The fall of the Western Roman Empire has always been a common historiographical comparison among intellectual circles when discussing the current decline of Western Civilisation. Particularly relevant was the extensive migration of Northern (German mostly) ‘Barbarians’ into Roman lands, which has been frequently compared to the mass immigration of third-worlders into Western Europe, North America and Oceania. Additionally, the moral decadence of the Roman elite combined with religious strife influenced by the rising dominance of Christianity and the collapse of traditional Roman virtues, has been extensively compared with the collapse of Christianity in the West and the rise of secularism and moral relativism reaching levels unprecedented in human history.
The comparisons are endless and sometimes painfully familiar. The over-reliance on slave labour during late Roman times can be compared to the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs to low-wage, low working standard economies combined with the cultural stigmatisation of working people by Western elites and the overabundance of university qualified individuals who have become economically obsolete. Additionally, the overexpansion of Rome’s military could be compared to the recent disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are largely still ongoing and have levied massive debts upon the nations involved, with the deficit only growing. Concurrently, the loss of social trust between the Roman citizenry and the Roman Senate, culminating in many civil wars, is highly comparable to the current collapse of civic respect among Western societies. Western Governments are almost universally mistrusted by their citizenry in our current era, and this divide is unlikely to recede in the near future.
It seems like the Golden Days (which many would consider to be the Victorian era) are long gone and according to a Spenglerian analysis of history, this is simply an inevitable result of the cyclical nature of human civilisations.
However, the unprecedented rise of Donald Trump has brought up an alternative notion. In his widely influential 1918 historical piece The Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler predicted an ‘age of Caesarism’ which would sweep the West as a final explosive struggle against it’s own demise, similar to rushing of blood to the body’s extremities during the final stages of hypothermia. Could we perhaps be witnessing not the fall of the Roman Empire but rather the collapse of the Roman Republic?
The final stages of the Roman Republic were rife with moral decadence, civil wars and demographic shifts. They could easily compared to the state of the West today, as much as it could be compared to the fall of the Roman Empire. The out-come, however, was entirely different. The successes of Julius Caesar and his popularity among the common people, combined with the Roman elite’s hatred for him, could be compared to the current populist surge of businessman Donald Trump in the American presidential race. These comparisons could become quite scathing if pressed needlessly, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Julius Caesar was his adopted son, Gaius Octavius (later known as Emperor Augustus) who was almost completely unlike the late dictator. Octavian rose through the ranks of Roman oligarchy as Caesar’s heir, out-witting his rivals including the once powerful Mark Antony. His respect for Roman moral and religious tradition, his political pragmatism as well as his commitment to public service allowed him to reform the Republic, ensuring it’s long-term survival, albeit re-imagined with an Imperial lineage.
This is from where I derived my pseudonym. In our perceived Caesarean age, I believe it will ultimately be an Octavian style leader or movement who will lay the foundations for a sustainable European future.
But we must inevitably ask the question, are we witnessing the collapse of the Republic or the fall of an Empire?