WHEN ELITE PRIVILEGE BREAKS by Paul Rosenberg
Finding parallels with Rome is a fun topic for writers, and just recently I came across some very interesting ones. They grabbed my attention, and they may grab yours as well.
These passages (in bold) are from The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, by Peter Brown:
[E]mperor, military, and civilian populations alike needed the idea of a “barbarian threat” to justify their own existence.
Just as our grand states need terrorists to justify their existence, immigrants to threaten the populace, and outsiders to blame.
Note also that the “civilian populations” required a barbarian threat. That directly translates to today’s defense workers, intel agency workers, militarized police forces, and all the millions who’ve merged their identity with “our heroic protectors.” With no big threat, all of that becomes meaningless.
The peasantry had to increase production so as to earn the money with which to pay taxes.
Have you noticed how obsessively young people work these days? People talk about Millennial slackers, and there are some, but I see young families where both parents have to work full time, who work on their smart phones long after business hours, and who are taxed to the hilt without remorse.
My complaint with these millions is not that they’re slackers; it’s that they’re allowing themselves to be driven too hard. They shouldn’t take the abuse they do. They are working harder than their parents did… too hard.
Rome slowly lost its grip on the imagination and on the value systems of the inhabitants of the empire and their neighbors in the course of the fifth and early sixth centuries.
This is going on now. Who still believes in politicians as virtuous leaders? As noble statesmen? Who believes that school systems are serving the citizens rather than themselves? Who doesn’t have horror stories to tell about the police?
And how many people in other countries believe in the God-ordained, virtuous United States?
To the extent that Hollywood informs our imaginations, our Rome is holding on, but only because it more or less controls Hollywood. And that may fail as well; cracks may already be appearing.
[T]here was one thing the fourth-century Roman state did well, which was to extract money from its subjects.
This one is interesting, because while it’s true that our Rome is superb at skimming money from its subjects, it gets an equal or greater amount through what we can call for simplicity’s sake “money printing.” Rome couldn’t do that.
The collection of taxes offered unparalleled opportunities for enrichment for landowners, tax collectors, and bureaucrats. What was gathered through taxes was redistributed at the top, in the form of gifts and salaries paid in solid gold. This process created a swaggering new class….
Can you say, “top one or two percent”? And note that the money was “redistributed at the top,” precisely as now. Redistribution goes to the first hands at the spigot of printed money; to Wall Street, being the one and only destination for investments; and to those who purchase favors from the state. These people have indeed formed “a swaggering new class.”
So, putting all of these together, we get: