February 15, 2002
Pax Americanum

The world could do a lot worse than having us in charge. And we are in charge, make no mistake. As a country our we are doing writ large what Augustus did personally when he reorganized the Roman Republic and created, through sheer will alone at times, the Roman Empire.

Augustus knew that the remembrance of power which the senate had was something not soon forgotten. He also had the abject lesson of his great-uncle being pinata'ed just outside the senate building a few years before to instruct him on just what the senate as a group thought of people that tried to take away all their perqs.

But he also knew that this fractious bunch of old white guys couldn't govern themselves out of a paper sack any more. The Roman Republic was set up to run a city and a smallish state, where everyone pretty much knew everyone else, and everyone else's business. It was not set up to run the largest and most diverse empire the world had ever seen.

So he took the place over, but he did it carefully. No naked power grabs, or at least no real large ones, paying attention to, or at least pretending to pay attention to, the petty bullshit of the senate, making sure powerful people were happy and weak people were secure, and personally ensuring the army could keep the entire empire safe. Happy powerful people don't raise their own armies to oust you, and safe poor people don't riot and yank you out of the senate in pieces (this happened to rulers all over the world quite often in history. It was only the development of the machine gun in the 20th century that the mob ceased to be a very real threat to the governing classes). If it wasn't important, he let the senate handle it. If it was, he handled it himself and let the senate approve of his actions. Luckily for Rome, Augustus was one of those 5% of despots that actually have a clue, and Rome prospered.

Unluckily for Rome, Augustus made the common mistake of despots through history by assuming he was immortal. When he did finally keel over, at the ripe old age of 73, he left no real mechanisms in place for the transfer of power. This would prove to be one of the main reasons for the empire's eventual disintegration. It was bad for them, but good for us. We'd all probably still be speaking Latin if it weren't for this mistake.

The USA as a nation seems to be, so far, doing for the world what Augustus did for Rome. We didn't ask for it, and as a nation (the "people" part of the "we love the American people but hate the American government" saying) we don't much like it. But nobody else seems to be capable of doing the job, and now that nuclear weapons have been invented problems can get a lot worse than a bunch of butt-scratching barbarian tribesmen sacking a few cities.

Europe used to be, if not good, at least effective at ruling the world. But they were mostly interested in using the rest of the world to gather up enough cash to pay for the next war they felt like having for themselves. Think the middle east is chaotic? The machine gun, an American invention, nearly didn't make it until Hiram Maxim went to Europe, because he was told "Europeans will always pay top dollar for new ways to kill each other."

The only reason Europe is peaceful today is because they managed to drag the entire world into their little killing sprees not once but twice. The US and the Soviet Union got so damned sick of it the second time through they sat on them all for the next thirty five years (on the US side) before turning them loose. The Soviets never really got over it, which is understandable when you remember that roughly every tenth person killed in the war was a Soviet citizen. They only let go because they had to. This is the first time in about fifteen hundred years that the Europeans have played nice with each other, and probably the first time in history that they didn't have anyone else making them.

Japan made a stab at taking over the world at around the same time, or at least the part of it they were interested in (Asia, mostly China). It looked like it might actually work until the US, which was supplying the oil they needed to run their little war of conquest, cut off the taps. Someone over there, we're still not quite sure who because they burned all their papers before we took the place over, decided it was time to take those damned round-eyed gaijin out of the picture. It only took us four months to finish them off when we focused on them.

Both China and the Turks had a real good shot at running the world. China had invented paper, gunpowder, iron smelting, and a whole raft of other near-industrial items by that time, and sent a fleet over Europe's way to see why it had gone all quiet over there a thousand years ago (they really do think like this). But the fleet was recalled and then China just sort of ossified for the next few centuries. They're still recovering.

The Turks had taken over pretty much all of the old Islamic kingdoms by this point (we know them as the Ottoman Empire), and were literally knocking on Vienna's door. Due in no small part to one Vlad Dracula's efforts at slowing them down (having 25,000 prisoners impaled in a nice neat stadium pattern tends to unnerve even the most hardy of warriors), they weren't able to crack the place, and fell back. Again, for reasons not completely clear to anyone they never really seemed to recover from this setback. And so the people that were on the forefront of knowledge and culture when Europe was a bunch of scrabbling hicks seeing who could build the biggest dung pile ended up less than two centuries later prostrate before those same people. They're still recovering too.

And so the world is left with us. In spite of all the shirt-tearing and breast-beating done by the world's media, you all could do a helluva lot worse. Here in the US we're all so busy bickering with each other that we can only get it together for the really important stuff. Our government isn't any better than anyone else's when it comes to dealing with the outside world, but savvy people at least can get the media to expose the worst of our excesses. Transfer of power is built into our government, giving the truly dangerous and incompetent a chance to both grasp power and have it destroy them in a short enough time not to break anything important.

And, at the core, we are you. America, time and again, takes both the best and the worst the world has to offer. Be repulsed by us, but realize that we learned to be repulsive from you. Be inspired by us, and take heart in the fact that what is inspiring in us comes from you. Be angry at us, even afraid of us, but always realize what angers and scares you is only what you brought or gave to us.

And always remember that, no matter what we're like right now, the one thing that is always remarkable is that we change. Don't like us now? Wait. Learn. Work with us to change us. We're running a planet with no instructions. We need all the help we can get.

Posted by scott at February 15, 2002 03:13 PM

eMail this entry!

Hi I realise this is an old entry and you're probably not going to read this but anyhow-

It isn't so much the idea of 'pax americanum' that pisses people off, but what is seen as the 'screw the rest of the world' mentality by the American government... i.e pulling out the Kyoto Protocol to protect Bush's margin districts for 2004. That's how it's seen in Australia (where I live) anyway. Australians have big problems with Bush in general, and as America's figurehead this is probably a source of the irritation.

Many European nations have the concern of 'Americanisation' but this is silly and unavoidable.

France, despite having been rescued by the US twice, just finds America rude, and Bush a hick. Having lived in Paris, that's the way it is even though it is shallow and somewhat stupid.

That's my two cents anyway ;)

Posted by: Ian on July 12, 2002 10:24 AM

Always looking for new comments (ve haff vays of vinding out vat you tink!)

Regan got a lot of the same flak for most of the same reasons:

  • Stop flicking boogers at the USSR before they decide to blow us all up
  • Did you know he calls his wife MOMMY?
  • Astrologers R us

And so forth. The liberal estabilshment hated Regan, but he'll probably end up being a president they make monuments to in thirty years. It's why he already has several buildings and an aircraft carrier named after him, but only very quietly.

To me (and I'm glad we're having this convo in the archives, otherwise some of our other readers would lynch me), Bush is Regan without the charm. I'll probably write an essay about this, but in essence you don't want intelligence to be the primary trait of your leader, you want decisiveness. The leader should surround himself with the required intelligence.

And, in some ways, Bush has. Colin Powell is a heck of a guy, and could very well become the first black president some day. Cheney's a wonk, but he's good at it.

Unfortunately Bush also has Ashcroft, who I think is a complete wack. And there are other things that worry me about the whole administration. But I'm not up to Maru et. al.'s indignation. Yet.

As to Kyoto, you might want to review another essay I wrote, talking trash.

Thanks for the comment! Hope you enjoy the rest of the site!

Posted by: Scott on July 12, 2002 11:02 AM

I wouldn't count on liberals making monuments to Reagan.

I was a child during the Reagan era so I really don't have a lot of first hand evidence to judge him on but I have lots of other people's opinions and lots of things that I have read. And honestly I must say that from the things I have read I can't find much that Reagan did that I agree with. But probably the largest strike against Reagan for me is that my dad really, really liked him and my dad and I disagree on *everything* political...=)

Regarding Bush.....I think Bush would be a great, great guy to go to a barbecue with. I think he's probably just a nice Texas man but that doesn't equate to being a good President. My dad says (oy, again with my dad) he doesn't have to be the most intelligent as long as he surrounds hims self with the best and most intelligent advisors. I'll give you that Bush has chosen some good people: Condi Rice, Powell, etc. but it still concerns me that he seems to need them so much. It's like we have a President who doesn't really make any decisions at all himself. And let us not forget he is the one that brought Ashcroft in. If you lose an election to a dead guy then you really, really must suck. I mean if the people in your home state would rather cast a ballot for a man that is dead instead of you....then why in the world would our President think you should be put upon the rest of the country?

Posted by: Michelle on August 13, 2002 12:45 PM

PLEASE change back to your original format!

Posted by: PAT on August 24, 2002 03:42 AM

Liberal historians have slanted many statistics by presenting Regan and his policies as the determining factor in many of the downside economic factors that occurred in Regan's term.

For example, I just completed a course on American history 1945 to the present. All of the text books mention mitigating factors about econonomic and social changes that occurred 197x to 1988, but these facts were presented in their own chapters and when it came time for the Reganomics/Reganslander chapter, the only thing presented was data about how the poor were poorer--the reader was left to go back and make comparisons and guesses about the effects of technology and antiquated American productive problems that sent millions of jobs out of the country. Also, they neglect the fact that Paul Volker had to do a job no one wanted done. Supply side economics works, the liberal/dem's in Washington had an agenda to spend Regan out of office. They never submitted budgets that were not increased spending budgets.

Posted by: chicagojoel on December 17, 2002 10:08 PM

True. I sometimes wonder if things like "Guns, Germs, and Steel", and "Carnage and Culture" are as much a result of the socialist/marxist old gaurd dying out as any real sea change in attitudes.

Living through it, I was most often struck by how when Regan first took office the media kept harping on the downturn in the economy, and how it was never, ever going to get better. Then, suddenly, around 1984, they suddenly, and I mean like next-day suddenly, started wondering when "the recovery was going to stop". Recovery? When did we enter a recovery? Why are we so eager to see it stop?

It was nearly as striking when Bush was in office, when I kid you not everything was hunky-dory until Christmas before the election, and then suddenly the whole economy was getting pushed through a sewer treatment plant.

Not surprisingly, Clinton got a "get out of jail free" card, even when he was getting a hummer in the oval office. I think GW would be in far deeper trouble had our linen-wrapped friends not entered stage right in such a spectacular fashion.

Posted by: scott on December 17, 2002 10:16 PM
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