US fall from virtuous republic to tragic-comic empire described perfectly by Roman historians

hat tip: history professor Allen Guelzo

The ancient Greek historian, Polybius, celebrated the Roman republic of ~ 150 BC under its constitution with balance of powers among the Senate, two elected consuls, and the general citizens:

“Such being the power that each part has of hampering the others or co-operating with them, their union is adequate to all emergencies, so that it is impossible to find a better political system than this.”  The Histories, Book VI, Section V: On the Roman Constitution at its Prime

Americans and people around the world were equally proud of the United States Constitution as “impossible to find a better political system than this.”

About 100 years after Polybius’ account, Rome’s republic had descended into oligarchic competition for power. Contemporary to Julius Caesar, the Roman historian and government insider Sallust blasted the decline of virtue in government:

“To those who had easily endured toils, dangers, and doubtful and difficult circumstances, ease and wealth, the objects of desire to others, became a burden and a trouble. At first the love of money, and then that of power, began to prevail, and these became, as it were, the sources of every evil. For avarice subverted honesty, integrity, and other honorable principles, and, in their stead, inculcated pride, inhumanity, contempt of religion, and general venality. Ambition prompted many to become deceitful; to keep one thing concealed in the breast, and another ready on the tongue; to estimate friendships and enmities, not by their worth, but according to interest; and to carry rather a specious countenance than an honest heart. These vices at first advanced but slowly, and were sometimes restrained by correction; but afterwards, when their infection had spread like a pestilence, the state was entirely changed, and the government, from being the most equitable and praiseworthy, became rapacious and insupportable.” – Conspiracy of Catiline, The Argument

The most prolific Roman historian, Livy, witnessed Rome’s transition into dictatorial empire with Augustus Caesar as first emperor. In his preface to address 700 years of Roman history:

“I have no doubt that the earliest origins and the immediately succeeding period will give less delight to the majority of readers who are hurrying to these recent times in which the might of a most powerful people has long been destroying itself.

… I shall seek this additional reward for my labor (recounting all Rome’s history) so that I may turn away from the contemplation of the evils that our age has seen for so many years.” – The History of Rome, Preface

Tacitus wrote ~ 100 AD, a century into empire. Emperors proclaimed to the public that their government still upheld the highest ideals of their Republic, claiming expanding empire was only and always in “self-defense.”

Emperor Domitian’s assassination in 96 AD (among ~22 murdered emperors), allowed Tacitus to write The Agricola, a biographical text of his father-in-law contrasting claimed virtue of Roman military and citizenry with the emperor’s utterly corrupt despotism.

Importantly, this text describes the problem of virtuous Romans within a psychopathic government. Tacitus describes Agricola attempting to uphold virtue; but without recognition of any evil in serving an expanding dictatorial empire. Tacitus seems to assume the ideal of mos maiorum, “custom/virtue of Roman forefathers” will eventually triumph over the evil of present “leadership.”

In Agricola’s campaign as military and political leader of Roman Britain to expand the empire to modern Scotland from 78 – 84 AD, Tacitus recorded a speech he attributes to Scottish rebel-leader, Calgacus, to voice how those of virtue characterized Roman empire under corrupt emperors:

“It is no use trying to escape their arrogance by submission or good behavior. Robbers of the world, having by universal plunder exhausted the land, their drive is greed. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if poor, they lust for domination. Neither rule of the East nor West can satisfy them. Alone among men, they crave with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To plunder, slaughter, seize with false pretenses, they give the lying name ‘empire.’ And where nothing remains but a desert, they call that ‘peace.’ ” – Tacitus, The Agricola and the Germania (analyses here, here)

Roman imperialists called Calgacus and those who preferred independence from evil empire a name: barbarus. This is translated today as “barbarian,” but its context for using unconventional warfare to oppose the most powerful military in its day is better translated in today’s language with a different word:


Indeed, Obama combines these terms to call ISIS “barbaric terrorists.”

Regarding life in Rome under the dictatorship of emperors, Tacitus remarked:

“So corrupted indeed and debased was that age by sycophancy that not only the foremost citizens who were forced to save their grandeur by servility, but every exconsul, most of the ex-praetors and a host of inferior senators would rise in eager rivalry to propose shameful and preposterous motions. Tradition says that Tiberius (Rome’s 2nd emperor) as often as he left the Senate-House used to exclaim in Greek, ‘How ready these men are to be slaves.’ Clearly, even he, with his dislike of public freedom, was disgusted at the abject abasement of his creatures.”

American Founders created the US Constitution in light of Roman Republic design (here, here, among dozens), and aware previous republics had always self-destructed from corruption within their own nations. Among many of the Founders’ admonitions, James Madison was clear that citizen responsibility was essential to maintain a republic, no matter how well the Constitution was designed:

“A mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits (of government) is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.”  – James Madison, Federalist Paper #48, 1788.

On September 18, 1787, just after signing the US Constitution, Benjamin Franklin met with members of the press. He was asked what kind of government America would have. Franklin warned: “A republic, if you can keep it.” In his speech to the Constitutional Convention, Franklin admonished: “This [U.S. Constitution] is likely to be administered for a course of years and then end in despotism… when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.”  – The Quotable Founding Fathers, pg. 39.

These warnings extend to all social science teachers of the present:

“As educators in the field of history–social science, we want our students to… understand the value, the importance, and the fragility of democratic institutions. We want them to realize that only a small fraction of the world’s population (now or in the past) has been fortunate enough to live under a democratic form of government.” – History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, pgs. 2, 7-8

US/UK/Israel today: Current Middle East armed attacks are proclaimed by US/UK/Israel “leaderships” as self-defense, just as Rome claimed. US “leaders” claim to uphold America’s highest ideals of freedom while removing almost all Constitutional Rights, as did Roman emperors. Corruption today, as in Rome, is rampant.

US/UK/Israel wars today are not even close to legal, and based on lies known to be false as they are told. Engaging in unlawful Wars of Aggression is the very opposite of a virtuous republic limited in power under its constitution. This is easy to verify for those with about an hour to look:

Solutions learned from the past applied to the present: Tacitus’ argument was to wait-out tyranny in confidence public virtue of past ideals would triumph.

Tacitus was wrong.

A stronger solution would be critical mass recognition by the public of corruption in an Emperor’s New Clothes analogy, arrests, and a clear forum for whistleblowers to disclose the full extent of corruption.

In today’s world of tragic-comic US/UK/Israel corrupt empire, I propose the solution of:

  • public demand for “leader” arrests. An arrest lawfully stops crimes.
  • Truth & Reconciliation to encourage criminal minions to become whistleblowers so we can best discover the extent of the crimes waged by the .01% upon the 99.99%.
  • With removed criminal oligarchs and corporate media who “covered” these crimes, we’d have honest opportunity for available economic solutions that would transform our beautiful, but historically dominated planet.


Note: I make all factual assertions as a National Board Certified Teacher of US Government, Economics, and History, with all economics factual claims receiving zero refutation since I began writing in 2008 among Advanced Placement Macroeconomics teachers on our discussion board, public audiences of these articles, and international conferences. I invite readers to empower their civic voices with the strongest comprehensive facts most important to building a brighter future. I challenge professionals, academics, and citizens to add their voices for the benefit of all Earth’s inhabitants.


Carl Herman is a National Board Certified Teacher of US Government, Economics, and History; also credentialed in Mathematics. He worked with both US political parties over 18 years and two UN Summits with the citizen’s lobby, RESULTS, for US domestic and foreign policy to end poverty. He can be reached at

Note: has blocked public access to my articles on their site (and from other whistleblowers), so some links in my previous work are blocked. If you’d like to search for those articles other sites may have republished, use words from the article title within the blocked link. Or, go to, paste the expired link into the box, click “Browse history,” then click onto the screenshots of that page for each time it was screen-shot and uploaded to webarchive. I’ll update as “hobby time” allows; including my earliest work from 2009 to 2011 (blocked author pages: here, here).

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  • Jane Sibarski

    Excellent parallelism and article. Yes, the Examiner is not alone–most “alternative” sites apply severe censorship (with the best excuses in the world, to be sure). For more realistic and radical solutions, see Preston James:

    • Carl_Herman

      Yeah, certainly the history shows the power behind the .01% has always won. That said, if we have Faith, there’s more to this game than we can see, and we can trust the process.

  • fritz

    Thanks for offering the “Historical PERSPECTIVE” , – absolutely Necessary for Correct “MEASUREMENT” in Dealing with “Given Nowadays SITUATION” !

  • dogmatix

    How much money is enough to satisfy the greedy? Answer – there is never enough to satisfy the greedy. So budgets can never be balanced, taxes can never be capped, and the limits of debt must always be raised.

  • mijj

    ? .. when was the US ever a “virtuous republic”.

    This is more a case of – as fortune declines, the veneer fades.

    • fritz

      Do not think , that “sticking on differently Interpretable TERMS” , make any SENSE , but surely could be “USEFUL in Modern Smokescreen – producing DISCOURSE” !

  • I think the biggest “joke” are these FALSE FLAGS our government/CIA/Mosad/FBI are perpetrating on us. The “joke” is they think we believe them. And the “joke” on us is that means we have no judicial, no law enforcement…except if they want to throw one of US in jail for something.

  • BadClown
  • ShankyS

    Carl – my son is finishing studying the Roman Empire in 8th grade history (private school) – when should I introduce the parallels to our government today to him? He’s already wise to the system being corrupt. I like for him to find his own ‘path’. Would it be cheating to show him this post or prudent? Others may comment as well.

    • Lobcock

      A dilemma to be sure, for how are you to know if the picture you paint is a Da Vici or a Pollack? We do know the picture painted by most schools are structured fingerpaints. Surely anything you present will be better. It will, however, suggest a pathway replete with obstruction, diversion and folly. For such is the path to virtue. May I suggest reading through Pike’s Morals and Dogma, the best exposition of the meaning of life I have read. It’s on And no he did not predict three world wars, a hoax in the best Piltdown Man tradition. It is over 800 pages, but easily read in chapters, and it gets better as the descriptions of the degrees progress. And may I suggest any of the Manly P. Hall lecrures on youtube. Fascinating stuff. Humans are born to be magnetic and attractive personalities, each with a part to play in a harmonious universe. So long as he walks the pathway of virtue with discipline and awareness, he can be a force to restore the natural equilibrium of planetary balance the materialist in all of us has knocked akilter. Knowledge is power. Bestow it freely, without judgment or expectation as to outcome, for that is the magic of creation.

    • Carl_Herman

      Hi ShankyS: I say give him whatever he’s interested in, and discuss whatever he wants. All my 13-year-old knows about my “hobby” is that I write to end war and end poverty, but almost nothing of the details.

      Here’s some more history that might help, my best shot for high school seniors before they research a current event of their choice:

    • azlibrabbit

      I say do it NOW. The biggest flaw I found with my children’s education (though they attended a nationally recognized “gifted” program) was the shortage of connections and parallels. When things are taught in isolation, they are forgotten. When they are connected to prior knowledge and experience, they are internalized.

      Make him aware that all the world is like a web, lead him to the connections you know, and challenge him to find his own and then teach you. I think you’ll be amazed at what his young mind can do!

  • May 11, 2015 Turning America into a Battlefield: A Blueprint for Locking Down the Nation

    Why is the federal government distributing obscene amounts of military equipment, weapons and ammunition to police departments around the country? Why is the military using southwestern states as a staging ground for guerilla warfare drills (Jade Helm 15)? What exactly is the U.S. government preparing for? Whatever the answer, John W. Whitehead, in this week’s vodcast, warns of the pending day when our so-called “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is no longer answerable to “we the people.”

  • nick quinlan

    Once again, an excellent article Carl.
    I hope I live long enough to see the day that the criminals in the US Empire are arrested and tried for their numerous and ongoing crimes, but I am not confident of that happening.

  • Nockian

    The most important thing to do is to free young minds and create an education system completely devolved from state control. If young adults become immune to propaganda tricks and manipulation, it won’t be so easy to fool the next generation.

    Whilst top down ideas about arresting those in power are all very good, the reality is that these rulers control the legal system and more importantly are able the shape the way the public view them. It’s easy to pull the wool over the eyes of the naive and to get them to follow the leader, no matter how bad these leaders are. People are easy to fool and easy to subvert. Throw them some trinket,s or tell them they are in danger and they will follow like lost sheep. Only when the people can resist subterfuge will the game end. The most outspoken, brave and intelligent men of the world, can act as lights, but if they pose a threat to the status quo ,a reason will quickly be found to ridicule, or be rid of them.

  • esquimaux

    Since you include Israel among the triumverate of corrupt empires and appear to feel that Israel is an illegitimate intrusion, perhaps an abscess, on the body of Dar el Islam, at the very least a European colony imposed on the native population, what’s to be done? Zionism, as you know, was a hope of last resort, perhaps, in retrospect, a failed hope. There was little enthusiasm among many of the early Zionists for Palestine: grubby, neglected, desolate, bereft of exploitable resources, the pit of the Ottoman empire.

    At any rate, the U.S. and Canada aren’t about to return North America to its rightful inhabitants nor the U.K.return England to those whom the Anglo-Saxons drove out and, at length, absorbed, but where, if anywhere, are the Israelis to go? Back within the Green Line? That doesn’t cure the supposed illegitimacy, it would only diminish its physical scope. To be credible, as a National Board Certified Teacher etc, you need to propose a solution even it’s a Final one.

    • Carl_Herman

      esquimaux: Israel engages in unlawful Wars of Aggression upon Gaza, while making it the world’s largest concentration camp under military siege.

      To be credible as a teacher is to teach facts, not propose policy. That said, you missed the policy response I propose. Read again at the end: “In today’s world of tragic-comic US/UK/Israel corrupt empire, I propose the solution of:”

    • Move the United Nations to Jerusalem, make Palestine a World Heritage Site administistered by the UN, and create a jewish homeland somewhere where they are wanted.