss, Barry. Is America Collapsing like the Roman Empire? Fox
News, FOX News Network, 18 Oct. 2016.

Conclusion (Are We Rome?): Despite the outward similarities of both civilizations during their
rise to immortality, I can safely conclude along with Cullen Murphy that all roads point to the
United States not becoming imperial Rome in any feasible way. Despite their many parallels,
there is a very multifaceted fork in the road that has led Rome to its decadence and eventual
downfall while raising America up to almost unprecedented levels within history. On the point of
technological advancement, America has transcended the Industrial, Information and Biotech age
and truly become a juggernaut of modern-day innovation while Rome never advanced past the
Iron Age it originally began in. In terms of economics, Rome constantly lived in a state of
scarcity and near-famine while America enjoys an extremely abundant economy that even
crosses the threshold of overindulgence at times. Regarding social class, Rome fostered an
extremely adversarial societal totem pole where the wealthy elite were the ruling class and thus
were provided certain rights and privileges not also given to the rest of the civilian population.
Thus, the quintessential middle-class that formed the foundational backbone of Americas
success throughout the years was absent in ancient Rome which led to growing resentment over
time and even escalated into bloody civil war. With social morality, equality was not universal in
Rome. The institution of slavery was still in effect, and women were usually placed in traditional
gender roles meant to keep them docile in a mainly matriarchal society. This of course pales to
America, where natural rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are attributed to
all people regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, creed, orientation, or religion. All in all, Rome
stagnated because it was a politically regressive and economically static entity that fell victim to
political infighting and complacent leaders while America still flourishes because it propagates
the consent of the governed in all matters while also leading actively instead of passively.