Victor Davis Hanson, like many others before him (and like) me, sees the unraveling of America portended by Petronius’s The Satyricon (ca. 60 AD):
Certain themes … are timeless and still resonate today.
The abrupt transition from a society of rural homesteaders into metropolitan coastal hubs had created two Romes. One world was a sophisticated and cosmopolitan network of traders, schemers, investors, academics, and deep-state imperial cronies. Their seaside corridors were not so much Roman as Mediterranean. And they saw themselves more as “citizens of the world” than as mere Roman citizens.
In the novel, vast, unprecedented wealth had produced license. On-the-make urbanites suck up and flatter the childless rich in hopes of being given estates rather than earning their own money….
[The] novel’s accepted norms are pornography, gratuitous violence, sexual promiscuity, transgenderism, delayed marriage, childlessness, fear of aging, homelessness, social climbing, ostentatious materialism, prolonged adolescence, and scamming and conning in lieu of working.
The characters are fixated on expensive fashion, exotic foods, and pretentious name-dropping. They are the lucky inheritors of a dynamic Roman infrastructure that had globalized three continents. Rome had incorporated the shores of the Mediterranean under uniform law, science, institutions—all kept in check by Roman bureaucracy and the overwhelming power of the legions, many of them populated by non-Romans.
Never in the history of civilization had a generation become so wealthy and leisured, so eager to gratify every conceivable appetite—and yet so bored and unhappy.
But there was also a second Rome in the shadows. Occasionally the hipster antiheroes of the novel bump into old-fashioned rustics, shopkeepers, and legionaries. They are what we might now call the ridiculed “deplorables” and “clingers.”…
Globalization had enriched and united non-Romans into a world culture. That was an admirable feat. But such homogenization also attenuated the very customs, traditions, and values that had led to such astounding Roman success in the first place….
But the new empire also diluted a noble and unique Roman agrarianism. It eroded nationalism and patriotism. The empire’s wealth, size, and lack of cohesion ultimately diminished Roman unity, as well as traditional marriage, child-bearing, and autonomy….
[W]ide reading ensures erudition and sophistication, and helps science supplant superstition. But sometimes education is also ambiguous. Students become idle, pretentious loafers. Professors are no different from loud pedants. Writers are trite and boring. Elite pundits sound like gasbags.
Petronius seems to imply that whatever the Rome of his time was, it was likely not sustainable—but would at least be quite exciting in its splendid decline.
Petronius also argues that with too much rapid material progress comes moral regress. His final warning might be especially troubling for the current generation of Western Europeans and Americans. Even as we brag of globalizing the world and enriching the West materially and culturally, we are losing our soul in the process.
Getting married, raising families, staying in one place, still working with our hands, and postponing gratification may be seen as boring and out of date. But nearly 2,000 years later, all of that is what still keeps civilization alive.
Hanson omits — because Petronious’s prescience was limited — the end game, in which the glory that was Rome was extinguished by internal rot, military failure, and invasion. The first of those — internal rot –is well underway in the United States, “thanks” to the Democrat Party. The second — military failure — has become more or less a habit since the Korean War — a habit that will resume with the eventual return to power of the Democrat Party. The third — invasion — probably will be accomplished in bloodless form by the determination of China’s leadership, when a Democrat administration (having disarmed the country) accedes to military and economic coercion.
And, ironically (but blessedly) that will put paid to the kinds of excesses that Democrats have fostered in their zeal for (evanescent) power: pornography, gratuitous violence, sexual promiscuity, transgenderism, delayed marriage, childlessness, fear of aging, homelessness, social climbing, ostentatious materialism, prolonged adolescence, and scamming and conning in lieu of working.
America’s virtual state of servitude will also put paid to the last vestiges of liberty in the land, though they would have eventually disappeared under Democrat rule.