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The Fall of Rome can be interpreted in many ways, and for Victor Davis Hanson the lessons of history resonate more clearly in contemporary circumstances as the parallels between ancient Rome and the modern United States grow.
“More and more people became dependent on redistributive government,” Hanson said, as Rome developed what he described as a “parasitical economy.”
Rome, Hanson said, ignored signals that were present over centuries. The U.S. is facing a much shorter time table.
Hanson, a military historian, pulled no punches.
“It’s hard to screw up a system that’s viable and logical and works in a generation,” Hanson said.
“We’ve become attuned, so accustomed to it that nobody finds it shocking anymore that the President doesn’t just say ‘spread the wealth,’ we’re now up to another level–’you didn’t build that,’” said Hanson.
This way of thinking–that there is something suspect about success–is the perfect setup for what Hanson described as the self-appointed elite technocracy to treat law as “flexible and fluid.” Outcomes based on intentions, in this case, President Barack Obama’s administrative goals, force laws to the sideline, Hanson argued.
How the Roman Republic and later, the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire, ultimately declined, came from inside as much as from outward aggressors.
“The answer is, something changes from within,” said Hanson.
The shift in mood, Hanson argued, could be seen in works by other historians, particularly the left-leaning populist Howard Zinn.
“When society gets into a Howard Zinn mode, and doesn’t believe that the United States is not just not exceptional but is no better than the alternative, then history is unforgiving,” Hanson said.
Other issues like immigration destroy the concept of rule of law, Hanson said. You can not pick and choose which laws to follow and expect good results, he said.
Hanson ended on a positive note, pointing to the “perfect storm of the left” in the 2008 election.
Five years later and even after surviving a reelection challenge, the Obama administration faces sinking polls and a nation in turmoil, Hanson said.
“I think that suggests that America is exceptional,” Hanson said. “If we can withstand this dark period in our country, we’ll be stronger for it.”
A weakness for those on the left, Hanson said, is that “they don’t even believe in the ramifications of their own ideology.”
“It’s contrary to self-interest and human nature,” Hanson said.
Krista Kafer, a senior fellow at the Independence Institute and an expert on education, moderated the one-on-one discussion.
Hanson, a former classics professor, is a contributor for National Review and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.