Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ancient History and Modern Politics

This is more of a book review than a scientific article, which is kind of odd for physorg, from my experience, but it still captured my attention. The book looks fascinating and I might have to pick it up. The article/review of the book makes some fascinating points and suggestions about how the conditions which led to the fall of democracy in Athens are disturbingly similar to the issues we face today. But let me start by saying this is not new information at all. Classicists have been seeing parallels between the fall of those ancient powers and modern ones for years. This guy, maybe, is the first one to get publicity for his book, but that's about as new as his information gets. Even non-classicists are aware of it. My social studies teacher in the ninth grade had no qualms about declaring the USA as the newest Roman Empire, on the edge of collapse, and let me tell you that the unit on the classical world was NOT big, even then.

The thing is, we know that history is important. We know that paying attention to history is the best way not to repeat mistakes. This is why there's such a huge emphasis on World War II. So that it won't be forgotten. So that the nightmare atrocities of that war will not be forgotten, and as such, committed again. We know it, but we're so caught up in more modern history, that we, as a culture, have glossed over our beginnings. Classical history is often ignored, like this article says, and in my opinion we're doing ourselves a huge disservice by it for the exact reason this book was written. Athens was facing the same issues we are, and their government fell. Democracy fell. It would be wise of us to take a look and see why so that we can try to avoid following in its footsteps. So that we can choose a different path for our nation which does not repeat the errors of history.

Of course, there are other reasons to pay attention to classical history too. Rome and the Democracy of Athens is the framework from which the entire western world is built. We really should be aware of our origins. World War II was fought as a quest to regain the glory of the Roman Empire. The Third Reich was an attempt to recreate the Roman Empire for the THIRD time. Charlemagne conquered and united a good portion of Europe as a new Roman Empire. And Christianity would not be the religious force it is today if it had not been adopted by Constantine, and then by the Roman Empire. I know, strictly speaking Constantine isn't classical, but it's all still overlooked in a frightening way.

But here is something else to consider--The democracy of the Roman Empire failed too. Rome which had a (some might argue, irrational) fear of kings, which never wanted to be ruled by a single man again, saw the collapse of its democratic government. This wasn't because Julius Caesar was an evil man. As I've said before, he was a hero to the people. He was loved by his country. If it had just been Caesar, than Augustus could not have taken over after his death the way he did. Democracy would have risen again, instead of being wiped away. Augustus was a savvy politician, but he could not have accomplished what he did without the will of the common citizens.

Now, I'm not trying to be a doomsayer, I just think it might be worth paying attention to the history we all take for granted.

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