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Empires of Trust: How Rome Built--and America Is Building--a New World Paperback – June 30, 2009
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"An entertaining comparison by an astute historian. . .Gems for history buffs as well as those who have never considered that something that happened before 1900 might matter."
-San Francisco Chronicle
"A breakout book."
-Richard Ellis, author of Founding Fathers
About the Author
Thomas F. Madden is a professor of history and the director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. He has written and lectured extensively on the ancient and medieval Mediterranean as well as on the history of Christianity and Islam. Awards for his scholarship include the Medieval Academy of America's Haskins Medal and the Medieval Institute's Otto Grundler Prize. He is a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Medieval Academy of America. His books include Venice: A New History and Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World.
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Rome, as Madden argues, did not acquire an empire out of a desire to rule over other territories or to exploit their lands. Madden argues that Rome was merely interested in guaranteeing its own peace and security, which necessarily led to its expanding realm. It wanted allies, not enemies, and as a result Rome became a trusted power and was depended on by other states to safeguard their own security and their own way of life. Only in cases where Rome's adversaries posed ongoing threats did Rome find it necessary to destroy its rivals, such as Carthage, for example.
America also had and has a history of isolationist sentiment and has had to accept its role in the world, especially when its own security was threatened as in World War II. America became and remains a trusted power that doesn't seek to deprive other nations of their freedoms, as we ourselves cherish our own. This doesn't mean that other nations love us. To the contrary, because other nations expect us to act in a just fashion, do they feel they can verbally abuse us. If they thought we would deprive them of their sovereignty and destroy their way of life, do you think they would heap this verbal abuse on us? Most likely not. I agree with Madden on this point. Madden uses the Greeks behavior towards the Romans as an example.
Rome did not remain a republic throughout its history. It eventually did come under the rule of emperors, but there were customs and traditions that had been established that even an emperor had to acknowledge. While it is true that all powers do fall, Madden ably argues that those saying America is ready to collapse is a bit premature. Several of the Greek and Roman historians said the same thing about Rome, centuries before it ultimately fell.
Madden also delves into modern day issues such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the War on Terror. He does get into a certain amount of political discourse, but I don't think its obsessively partisan. While readers may have some differing viewpoints on America's role in the world, and I don't always agree with the author, I find his historical knowledge gives his book weight and is important for what lessons it has to offer. An insightful book and certainly worth reading.
His discussion on the Roman experience with Jewish terrorists is somewhat harsher. He makes no significant effort to proscribe a path for America, but his account of Roman efforts is instructive. The Romans essentially resorted to killing all of the Jews in Judea to stop their killing of gentiles. This action was taken only after two centuries of more traditional Roman approaches. Hopefully we will come up with something better, faster.
The implications of this book, if believed, suggest that American's must proceed with great care. Dr. Madden's implicit suggestion is that a transition to an empire of conquest lies ahead for us unless we take care. Arnold Toynbee makes much the same point in his magisterial "A Study of History", when he postulates the life cycle of a civilization. Rome "peaked" as a Republic, then entered into a long decline throughout her Empire phase. Dr. Toynbee's thesis is well supported across two dozen civilizations, so it merits attention when assessing Dr. Madden's work. Has America "peaked" as an empire, or do we still have growth ahead? It is an important question to ask, and the answer has great implications on our future. Dr. Madden does us a service by asking the question.
History can be used to make almost any point about today or the future. That is why most historians avoid trying. Dr. Madden is a brave academic to step away from that safe path. He does so with the conviction of sound analysis and intellectual strength.
This is an excellent book that deserves attention from anyone interested in helping to find America's path ahead in the 21st century.
I did have a sneaking suspicion that Madden's portrait of the Romans as the Boy Scouts of the ancient world is a little too rosy, but I'll leave that judgment to those more versed in ancient history than your humble correspondent. Madden's volume is extremely well-researched and informative -- and a really fun read. I was sorry when it was over, which is always a good sign. Highly recommended.