History Rhymes- The 2nd American Civil War

You’ll often hear how history repeats. This isn’t exactly true though- history merely rhymes. Similar patterns emerge across the eras and this should allow us to avoid certain mistakes. Hiegel said every important event in human history happens twice, and Marx added the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Americans in particular have a great teacher when it comes to history- the Roman Republic. American in so many ways IS a modern version of the Roman Republic. The founding fathers based a lot of the US government on the Roman model. To prove this point let’s run through some similarities

  1. The office of President was designed to be similar to the Roman office of Consul. Things like term limits, commanding the military, and veto power.
  2. The electoral college was based on the Roman voting system which worked in a similar way
  3. The idea of a veto started with Rome
  4. Filabusters were a Roman creation, used to stall a vote on legislation
  5. The American Senate is based on the Roman Senate. They function similarly, voting to approve legislation.
  6. The US legal system is based on the Roman legal system.
  7. The first Republic in history was the Roman Republic. The very foundation of Republicanism started with Rome.
  8. The Bill of Rights is based on the Roman 12 tables which sat in a public forum for all to see.

These are just a few similarities between our systems. In terms of culture, there are some striking similarities as well such as

  1. The Romans viewed themselves as the most civilization society on earth. They had rights, the elected their judges, and they were free of tyrants. They ferociously defended this system and were extremely proud of it.
  2. The Romans loved to drink and party. They loved big holidays with gifts and feasts.
  3. Money bought you a lot in Rome. You could be a very powerful person if you had the coin.
  4. The Roman people were extremely adaptive and innovative. If something wasn’t working they abandoned it with haste and fully adopted new methods.

Now there were obviously differences. Rome was a 2000-year-old civilization and life was far different. In terms of how the Roman system worked there were slight variations on everything. America is not a direct 100% copy but it is an evolution on the same system.

So why am I going into all of this? Well given the history the US is following the same pattern the Romans did, and the Roman pattern ended with civil war and the rise of authoritarianism.

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Similar to the US Rome started as a small regional power surrounded by tribal groups who were less technologically advanced. Over a short time and after 2 large continent spanning conflicts Rome rapidly expanded to encompass the entire Mediterranean.

With this expansion, certain Romans became extravagantly rich while others became extremely poor. As these poor Romans began to agitate for reform 2 political parties were created.

The first party called themselves the Populares (populists) and they focused on reforms to help the lower classes. The second party called themselves Optimates (the best) and they focused on helping rich Romans and protecting Roman traditions.

Unknown to the Romans this new partisan slant would be their undoing.

You see political parties can be a good thing. They will always oppose one another but they can do it in a healthy way.

In Rome, these parties started out as a good thing. They fought only in the Senate and they saw each other as fellow Romans with different goals.

As time went on though leaders of these parties started to break the rules and manipulate the system to get their way. This caused conflict between the parties and this conflict escalated. They went from opponents to rivals, and then finally to mortal enemies.

Suddenly the dynamic shifted radically. The parties now saw each other as a threat to Rome- as enemies that must be eradicated at all costs.

When you view your political rivals as an enemy, as a threat to your nation you can justify anything. Why would you compromise or accept the opinions of threats? Suddenly violence and censorship are easily justified as necessary actions to save the nation.

This is what happened in Rome. The traditional peaceful protests turned into violent clashes. Election results were disputed and manipulated. All the rules were broken and the parties broke down into warring factions.

The government became ineffective and corrupt. Nothing could get done, no agreement could be found.

In addition, the parties increasingly rallied behind leaders rather than ideals. The ideological basis of the parties started to come second to the powerful men that led these groups.

Can you see where I am going with this?

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Now in Rome, everything fell apart when these political leaders gain the loyalty of the legions and started a civil war. Thankfully in the US there are no legions and we do not appoint party leaders as on the ground generals.

However, it would never have mattered who the legions were loyal too if the underlying Roman system hadn’t broken so badly. May I also remind you that the US has already fought a civil war even without legions. Soldiers are not automatons and they may mutiny or defect in the wake of civil conflict.

In essence, the US is following a similar pattern. The political climate is not just contentious it’s openly hostile. Turn on CNN or Fox News, the mouthpieces of partisan America. They do not treat the other side as political opponents, they treat them as mortal enemies that must be eradicated and destroyed.

The pattern here is clear.

  1. A nation becomes large and powerful, however, the wealth is not distributed totally fairly and a small set of people benefit more than everyone else
  2. Political parties emerge- one clamoring for change, the other protecting the establishment. Both are wrong and right- the path is unclear.
  3. The political parties begin to revolve around leaders more than ideals
  4. The parties begin to see one another as threats to national survival
  5. Abuses of power, political violence, open resistance, and hostile discourse become norms as the system disintegrates
  6. The parties begin to openly clash creating civil conflict between citizens. The military may get involved, it may take sides, or it may sit most of the fight out. A modern civil war could be an all-encompassing but small scale conflict.

It’s all quite simple really. When the parties (and thus citizens) view each other as threats they can rationalize more and more extreme actions. As time goes on the level of conflict and hostility rises more and more until it evolves into open war. This only ends when the Republic collapses.

That’s what happened in Rome. There was not 1 civil war between the parties- there were many. Each time one side would win but the other side still existed, just in the background rebuilding their platform. Before too long the parties would be at each other's throat once again. This went on until Augustus became one of those leaders and just took over the government and made himself Emperor (called Princeps then).

America is making the exact same mistakes right now. We are following the path of Rome with scary similarities. Negotiation and compromise are a sin now in US politics. Even in the midst of a pandemic and national emergency our politicians bicker and fight. They introduce wild bills under the guise of “helping Americans” and they refuse to negotiate as benefits run out.

I hope I am wrong, I hope this is all me connecting points that are not there. If I am not we have a very violent future in store.

I’ll make it fast. I am a historian by trade. M.A in History. I specialize in all things Roman but at this point I study all sorts of history.