Why America Is Not a New Rome

Why America Is Not a New Rome

by Vaclav Smil

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262526852
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 08/29/2014
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,251,111
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of forty books, including Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses and Made in the USA: The Rise and Retreat of American Manufacturing, both published by the MIT Press. In 2010 he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. In 2013 Bill Gates wrote on his website that “there is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.”

Read an Excerpt

Why America Is Not a New Rome


By Vaclav Smil

The MIT Press

Copyright © 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-262-19593-5


Chapter One

America as a New Rome?

Quid enim simile habet civitatium earum quas comparasti causa?

For what similarity is there in the cases of those states which you have brought into comparison?

-Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita XXXV:xvi (Cyrus Edmonds 1850 translation)

The undeniably impressive extent and longevity of the Roman Empire and, arguably, its prestige, might, and glory (some of it real enough, much of it greatly misunderstood and often uncritically exaggerated, not a little of it entirely undeserved) created an irresistible standard of comparison for all subsequent powerful and expansive states of Western civilization. Some of these states pursued policies that were deliberately fashioned to invite positive comparisons with the great classical model (a quest that ranged from high-minded actions to tragicomic gestures); others unintentionally evolved in ways that made analogies inescapable to many classically educated minds as well as to superficially informed opportunistic commentators on modern affairs. All of these comparisons have shared a key generic problem: the singularity of their complex subjects.

There has never been any other powerful state whose politics, ethos, militancy, durability, and legacy would closely resemble the unique conglomerate of attributes that defined the imperium Romanum, and the same is obviously true about such modern entities as the British Empire, the USSR, or the United States. Commonalities can be always found, but singularities are more important than any similarities. Contrasting modern states with Rome has at least two other specific drawbacks. First, Rome was one of the most enduring states in history, one that underwent profound transformations during more than a thousand years of ascent, perpetuation, and retreat. This invalidates many generalizations about Roman conduct or makes them highly suspect. Second, given the time span that must be bridged by comparisons of modern states to Rome (nearly two millennia have elapsed since Rome's greatest reach), we do not know enough about many essential aspects of Roman society and hence cannot fully understand its modus operandi.

But making comparisons is a universal propensity of our species, and I will exercise it by focusing on a limited number of significant concerns, comparing well-defined factors, and calling attention to their links and functions in the two societies. Consequently, this is not a book of comparative history-not histoire comparative but histoire comparée using Marc Bloch's (1928) classic distinction-and not one preoccupied by any specific methodological concerns or written to meet the approbation of professional reductionist historians. As to the best approach, I agree with Raymond Grew (1980, 773) who in his thoughtful inquiry into comparing histories concluded that they are most enlightening when shaped in terms of general and significant problems and "when the elements compared are clearly distinguished, and attention is paid to the intricate relationships between the elements compared and the particular societies in which they are located."

Perhaps one more prefatory note: this is not a programmatic book, it was not conceived with any ideological message in mind, and its intent is not to offer any grand lessons. As a lifelong student of complex systems, I have approached the writing of this book much as I have done with all similar challenges: without any preconceived conclusions and without any agendas (the Romans had a phrase for this attitude: sine ira et studio). My only goals are to inquire, illuminate, and explain and thus, I hope, to understand.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Why America Is Not a New Rome by Vaclav Smil Copyright © 2010 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Preface....................ix
Part 1 America as a New Rome?....................1
I Nihil Novi Sub Sole....................3
Exempla Trahunt....................3
Imperium Americanum....................11
Intentio Libri....................26
Part 2 Why America Is Not a New Rome....................31
II Empires, Powers, Limits....................35
What Is an Empire?....................42
Roman Reach: Hyperboles and Realities....................54
America's Peculiar Hegemony....................64
III Knowledge, Machines, Energy....................79
Inventing New Worlds....................81
Power of Machines....................98
Energy Sources....................105
IV Life, Death, Wealth....................115
Population Dynamics....................117
Illness and Death....................126
Wealth and Misery....................135
Part 3 Why Comparisons Fail....................147
V Historical Analogies and Their (Lack of) Meaning....................149
Common Shortcomings....................149
Fundamental Differences....................158
One World....................163
Notes....................173
References....................197
Name Index....................217
Subject Index....................221

What People are Saying About This

Endorsement

Repetition by pundits and literary commentators in the mass media has entrenched in people's minds the notion that America is a new Rome. Smil's book, tightly argued and rigorously documented, is a concise and persuasive scientific demolition of the Rome-America parallel, totally deflating the usefulness of the analogy as a tool of historical analysis. Why America is Not a New Rome is a much-needed corrective.

Paul Demeny, Distinguished Scholar, Population Council, New York

Paul Demeny

Repetition by pundits and literary commentators in the mass media has entrenched in people's minds the notion that America is a new Rome. Smil's book, tightly argued and rigorously documented, is a concise and persuasive scientific demolition of the Rome-America parallel, totally deflating the usefulness of the analogy as a tool of historical analysis. Why America is Not a New Rome is a much-needed corrective.

From the Publisher

Repetition by pundits and literary commentators in the mass media has entrenched in people's minds the notion that America is a new Rome. Smil's book, tightly argued and rigorously documented, is a concise and persuasive scientific demolition of the Rome-America parallel, totally deflating the usefulness of the analogy as a tool of historical analysis. Why America is Not a New Rome is a much-needed corrective.

Paul Demeny, Distinguished Scholar, Population Council, New York

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Why America Is Not a New Rome 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Shrike58 on LibraryThing 24 days ago
A demographer concerned with long-term trends and with a taste for classical history, the author is also a man who has apparently had it with superficial comparisons between Rome and the United States at their respective peaks and who has the mission of dampening down wild proposals based on sloppy argument by badly understood analogy. This is almost besides the point, as those people in love with the concept of empire will not be deterred from using such analogies and those who know better will come away from this book with something of a shrug. As for who this book might appeal to I could see it being best used as a textbook in an undergrad world history class. On the other hand, I'm now curious enough to read some of Smil's analysis of contemporary trends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*sharpened her dagger on a rock, and cleaned her arrows*