Monday, December 27, 2004

Pax Americana?

The golden age of the Roman Empire is often called the Pax Romana... it ended with the death of the last of the "5 Good Emperors", Marcus Aurelius, in 180 C.E. It was characterized by a lasting peace within the Roman Empire -- but a peace that was maintained only by nearly continuous warfare at the periphery.

While it is often said that history repeats itself, these cycles are not exact reproductions of the past, but rather take the form of chaotic self-similarity across scale owing to common causal mechanisms. During the Pax Romana, Rome was under increasing pressure on its borders from "barbarians". Nearly 100 years ago, Nietzsche asked "Where are the barbarians?". I think that he would consider his question answered if he were alive today. Are we now at the dawn of a Pax Americana--a lasting period of domestic peace sustained only by warfare on the periphery? Or are we at the close of that era (the Post-WWII golden age of America)?? Perhaps this quote provides the best summary, as it seems to fit well into history's self-similarity across time:

"Although things did seem to be getting better, there were problems on the horizon. Barbarian pressures were mounting. There was a considerable decline in the slave population and the army was no longer large enough to maintain the frontier."

Taken from Steven Kries' "Lectures on Ancient and Medieval European History" , it describes the state of Rome at the death of Marcus Aurelius.

On a loosely related note, if you haven't already read Michael Parenti's "The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome", I highly recommend it for its insight and timely nature.


Jason Godesky said...

In The Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan spends a good deal of time in a very interesting sociological/anthropological survey of the Roman Empire. He makes the case that Rome effectively "exported" its violence to the periphery. Peace in the heartland was won at the price of much greater strife on the borders. The Roman Peace was only peaceful for Italians.

Similarly, the American Peace is only peaceful for Americans. Our peace and prosperity is bought at the price of the world's suffering.

Of course, simple physics would tell you this is not a stable configuration, and just as the Pax Romana crumbled, so too will the PAx Americana.

Hopefully, more quickly. We are running up on constraints the Romans didn't have to worry about--ecological limits to growth that may soon check not just the American Empire, but civilization itself.

Anonymous said...

You ask in your article whether we are at the dawn of a Pax Americana period.

About a year ago an American man in the Boston airport told me that a lot of americans were outraged by the war in Irak because they thought it was the first time the US invaded another country like that. I was surprised to hear that then and I am surprised to read your article now.

The dawn of a period. It´s funny that you think of it as something that is just beginning. Outside the US feels like it has been going on for quite a while.

The pax americana left numerous countries in pieces that cannot be put back together in Latin America during the second part of the 20th century. Now it might changed scenario but it´s the same play.

And it isnt good and it isnt bad. It is what it is. History repeating itself, perhaps. The everlasting human drama. But its definitely not "just beginning".

It´s definitely not dawning.

Jeff Vail said...

The Romans fought over 300 years of wars around their periphery before the domestic Pax Romana dawned for think... so the suggestion that Pax Americana may now be dawning doesn't seem unreasonable to me -- after all, the concept has nothing to do with the level of "peace" in the rest of the world, just as it didn't in Roman times.

That said, the question was asked in a rather rhetorical manner: the quote that follwed suggested that the Pax Romana ended as "barbarian" pressures mounted on the periphery -- just as they are now at the periphery of the American Empire. I suppose that I was following Quinn's maeutic method, so I wasn't that clear. There is too much, let me sum up: we (those who live under the umbrella of the American Empire, to inlcude Western Europe & Japan) are at the END of the Pax Americana...

Steve Lobacz said...

I'm looking for the spelling of a word associated with the Socratic method of teaching that means "midwifery." It is spelled something like: maeutic. Any suggestions on where to find correct spelling?


Steve Lobacz