Commentary: Bread and Circuses, Then and Now

For decades, I taught a course in European economic history that stressed the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath and spent a couple of lectures talking about the Roman Empire and other ancient civilizations. The Roman Empire lasted over 500 years (by some accounts, even longer) but ultimately declined and fell. Is America and its world leadership (rather than “empire”) undergoing a remarkably similar decline? Is history eerily repeating itself well over a millennium later? 

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Commentary: Christianity Did Not Cause the Fall of the Roman Empire

In The Devil’s Dictionary, the writer Ambrose Bierce offered this definition of History: “An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.”

Before you dismiss Bierce’s cynical perspective, remember that historians are mortals. Some are very good at what they do, others are quite bad at it, and most fall somewhere in between. Even the best of them may find their way to the wrong conclusions. They may over-emphasize some factors while under-emphasizing others or allow their personal biases to color what they write.

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The Roman Republic of 1849: Lessons from a Five-Month Country

by Lawrence W. Reed   The ancient Roman Republic endured for half a millennium before it collapsed into the imperial autocracy we know as the Roman Empire. But did you know there was another Roman Republic only 170 years ago? That second one was much smaller—the city of Rome itself and a portion of the Papal States of central Italy. Its longevity was nowhere near the 500 years of the first. In fact, it lasted only five months, from February 1849 until a French invasion killed it 17 decades ago today—July 3, 1849. Early in the 19th century, the French under Napoleon Bonaparte snuffed out many independent enclaves, including the remarkable Republic of Ragusa and the short-lived Septinsular Republic. The culprit in the demise of the Roman Republic of 1849 was another Napoleon, the nephew of the more famous first one. Here’s the story in a nutshell. The Combination of Church and State The Papal States of the late 1840s constituted a single country united under the Pope’s leadership. It was notorious for corruption, a stunted economy, a huge and politicized police force, and a political apparatus open only to members of the Catholic clergy. With liberal ideas sweeping Europe,…

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