In Part One of this article I discussed the similarities between the Roman Empire and the American Empire at a high level. In this article I’ll delve into some specific similarities and rhymes between the fall of the Roman Empire and our modern day empire of debt, decay and decline. I’ll address our expansive level of bread and circuses and how defects in our human nature lead to people willingly sacrificing their liberty for promises of safety and security. All empires decline due to the same human failings and ours is no exception. If anything, ours will be far more spectacular and rapid due to our extreme level of hubris, arrogance, willful ignorance and warlike preference for dealing with foreign powers.

It seems there were a few visionary thinkers in the late 1950s who foresaw the dire course our former Republic was setting. Their writings were a prophecy and a warning. There was still time to change course and avoid the pitfalls that led to the Roman Empire collapse. In Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley warned against allowing a few amoral men using propaganda, scientific advancements, technology, brainwashing, and economics to control and manipulate a willfully ignorant populace into a dystopian dictatorship. The Soviet and Chinese dictatorships of the late 1950s are long gone, but Huxley foresaw how modern propaganda techniques would be used by the state to drown the masses in a sea of triviality, irrelevance, and consumerism.

“In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationaliza­tion — the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationaliza­tion of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manip­ulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these tech­niques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrele­vance the rational propaganda essential to the mainten­ance of individual liberty and the survival of demo­cratic institutions.”

Another man of vision was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. As someone who understood the military industrial complex and the world of politics and power, he knew the danger of allowing the arms industry to dictate the foreign policy of the country. Maintaining a military empire bankrupted Rome and it is bankrupting the American empire. Eisenhower’s warning was unheeded.

“We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”

When I was researching the similarities between the fall of the Roman Empire and our American Empire fall in progress, I stumbled across an essay written in 1956 by Ben Moreell called Of Bread and Circuses.

Toxic Bread, iGadgets, Circuses, & Zoloft

“The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease. The moral decay of the people was not caused by the doles and the games. These merely provided a measure of their degradation. Things that were originally good had become perverted and, as Shakespeare reminds us, ‘Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.'”Ben Moreell – 1956 – Of Bread and Circuses

There is nothing inherently evil about food, iPhones, professional sports, television, computers, music or medicine. Human beings need food to sustain them, entertainment to provide relaxation and diversion from their daily labors, and medicine to alleviate illness and prolong their lives. Only when the people allow themselves to be lured into servitude by malevolent purveyors of bread and circuses does the perversion of seemingly harmless things begin to fester and overwhelm a nation with the fetid stench of decay and decadence. The moral degeneration of the American populace, like the Roman people before them, happened slowly over time as they sold their liberty, freedom, and self-respect for full bellies, an endless array of modern day distractions, and promises from their highly educated rulers they would be taken care of and protected from all threats to their well-being, whether foreign, domestic, physical, mental, or social.

It did not happen all at once. It happened gradually over time. We allowed the weaker facets of our human nature to succumb to the pleasurable promises of a minority of power seeking manipulative men who always attempt to control and influence the majority because they believe they are wiser and deserving of riches, glory and supremacy. The greediest, most arrogant, ambitious and well educated amongst us tend to rise to the top in all societies. As Ben Franklin stated, only a virtuous people can keep sociopaths from gaining control of our political, economic and financial systems and perverting a republic built upon a foundation of free markets, liberty, and self-sufficiency.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”Benjamin Franklin

Historian Tacitus noted, as Rome became more and more corrupt, the number of laws grew rapidly. The Roman aristocracy, through corruption and thievery achieved lofty status in Roman society. Senators and wealthy knights engaged in extensive practices of conspicuous consumption, creating palatial town houses and monumental “art villas” to demonstrate their high rank in society. The peasants sank into poverty, while being satiated with bread and circuses. And it was all done legally, just as it is being done legally today by our beloved aristocracy and their minions.

“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” – Tacitus – The Annals of Imperial Rome

Has the proliferation of laws, rules, and regulations over the last century made us freer, safer and less corrupt?

The virtue of the American people has dissipated rapidly over the last century through their willful ignorance, laziness, apathy, vanity, greed and covetousness, while the true ruling power has consciously and intelligently manipulated the masses without them being aware they were being molded, controlled, dominated and influenced by Ivy League educated men of no conscious, empathy, or sense of decency. The paragraph below, written in 1928 by Edward Bernays, reveals the true nature of our “democracy” and our real masters:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays – Propaganda

Bernays and his disciples believed the American citizenry nothing more than a herd of irrational animals that needed to be led by enlightened despots like him and other highly educated wealthy men who knew what was best in a democratic society. The term propaganda developed negative connotations after some Germans used it so effectively during the 1930s, so modern American despots changed the term to public relations. It’s all about the message. As media tools have become more technologically advanced and the study of human psychology perfected, the members of the invisible government have achieved their goal of governing, molding, and pulling the wires that control the public mind in a way that enriches them and their benefactors while satisfying the base needs of the masses and keeping them distracted with trivialities, technological wonders, and a myriad of bogeyman threats. These men have contempt for the common man. They have contempt for the U.S. Constitution. They have contempt for free markets. And they have control of our country.

Needs, Wants & Desires

The concept of bread and circuses ties closely to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. The ruling class realizes the masses must be kept fed, clothed and housed or revolution would ensue. The human needs documented by Maslow were satisfied or not satisfied by humans prior to the 20th century. Once the ruling class gained control of the monetary system through their jurisdiction over the Federal Reserve and the fiscal system through their manipulation of taxes and spending, they were able to bribe the masses with their own money. The rise of the welfare state has not reduced poverty or boosted the standard of living of the poor. It has enslaved tens of millions at the basic human needs level. Once those in power had successfully bribed the masses with bread (SNAP), shelter (subsidized housing), subsistence (unemployment compensation & welfare), security (Social Security) and safety (Medicare, Medicaid), it was only necessary to keep them distracted with circuses to efficiently teach them to love their servitude.

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.” – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World


The invisible governing authorities don’t want the masses to actually satisfy their psychological and self-fulfillment needs. The last thing they want is an educated, aware, critical thinking, independent, courageous, self-reliant, civic minded populace questioning the motivations of their keepers. This is where the corporate fascists who control the mass media propaganda machine and the sickcare industrial complex have combined forces to create a painless concentration camp of prisoners enjoying their servitude and happy to sacrifice their liberty for perceived safety. An uneducated, obese, sickly, depressed, overly-medicated populace is not a threat to the ruling class. They have been conditioned and pharmacologically sedated to such an extent the governing class feels indestructible, displaying arrogance and hubris in dangerous doses.

“There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it.” – Aldous Huxley

The concept of voluntary servitude has been a constant theme across the ages as most people want to be led, told what to do, and will not question or contest those in authority. Liberty and freedom require effort, sacrifice, honor and a people with a strong moral character. The Roman people succumbed to tyranny by abandoning their liberty to despots for a full belly and grand spectacles. The American people have succumbed to modern day banker, billionaire and politician oligarchs for a belly full of toxic corporate processed food, cable HDTV with 600 stations, iGadgets, a never ending supply of cheap Chinese produced crap at big box retail stores, Facebook, Twitter, 24 hour drive thru Dunkin Donuts joints, and an endless array of professional sporting events, all paid for with an infinite supply of cheap consumer debt from the Wall Street fraud machine. We live in a warfare/welfare surveillance state built on a foundation of debt, consumerism, and delusion, with no tears. We’ve learned to love our servitude.

French philosopher Etienne de La Boetie captured the degradation of the once noble Roman people five centuries ago, and his words ring true today as the American people have foolishly relinquished their liberty to a corporate aristocracy that has bankrupted the nation, debased the currency, pillaged the middle class and set in motion an irreversible decline of the empire.

“Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else.

The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, ‘Long live the King!’ The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.” – Etienne de La Boétie – Discourse on Voluntary Servitude – 1548

We are fools to not realize the governing authorities who benevolently distribute bread and entitlements to the masses have already taken the money at gunpoint from the people, while syphoning off their cut, favoring their courtesans and taking away our liberties and freedoms. H.L. Mencken, who could match de La Boetie in contempt for the ignorant masses and corrupt politicians, understood our democracy was destined for the trash heap of history.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” – H.L. Mencken – Notes on Democracy

In Part Three of this article I will address how the creation of the Federal Reserve has led to a century of currency debasement, mindless consumption and endless warfare, while impoverishing the masses and setting in motion the dynamics of empire collapse.

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  • Voice of Reason

    JimQ’s hellfire and brimstone sermons to the American people always contain just enough truth to give them credibility. The problems start with his prescriptions for their salvation. To describe SNAP as the ‘bread’ in bread and circuses is – take your choice: ridiculous, obscene, outrageous. To prescribe free markets and limited governments as the antidote to the economies of scale and the oligopolies and natural monopolies to which they give rise is perhaps less than unwise.

    300 years ago the West started substituting machines powered from inanimate energy sources for human labor. We have yet to come to terms with that shift. To date the approach has been a variation on Jay Gould’s theme of hiring one half of the unemployed laboring class to kill the other half if threats to take away the money Gould and his ilk didn’t need ever became serious. The wars have a purpose JimQ, even if it is one most of us find difficult to understand. That purpose is to preserve the power of money so the modern day Jay Goulds can jam it down the throats of any person or nation that refuses to grovel in front of the gods of the free market (bankers, Wall Street) to get enough to survive.

  • Stephen Kerr

    As with 99% of comparisons between America’s present situation and that of ancient Rome, the author makes sweeping generalizations about Rome that aren’t supported by facts. When you say that Romans traded their freedoms for “bread and circuses” it shows you have no idea about Roman history. Rome became a dictatorship under the Princeps because that was the solution of one section of society to 100 years of civil war and violent political unrest. The Roman grain dole or the circus had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Nobody traded ‘freedom’ for a ‘full belly.’ It’s a myth.

    Citing de la Boétie’s 500 year old prejudice just proves the point. European writers have been sounding off in this vein for centuries, but what really animates their horror was actually democracy, not tyranny as we imagine it. The critique is actually that of Socrates, (via Plato) who admired the ‘virtues’ of Sparta – the most war-like, violent and anti-democratic society of the classical world. Likewise, the imagined Roman virtues of ‘liberty and freedom’ the author cites were only ever enjoyed by a tiny privileged class, the Senators and perhaps the Equites. The Plebeian majority were impoverished and largely disenfranchised under the REPUBLIC, not the Empire, as far back as the time of the Grachii, and certainly under Sulla and Cicero’s consulship. In fact, a good case can be made that Julius Caesar was a very popular democratic leader, who enacted many measures to benefit the common people, at the expense of the Senatorial class who murdered him. But of course he did, as in the classical world, totally unlike today, democracy was almost always advanced by a wealthy aristocrat taking the highest office in the state, and then “taking the side of the people.” Thus he became a ‘Tyrant.’ The ancient tyrants were actually democratic leaders! You get that in Athens with Megacles, (debatable, as we know so little about that early period) Solon, Cleisthenes, Pericles, and perhaps Ephialtes. Of these, only the last one, Ephialtes was killed by his political enemies. At Rome one sees similar attempts at popular ‘tyranny’ with the Grachii (murdered by Senators), Catalinus (murdered by Senators) and Julius Caesar (murdered by Senators.) See a pattern? The Roman Senatorial class was virulently opposed to popular democracy. To this they contrasted their traditional ‘liberty’ which was really a code word for their traditional class privileges. Read Cicero’s Republic and his Laws. His total contempt for democracy and for the Roman people soaks every page, and yet American libertarians still turn to him for inspiration about ‘liberty and freedom.’ If America today is like Rome 2000 years ago, it is alike in the deep contempt of its educated elites for democracy and the common people. That’s about it.

    Some further points need clarifying.

    The grain dole and the circus which did develop under the Principate were merely extensions of the Roman practice of clientalism, (in effect, a privatized system of welfare and patronage) which again, was the basis of political power under the Republic that American libertarian writers like to fantasize about. Their fantasies have zero to do with Roman reality.

    The author is totally mistaken to characterize the ancient Romans who enjoyed the dole and went to the games as being “taken care of, and protected from all threats to their well-being.” In this we read the barely disguised contempt of the American right for the tatters of the modern American welfare state (is there still one?). It’s an imaginary problem in America, as there is basically no welfare state, and it has zero to do with Rome. Ancient Romans had no state protections from the problems of life – other than the small grain dole, and the vast majority didn’t even have that. They could be murdered in the street, and there was no justice other than that which one could organize oneself. During the Republic, they could be abducted on a country road and sold into slavery. In fact, the number of slaves actually decreased during the Empire, and the freeing of slaves became more common. It was Christian Romans who reestablished a kind of slavery in the form of serfdom. With the Roman dole, a ‘full belly’ meant enough grain for a loaf of bread split between two people for a month. And you had to mill the grain yourself. They didn’t give out bread, or flour, (until much later in the Empire) but rather wheat. Many people ate it as a kind of gruel. Hardly an advanced welfare state, as anyone who has ever tried to make his own bread from whole grain wheat will attest.

    And there was a good political reason for the grain dole. It prevented people from being so hungry as to riot in the streets. Again, comparisons with today’s America are difficult to sustain in my opinion. How has anyone ever been ‘corrupted’ by not starving to death? It’s the kind of nonsense that only somebody who has never truly gone hungry can concoct.

    Re: the Circus, why why should Rome not have had sophisticated entertainments? It was by far the largest city on earth in its day, with over 1 million people. That’s what people come to big cities for, culture, novelty. Just because people like going to the movies or to a football game is hardly a sign of ‘moral decadence.’ Just try that argument at the local mall, and see how far it flies.

    The author is however 100% correct that in today’s America, people have little freedom, what few freedoms they have left are being destroyed. Please leave Rome out of it. This argument about some imagined “moral decadence” buttressed with quotes from 500 year old writers venting their ignorance about Rome is just not supportable. If only an American Senator would “take the side of the people” for a change. Might do America some good. But of course we know what would happen. He or she would be shot, (Kennedy, King) his plane would crash, (Wellstone, Kennedy) or perhaps just have an engineered ‘Howard Dean’ moment. Remember him?

    Comparisons of contemporary America with Rome are almost always deeply misleading.

    • jonedevil

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    • Here is an important series by Alan Woods, which provides a Marxist explanation of the processes that led to the collapse of the Roman Republic. Here the method of historical materialism is used to shed light on an important turning-point in world history. For Marxists the study of history is not just a form of harmless entertainment. It is essential that we do study history for the lessons we can learn from it. To paraphrase the words of the American philosopher George Santayana: “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.”

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part one

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part two

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part three

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part four

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part five — The revolt of the slaves

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part six – The Gracchi (1)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part seven – The Gracchi (2)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part eight – The Gracchi (3)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part nine ‑ Caesarism (1)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part ten – Caesarism (2)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part eleven – Caesarism (3)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part twelve – The rise of Julius Caesar and the Fall of the Republic (1)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part thirteen – The rise of Julius Caesar and the Fall of the Republic (2)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part fourteen – The rise of Julius Caesar and the Fall of the Republic (3)

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part fifteen – The death of the Republic

      The class struggle in the Roman Republic, part sixteen – What is Caesarism?

      • jandr0

        From the titles of the series, I conclude they are not much more than typical “analyses” emanating from the flawed Marxist obsession with “class struggles.”

        That is why Marxists will never get it. They box themselves into viewing the world from only one perspective, and then cannot understand why the real world does not conform to their self-imposed limited views.

        • Anyone who jumps to conclusions from “the titles” has no credibility. Marx is taught in Business Schools because it is still the best way to analyze capitalism. The corporate world has learned Marx well and we now have socialism for the rich and dog eat dog capitalism for everyone else.

          American corporations have shown us what socialism could look like with subsidies and tax exemptions to the big corporations here in the U.S. If those corporations were owned and operated by the workers, it would be socialism. As it is now, it’s socialism for corporations. There is no free market as long as monopoly capitalists can hoard money, stifle innovation and competition, bust unions so labor makes less and less for the value they contribute and outsource jobs so labor has to compete with third world wages.

          • jandr0

            Rusty, time is a scarce resource, so I will primarily focus on your first paragraph.

            [Anyone who jumps to conclusions from “the titles” has no credibility.]

            Erm, no. Let me demonstrate why that claim is incorrect. Say an author publishes two books titled “The history of the East” and “The history of the West.” A comment, based on the titles alone, that the books appear to focus on history is likely to be correct to a very high probability (since it is practically a tautology).

            On the other hand, say if one claims – only from the titles – that the author knows nothing about history, then the claim is likely to be false with very high probability.

            So the key differentiator is WHAT is being claimed based on the titles – and it is certainly not correct that any claim based on the titles alone has no credibility.

            [Marx is taught in Business Schools because it is still the best way to analyze capitalism.]

            While Marxian analysis is certainly a way of analyzing capitalism, you provide no supporting evidence for two key aspects: firstly, that it is the BEST way of analyzing capitalism, and secondly, that it is being taught at business schools specifically because of it being (allegedly) the BEST way of analyzing capitalism.

            Can you kindly refer me to the evidence? Where are the studies that demonstrate it is the BEST way? On what criteria was it compared to any other ways and unambiguously found to be “the BEST,” and who validated that criteria? Furthermore, how many business schools were involved in such a study? Where are their claims that they are using Marxian analysis since it is (allegedly) the BEST?

            Without that, it should be obvious, your claim is (at best) no more than your subjective opinion.

            [The corporate world has learned Marx well and we now have socialism for the rich and dog eat dog capitalism for everyone else.]

            This assertion is also suspect.

            Firstly, I have spent large parts of my life dealing with the corporate world, and have not come across even ONE mention of “learning Marx.” Note that I am not claiming there are no such cases, but it does seriously question the strength of the supposed basis on which your (highly) generalized claim is made.

            Secondly, your claim is likely to be directly in contradiction with what socialism is purported to be. Since there is no universally accepted definition of socialism, this may be contentious, but at least two goals of socialism are (and I paraphrase) “state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production” and “a fair or egalitarian method of compensation.” Claiming that subsidies and tax exemptions for big corporations is “socialism” or “learning Marx” is not just somewhat contradictory, it is the EXACT opposite.

            Thirdly, an honest scientist would, to start, consider all factors of internal validity. In your claim, let’s take the factor of nonspuriousness as one. Now, lobbying (by corporation in this case) for and being awarded subsidies and tax exemptions could have many root drivers. You essentially equate it only with “learning Marx” and therefore completely ignore much, much more likely factors such as moral hazard / risk mitigation effects and rent-seeking.

            Fourthly, and although just like socialism, there is no universally agreed definition for capitalism, it typically supports (and I paraphrase again) “prices of goods and services largely guided through the operation of markets.” Since that is essentially the antithesis of “tax exemptions” and “subsidies” (as prices can then be set based on non-market privileges granted by government), to call what is happening today capitalism is a false representation of pure capitalism.

            [There is no free market as long as monopoly capitalists can hoard money, stifle innovation and competition, bust unions so labor makes less and less for the value they contribute and outsource jobs so labor has to compete with third world wages.]

            Here I mostly agree with you, especially with regard to the (now more correctly called) monopoly capitalists (with said monopolies generally premised on state-awarded privileges, as opposed to what happens with pure capitalists), to the stifling of innovation and competition, as well as the busting of unions.

            On the other hand, I disagree with you on the issue of outsourcing jobs and “competition with third world wages.” I support zero protection for the capitalists and similarly no protection of under-performing local citizens (outside basic individual human rights as they apply equally to capitalists and labour, of course). May the BEST labour (whether local or foreign) deservedly earn the rewards!


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