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Published on: October 11, 2014
Life and Death on the Frontier
Obama and Commodus

The Roman Emperor Commodus turned away from a fight against barbarians along the frontier to take up more rewarding domestic pursuits. It didn’t work out so well for the Emperor.

Jakub Grygiel is the George H.W. Bush Senior Associate Professor of International Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
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  • Vadim Pashkov

    Brilliant historical reference

  • Arkeygeezer

    Good historical comparison, but there are some differences. Commodus left an enemy on Rome’s frontier. I don’t see an organized army facing us in Mexico or Canada.

    Commodus’s disengagement left a vast region of instability in the northern Roman empire that took more money and soldiers to re-take. The middle east is not part of an American Empire. The people of the U.S. have no desire to govern the middle east; even if some of our pundits and bureaucrats do.

    • Gene

      Keep flogging those straw men, but be careful not to smoke while doing so.

    • RonRonDoRon

      “Commodus left an enemy on Rome’s frontier. I don’t see an organized army facing us in Mexico or Canada”

      The world is much smaller now. In practical terms (transportation and communication), the Middle East is closer to NYC and DC than the northern frontier was to Imperial Rome.

      As for the Middle East not being part of an American empire, don’t overburden the analogy. An analogy only illustrates certain similarities; an analogy is not an equivalence.

      • J. G.

        Also empires differ over time, though all seem to have one central element: a super power in control of much of “his” part of the world. Responsible for order and mutually profitable commerce in his sphere. Our empire is one of commerce, stitched together in alliances, political, military and economic. Still an empire, nonetheless. And today it encompasses most of the world. The oil rich middle east is a very important element in that world.

      • Kent R Crawford

        Your last is definitely true! And while obama is not defending our geographical frontiers, he is also ignoring the fact that, in the modern world, our frontiers are just a few hours flight away. So our defenses against the rising barbarism in the world begins at the Consulates giving travel Visas, and the airports where the planes are boarded.

    • What-Me-Worry?

      “I don’t see an organized army facing us in Mexico or Canada.”

      It doesn’t take much organization to wreak havoc when borders are insecure, and a small number of individuals are capable of mass killing.

  • Didn’t Russell Crowe get this guy once?

    • Redleg7

      Someone tell Russell the job is only half done.

    • Curious Mayhem

      No, it was Joaquin Phoenix, playing Commodus, who offs his father, Marcus Aurelius, in the movie. Russell Crowe plays the Roman general whose career, family, and life are destroyed; he becomes a gladiator, because that’s the only honorable thing left for him. It’s a Roman way of looking at the world, not totally comprehensible to us today.

  • Leor

    Comparing Obama to the most incompetent Emperor in Roman history is a tad histrionic. For all his
    faults, I can’t exactly see No-Drama Obama meeting his end in a gladiator arena. Plus that would make Bush 43 Marcus Aurelius, which…well I just don’t know where to begin there.

    Hadrian seems a more apt comparison. He saw an over-stretched empire and a people exhausted of war, and saw a need for retrenchment. Hadrian’s decision to pull back was based on a calculated assessment of the limits of his own power, as opposed to Commodus’s utter self-absorption and supine lack of resolve.
    Hadrian also seemed to have as warm relations with Israel as Obama (*rimshot*). In any event, it’s not as if Hadrian’s peace policy was much better than Commodus. He put off all the hard decisions and left
    an emaciated army that couldn’t face the barbarian threat when it did come.

    • RonRonDoRon

      Commodus didn’t die in the arena – that was movie fiction. Commodus was assassinated while bathing – by strangling.

      • Guest

        Most Democrats abhor history and get their education while dinning on pop-corn at movie theatres

        • Leor

          The irony is that I convinced myself that I had gotten it from a book I’m reading, not the movie. I actually had to go back to the index and double check. (Frank McLynn’s Marcus Aurelius. Highly recommended. Despite my mangling of its facts.) Strange how the mind works. I did remembered that the man who killed him was named Narcissus, not Maximus. Yet somehow the actual manner of Commodus’s death didn’t register. And I still thought Narcissus was a gladiator at least, but no, it was his trainer. So, yeah, I sticked the landing there.

      • Redleg7

        Well, you are saying there is still a chance Bobo might meet his end in a Chicago bath house?

      • Leor

        D’oh. Point taken.

    • mkegino

      Gay Barry is a wuss and a pervert, more like Nero or Caligula.

    • JustMom

      not to mention, Bush didn’t hand Obama any power. We, the people did. That is sad.

    • Nemo_of_Erehwon

      Some might prefer to compare Obama to Hadrian. I refute all such comparisons thusly: Hadrian’s soul mate was the young man Antinous, in stark contrast to Michelle, who is no longer young.

    • What-Me-Worry?

      Grygiel’s comparison is not meant to be an historical tit-for-tat. We can all find enough disparities between the ancient and modern characters he presents to counter his main point. But his choice of Commodus to make the case about Obama is right on target.

      Your attempt to pick through his presentation and point out historical contradictions, though impressive, demonstrates how denial and delusion can reach such a high level of sophistication. If the White House runs short of sycophants, which is unlikely with this President, they may be calling you for help.

  • Pete


  • ShadrachSmith

    I’ve never considered Marcus Aurelius a good man precisely because he failed to adopt a worthy successor. His wife and son were absolute horror shows from day one, and Marcus empowered them to do their worst.

    And that is the Commodus link for me, the man who couldn’t run a book club ascending to be the most powerful man on earth. I could make a better comparison to Tiberius, who stumbled into the job and whose singular accomplishment was indulging himself on the Isle of Capri as lord of the Villa Jovis. Golf hadn’t been invented yet.

    • Tom Servo

      The Romans never figured out an effective method of succession; that’s always one of the great downfalls of an authoritarian, imperial system. Monarchies latch onto familial ties because it at least provides predictability, although that system has also elevated a great number morons to power, and that’s apparently what Marcus A. did.

      The problem isn’t really that a bad man got elevated to a position of power, the problem is a political and societal system that allowed any one man to have so much power. Power that is diffuse is difficult to abuse – power that is concentrated in one set of hands is always abused, sooner or later.

      And today the sycophants are chanting their cries for the Dear Leader to have more power, more power, more power! Amazing how the same old mistakes keep getting made over and over again.

      • ShadrachSmith

        Gibbon’s choice was monarchy, his theory was that good and bad leaders happen anyway, and a clear line of succession would at least avoid a few wars.

      • Curious Mayhem

        Very true — legitimate succession was a real problem in the Roman empire. The empire (imperium Romanum) never had a legal basis, actually, as formal legality had broken down at the end of Republic and was never restored — frequently invoked, but never put back on its pedastal.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Tiberius had little boys on Capri for that, at least if you believe Suetonius and Tacitus.

  • Anthony

    Comparison though interesting (from geopolitical point of view) may be neither applicable nor analogous (story of Rome’s frontiers….). Technically, U.S. is not an empire and anarchy and chaos in various hot spots throughout world are not solely U.S. obligation to end or contain. However as it relates to maintaining functioning world order and U.S. indispensable role, perhaps imposing stability on far flung frontiers may well be in our strategic interest. In that case, implication of author’s essay (mission creep to forestall future problems) all out war against ISIS despite no real power centers from which to leverage our interests – nations (potential allies) are freer to pursue their own interests which may not coincide with ours – requires more apt comparison.

  • wildbillcuster

    This analogy is a stretch, and shouldn’t it be courtiers and not ‘courtesans’?

  • The Gimlet Eye

    ” And we will have our vengeance – in this life, or the next. “

    • Jamocha Quebus

      Should be in front of the ISIS flag

      • Stop Obamunism Now

        Can there be any doubt that based on his own words and actions since 2009, Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim Sympathizer, if not a full-blown MEMBER of The Muslim Brotherhood. “ISIL are NOT Islamic”?
        Oh really Mister Obama, than what ARE they, MORMONS, like Mitt Romney?

        He’s ordered the Navy to expend almost our whole supply of Cruise Missiles and for aircraft to drop bombs, but VERY FEW actual ISIS/L fighters are dying. Why would that be…? By design, that’s how.
        The Islamic Caliphate will be allowed to spread and Mister Obama is the one allowing that. All the while PRETENDING to be destroying them, for the sake of getting his flagging Poll-Numbers up again…

        • Jamocha Quebus

          The video’s you see on the Lamestream Media of vehicles being blown up are probably the forces fighting against ISIS

  • Genesis 11:9

    I read with disappointment those comments below that seek to differentiate Commodus from our current Commander in Chief. To do so is only to intentionally miss the point, and to my lights suggests the thinking of the “sycophantic courtesans” (properly, courtiers) described in the article. There can’t be much argument that abandoning the Middle East has emboldened the enemy, or that they have any meaningful understanding of why we fled the field. Further, to distinguish the current situation on the grounds that America is “not an empire”, hardly addresses the issue presented, especially in light of the conditional falsity of the assertion. Yes, let us rather compare Obama to Hadrian, or even Marcus Aurelius himself, even though we must do so on very thin threads indeed because it is pleasant to do so, and the perquisite of the elite, than admit that our young Commander has neither the talent, the will nor the intelligence to conclude this historic battle on honorable terms.

  • No need to go back THAT far—2nd Century AD—to find comparable fools-in-leadership-clothing . . . just go back to the 1930’s when even then, there was a form of political correctness. The powers-that-be pooh-poohed Mr. Hitler’s machinations and usurpations as just harmless feints; don’t want to be mean to Adolph, that wouldn’t be nice, i.e. PC; he’s just a fella that want PEACE.

    So, the incompetents-in-leadership frittered away their time, money & military prowess whilst they enjoyed the elitist-way-of-life & all the perks such life affords.

    Unfortunately, their high-life ended badly when the Nazi’s indeed, turned out to be the barbarians Churchill pegged them as, but by that time the vaulted elitist leaders were backed into a corner, cowering at the very thought of facing REALITY.

    History DOES repeat itself when IGNORANCE of it puts into office yet another elitist such a Obama, who wants to rule the world, but doesn’t have the brains, the character nor the courage to step into the battle and get his nicely-manicured hands dirty.

    The reminiscence of the effete European ‘leadership’ of pre-WWII is all the further back we need to go to understand WHY we’re in the mess we’re in today.

    • Rational_Db8

      Even more recent, look at the Gulf War. If Bush Sr. had gone ahead and removed Saddam instead of stopping with a cease fire, he would have been accused of meddling in a foreign countries government and installing a puppet leader I’m sure – but we likely wouldn’t have ever had to go back into Iraq for GWII. Then Obama/Biden fail to negotiate a Status of Forces agreement to leave some of our troops there and pulls out entirely instead, and now we have ISIS and Iraq is begging us to send in ground troops!

      • The Gulf War was a UN operation, with the US bearing the brunt of the military forces involved. The UN called a ceasefire once Saddam was thrown out of Kuwait (the entire premise of The Gulf War). Bush merely acceded to UN authority. I think Bush was wrong to allow the UN to call off the operation and allow Saddam to remain in power, but that’s what happens when you get in bed militarily with the UN.

        • Rational_Db8

          Thanks Rick – I hadn’t recalled that the UN was the one who made that decision. Makes sense, however.

    • Canus Maximus

      Except for Sir Winston Churchill, backwatered politically at that time, the political cohort entering the mid-1930’s was traumatized by WWI, the war to end all wars. So their reluctance to return to arms was understandable, especially the French who lost an entire generation of the most talented men. Hindsight makes your case, and Neville Chamberlain became the scapegoat — but just the same, Churchill’s warnings were heeded only after Germany’s aggression became an existential threat.

      We are without excuse. We have been so disarmed by multiculturalism and self-loathing of our virtues we won’t fight because Mr. Obama has convinced the nation there is nothing worth fighting for — as anything we might defend will be construed as defending white privilege.

      • Rich K

        I will bet he would be engaged if golf courses around the country were suddenly under daily assault from terrorists.

  • RonRonDoRon

    Reading comments below, I see that too many think that an analogy is worthless unless it fits perfectly. An analogy is not an equivalence – it simply illustrates some point or points of similarity.

  • Jamocha Quebus

    Obama IS A commode (For you Democrats, that’s another word for a toilet)

    • Stop Obamunism Now

      That’s appropriate since I say “Everything Barack Obama touches turns into a stinking pile of poop!”

      • Redleg7

        or ” a hot, steaming pile of Pelosi.”

        • Stop Obamunism Now


        • Rational_Db8

          Pelosi and Reid are disgusting. But perhaps the greater threat it Hillary…

          BREAKING NEWS!!!! The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by investigators at a major U.S. research university. The new element has been named Hillarium. The chemical symbol of Hillarium is Bs.

          Hillarium has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0. However, it does have one neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons and 111 assistant vice neutrons, which gives it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

          Hillarium’s mass actually increases over time, as morons randomly interact with various elements in the atmosphere and become assistant deputy neutrons within the Hillarium molecule, leading to the formation of isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientist to believe that Hillarium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as Critical Morass. When catalyzed with money, Hillarium activates CNNadnausium and MSNBCobnoxium, elements that radiates orders of magnitude more energy, albeit as incoherent noise, since each has half as many peons but twice as many morons as Hillarium. Hillarium has also been reported in some war torn countries to inexplicably draw sniper fire out of thin air where no snipers are present, and to cause shoes to catapult across the room as a result of intense attraction to Hillarium.

          Since it has no electrons, Hillarium is inert. However, it can be detected chemically as it impedes every reaction it comes in contact with. According to the discoverers, a minute amount of Hillarium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would have normally occurred in less than a second. Paradoxically, in the presense of anti-morons, Hillarium is highly corrosive. The presence of Hillarium is also easily detected using Gagger Counters.

          Hillarium has a normal half-life of approximately four years, at which time it does not decay, but instead undergoes a transmutation, appearing in a new location but displaying the same properties. In this process, assistant neutrons, vice neutrons and assistant vice neutrons exchange places. Some studies have shown that the atomic mass actually increases after each transmutation.

          Research at other laboratories indicates that Hillarium occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government agencies, large corporations, and universities. It can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

          Scientists point out that Hillarium is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is allowed to accumulate. Human mortalities have resulted from exposure to Hillarium. Hillarium threatens to become a pandemic by 2016. Infection symptoms need to be more thoroughly researched, but appear to include a loss of all logical and critical thinking abilities, loss of all consideration for others, onset of paranoia and conspiracy theory predilections (commonly heard are protestations of a “vast right wing conspiracy” and a “War on Women” — in which ironically Kennedy has the first confirmed kill), and, of course, the already noted tendency towards fatalities.

          Generous use of prophylactic doses of intense reality as soon as possible after possible exposure to Hilarium is a prudent and wise precaution. Large doses of Fiscal and Constitutional Conservatism may be particularly useful. Encourage all your friends and family to take similar precautions, and vote for candidates in 2014 and 2016 who will work to protect us from the possible scourge of a Hillarium pandemic. Attempts are being made to determine how Hillarium can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.

          • Stop Obamunism Now

            Very creative. You took it a bit too far, but five stars for originality!!

      • Scott Johnson

        I would rather have Flava Flav running the country than Obama.

        • Stop Obamunism Now

          I’m sorry. Either I’m too old and out of touch, or am living in the wrong part of the country…
          What’s a “Flava Flav”?

          • Tom Servo

            heh heh – I know, and I almost agree with Scott, here’s my only disagreement:

            Scott, what’s the difference? Okay, Flava Flav is funnier.

          • Stop Obamunism Now

            Google didn’t help. I guess I’ll never get the joke…

    • devan95

      And a commie.

    • Curious Mayhem

      It’s very comfortable, however you spell it 🙂

  • J. G.

    Rome was an empire with far flung borders to defend. I guess we are also one now. I would prefer we were only a republic and not an empire and I suppose Obama and his advisers would also prefer we were just that and not the super power of the world and keeper of world order. Unfortunately the nature of the world does not allow us that luxury.

    • What-Me-Worry?

      Even if we disengage from the middle east, as this administration
      wants, we will be followed by multiple threats from outside and inside
      our borders. The real plague facing America and Western civilization is
      much broader and deeper than foreign entanglements.

      The problem is the Left. The problem is Democrats.

    • Scott Johnson

      Rome didn’t have drones, the Trident submarine or the Neutron bomb. When ISIS arrives on our shores and slaughters 1000, or a nuke blows up NYC, then the will will be found for a Trident to rise up in the gulf, and end it all for the goathearders. Then we can pump all their oil for realz. They have no idea the giant they will awaken.

      • Tom Servo

        When ISIS arrives on our shores and slaughters 1000, Obama will get down on his knees and offer to pay them tribute, if only they’ll promise to be nice to us.

  • themaskedblogger

    Yes, there’s a lesson in that. I like Mark Twain’s line: history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.

    • Redleg7

      I always like the phrase ” History doesn’t repeat … but it echos.”

  • joules48084

    Given the stories floating out of the White House about Obama and his escapades, I’m wondering if a better analogy would be that of Caligula and his horse, Incitatus.

    My understanding is that Caligula appointed Incitatus to the Roman Senate; whose performance I’m sure was very analogous to that of Harry Reid’s in our Senate (not to mention that of Nancy Pelosi, whose representation of Incitatus’s ‘south end’ has been particularly convincing).

    • Jamocha Quebus

      I’ve lived in Las Vegas since 76′ and watched it go from a staunch conservative state to a liberal cesspool thanks to the influx of reeking liberals from the west of us. Hairless Weed is a human tick that feeds off of the decline of American Values. I have it on good authority that Hairless, Joe , and Barry don turbans at night, alone in the West wing of the White house. They run around in the nude screaming “WE ARE ISIS, WE ARE ISIS”. Nancy Pelosi then jumps out from behind a couch and they ALL engage in a wild sword fight…if you know what I mean.

  • Stop Obamunism Now

    Those who do not study history and it’s important lessons are doomed to fall into a trap and pay a high price…
    Utopian Liberalism has little use for HISTORY, FACTS and Logical Analysis of events. It’s all about doing what FEELS right.

    In America today…… “Abandoning our place as a powerful force for good in the world, because Liberals think that is ‘Imperialistic’, Legalizing Recreational Drugs, Government provided Birth Control and if that fails, Government provided Abortions-on-Demand, National Legalization of Gay/Lesbian Marriage, even though the LGBT community makes up less than 2% of the US population. The “Media” have advanced the notion that Big Government Socialism (where the Government will take 75% of your income in taxes) is the way of the future and that the US Constitution is ‘an old dusty out-of-date document to be put aside. All of these things together show America in a “Cultural Death Spiral”, which from a moral perspective mirrors what happened to the once incredible Roman Empire. It rotted from within….

    Obama has listened to his flighty, inexperienced advisers almost from day one. And, here we are.

    • Rational_Db8

      Obama is the symptom. The disease is an ignorant electorate where far too many haven’t got a clue about the founding principles of this nation, or the basics of civics. So they elect a man-child with zero experience and highly questionable background of radical friends and associations throughout his life. Worse, they re-elect him after an utterly dismal first term performance. He’s an utter disgrace to the office, but the really scary thing is the state of our electorate – that’s far more difficult to fix.

      • Stop Obamunism Now

        Here’s something that may keep you up at night RDb8….

        MILLIONS of Obama’s worshipers would crawl through razor blades to vote for a THIRD Obama term.
        If only he could change the rules to allow it, like Gwenneth wants him to be able to do.

  • SolidCitizen

    The Obama legacy will be judged for his turning away from the hard truths of radical islam, that were clearly understood by the previous administration. Political correctness and anti-americanism have caused liberals to abandon their core values, human rights, equal rights, tolerance, etc when dealing with Theocracy, they are blind to the hypocrisy. The Roman Empire parallel is stretched too far. The Romans didn’t try to forget the Barbarians were Barbarians, and forbid with political correctness the teaching of true nature of Barbarians, as I see it the Romans made a Cost Benefit Judgment and Outsourced the fighting. Romans always were cognizant of their own culture, its superiority, and the evil of Barbarism… Which seems to be a key distinction between ancient and modern times.

  • EM10

    What many don’t realize is that the barbarians did not conquer Rome militarily.
    Rome collapsed from within, by profligate spending and so devaluing its currency
    (by mixing lead with silver coins in those days) that eventually merchants and
    even soldiers refused to accept it.
    When you cannot even buy the loyalty of your soldiers, the end is inevitable.

    When the US currency collapses because we can’t pay our bills and instead just print paper dollars
    the turmoil in the global economy, riots, revolutions and wars, will make the collapse of
    the Roman Empire look like a day at the beach.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Yes, that’s correct. The real problem was the Roman empire was just too large. The late Roman ruling class was aware of this, but they couldn’t come up with a full solution in time. And there are basic political and economic facts that they did not seem to understand.

      • Tom Servo

        “but they couldn’t come up with a full solution in time.”

        Yup. They only had 500 years to work on the problem.

        • Curious Mayhem


          Actually, they had from the late second century to the late fourth century, about 200 years during the critical period after Marcus Aurelius’ death. Half of that was consumed by civil wars and religious conflicts. There was a fourth century recovery, albeit at the high price of repressive political and economic controls.

          By the fifth century, it was over, and the empire was in terminal decline. A fair portion of the population understood something had gone irredeemably wrong and fled the cities for the countryside and the protection of warlords, as the imperial order collapsed. Thus were born the Dark Ages.

          • Del_Varner

            Actually, it was only the western half that declined, the eastern (Greek speaking) half stood for quite some time under the rubric of the Byzantine Empire. Additionally, the term “Dark Ages” is a pejorative coined by “Enlightenment” writers. For further reading on this I suggest looking at the works of Rodney Stark. In many ways it was a boon to Western Civilization to be out from the thumb of the slave-based economy and rule of Imperial Rome.

          • Curious Mayhem

            Yes, I know, the Dark Ages were just in the West, which had a less defensible position than the East and which was poorer and less populated.

            It’s fair to call western Europe from about 500 to about 800 or 900 a “dark age.” I think what you mean is that historians no longer paint with such a prejudicial brush the later medieval and high-medieval periods. In fact, the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance are nowadays treated, correctly, as a single unit.

  • Historybuff

    Good story… good History… and a good reminder of what will happen when leaders shirk their responsibilities.

    Just like obama is doing.

  • A Very Dapper Raptor

    I always thought Eliogabalus was closer to Obama.

    • Nemo_of_Erehwon

      I dunno, wasn’t he a Sun worshipper, rather than a worshipper of himself?

      • A Very Dapper Raptor

        Depends on which historian you ask. I was thinking more in terms of failing to live up to the expectations he himself established.

        • Curious Mayhem

          Perhaps he thought he was the sun, in which case, sun-worship and self-worship merge. Sort of the way Caligula thought he was Zeus.

          • A Very Dapper Raptor

            I admit it’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it works better than the Commodus one, who I feel has always gotten a bum rap for not being his father.

          • Curious Mayhem

            Are any of us our fathers? “-)

  • What-Me-Worry?

    “I don’t see an organized army facing us in Mexico or Canada.”

    It doesn’t take much organization to wreak havoc when borders are insecure, and a small number of individuals are capable of mass killing.

  • Curious Mayhem

    Gibbon counts the father of Commodus, Marcus Aurelius, as the last great pagan emperor of Rome and starts his story of decline from his death. Although Gibbon does have a lot of fun with the story of Heliogabalus ….

  • What-Me-Worry?

    It’s long overdue for our Commodus to turn away from his sycophants and start listening to a new Pompeianus. But I fear there may not be a Pompeianus anywhere to be found in the nest of sycophants that this disastrous and destructive president inhabits.

  • What-Me-Worry?

    Grygiel’s comparison is not meant to be an historical tit-for-tat. We can all find enough disparities between the ancient and modern characters he presents to counter his main point. But his choice of Commodus to make the case about Obama is right on target.

    Your attempt to pick through his presentation and point out historical contradictions, though impressive, demonstrates how denial and delusion can reach such a high level of sophistication. If the White House runs short of sycophants, which is unlikely with this President, they may be calling you for help.

  • Fritz

    Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

  • Jeremy Goldberg

    Too bad we don’t have any “Older and wiser advisers, appointed by” the previous ruler. All we have are the reckless warmongers who left most of Iraq as an Iranian-dominated mess. But I agree that Obama’s entire Middle East policy has been utterly feckless from start to finish.

  • Twoiron

    Where is our American “Maximus?”

  • Headbangerguy

    “Every man is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies himself.”

    – Marcus Aurelius circa 167 AD on the fund raising, scapegoating, jiving, golf playin’, coveruping, and lying Barack Obama.

  • devan95

    All Obama knows how to do is promote the radical Democrat’s pacifistic agenda of appeasement and surrender to help their chances in the upcoming election.

  • smedley

    The difference is that Commodus was white and Obama is black and according to all my university education a black president automatically solves all problems because he is respected in the world. Saying otherwise is racist, that be how I gets an A ins my classsess

  • Claraver

    IS have issued a new decree today. “Stab the Crusader”

  • teapartydoc

    Very good old movie on this: The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964.

  • Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus

    Great historical description of the failure that is the Obama administration.

    The only problem is that since it involves an historical allusion to something that wasn’t featured on the Daily Show, there’s not a liberal alive in this country who will actually understand it.

    “Commodus? Well, it’s a good thing Maximus killed him in that gladiator fight!”

  • kalendjay

    What happened in the centuries after Commodus to Rome is equally enlightening, relating to efforts to bribe the Marcomani (pre-Germans) into peace.

    Rome’s fondness for taxes led to the rise of the equites, or “horsemen”. The term in modern English implies an investment stake, but really originates from the stake that mercenaries bought and paid for , for the right to collect taxes by force from the peasantry. Eventually many peasants joined the mobile barbarians to escape this taxation and earn a living, by banditry. Many also joined monasteries to earn a humble living that produced no taxable monies. The Church benefitted, becoming a state within its own right, alongside increasingly feckless emperors, who could no longer unify or expand the empire, much less comprise a narrative of leadership or history that we associate with the Roman Republic.

    Obama’s state funded courtship of ‘undocumented workers’, and lack of inhibition of expanding government, but great inhibition at confronting or challenging the pride of foreign, non-western cultures, are alarming indeed. And no one denies O’s sybarritic (did I spell that right?) impulses of power.

    Maybe the US has never been more imperial as when it adopted its closest equivalent to Commodus.

  • qet

    This is why Russell Crowe should have been made Emperor.

    • Curious Mayhem

      You know, when that movie came out in 2000, I saw a steady stream of middle-aged women going to watch it over and over.

      Russell Crowe solves the gender gap!

  • J R Yankovic

    IMO a brilliant piece, whatever one’s take on Rome’s longevity prospects. And my regrets on coming so late to this thread.

    In fact, I’m not sure a better essay of this length could have been written on the subject without more specifically naming names, cultures, places, etc. Of course, if one’s own civilization IS engaged in a life-and-death struggle with barbarians, it always helps that it be better than semi-barbarous itself. It also helps that it shouldn’t be moving consistently further in a semi-barbarous direction even as it thinks it’s becoming more civilized (please re-cf. Dr Garfinkle, http://www.the-american-interest.com/garfinkle/2014/10/04/american-sex-and-the-middle-east/,
    for some eloquent – and amusing as always – thoughts on the subject). A lot of our current PC/multicultural agendas – and especially those of an anti-Western, post-Christian or anti-Zionist slant – seem premised on the notion that the more PC we become, the more we both widen the boundaries and deepen the effects of civilized norms and ideals. I wish I could be so sure. Not to think too monocausally, but don’t the results so far seem just the opposite?

    Another useful point, I think, to bear in mind in this highly technical and specialized age (specialized, some would argue, to the point of self-barbarization):

    Assuming that a war for civilization is also a war on behalf of the “better nature” of everybody (including our enemies), it might help not to rule out, or “write off” too quickly, certain non-specialist kinds of talent, types of individual, or segments of a country’s population. In plainer English, if it’s everyone’s struggle, so to speak, then surely every WILLING individual – everyone who sees and is concerned about the threat – has SOME part to play, and gift to contribute? Surely the more of THEM on board the better?

    Or then again, even here – in a battle of ideals and ways of life – should we confine our goals to the usual military/political/technical (semi-)solutions?
    And restrict our staff (both paid and unpaid) to the usual politicians, wonks, military, technology and information specialists, economists, and assorted think tankers? I suppose one might just as well go on in the same old groove – assuming anyone is really satisfied with the results thus far. But as I recall, many ages ago, wasn’t a certain Fulton J Sheen – about as NON-technical a specialist as you can get – of invaluable help in the real (i.e., spiritual) war against the fashionable barbarity of the day, Communism?

    That said, now if only we could convince our Western elites – both right- and left-of-center and everything in between – that barbarism can have a Sunni Islamist, as well as a Russian or Iranian (maybe even a mainland
    Chinese?) face. And that of the four, it may well be the first that ends up
    being both the most brutal and the most seductively insidious (brutality, if I’m not mistaken, having its undoubted attractions to a semi-barbarous Age like ours). In which event, might we want to re-consider the semi-barbarous Russians and semi-civilized Chinese as not just geopolitical rivals and commercial outlaws, but for certain – albeit VERY limited – purposes, even as allies? I’ll admit neither one seems overly promising in its present state (no more than Hitler’s Germany was a credible ally – not to any humanely thinking mind, anyway – against Stalin’s Soviet Union). In fact, there is only one way I can picture either Russia or China being of any use in the spiritual war against hell-on-earth-in-the-service-of-“God” barbarism: It is for each to stop regarding its people as so much cannon- or corporation-fodder (yes, I believe in dreaming boldly). More broadly speaking, it is for Russians and Chinese to start thinking of themselves less as civilization-states – consisting of infinitely expendable/expandable populations, territory and resources – and more along the lines of nation-states. Like, well, Israel, for instance. A state that, whatever its faults (and I’m sure they are many), at least considers its citizens to be its one most precious resource – and so, contrary to certain global corporate models, not a thing to be lightly wasted, squandered, or even gambled with. I’m not saying such a model would satisfy everyone’s dreams of “national” glory in either Russia or China. But it would give them the competitive advantage of being morally better than – instead of just morally comparable to – the present enemies of the human race.

    So now, where to go for a concrete, living model of a cohesive nation? Let’s see: hmmmm – Israelis won’t do, for obvious reasons. Oh, but wait a minute – who else COULD there be? Other than, of course, us good old Yanks?

    As they say, good luck with that.

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