Political Reporter & Almost Marx comment.
Headline: Joe Biden’s two-front war for democracy
Sub-headline: The US president’s domestic problems are hobbling his efforts to defend freedom overseas
Gideon Rachman begins his latest essay with this sentence: ‘“Are We Rome?” Cullen Murphy’s book with that title was published in the US in 2007, capturing the concern that America was an empire in decline.’
Instead of following the link provided by Rachman, to Walter Isaacson’s review in The New York Times, here are two alternative reviews of Cullen’s book:
Review by George Pendle in the May 25, 2007 issue of The Financial Times:
Of course, when Murphy asks, ”are we Rome?” he is really asking whether America will end like Rome – in dissolution. But he does not believe history is doomed to repeat itself. Asserting with Livy that an empire remains powerful ”so long as its subjects rejoice in it,” his cure is to promote assimilation, foster cosmopolitanism, and somehow regain an uncynical faith in strong government. He suggests that national service would resuscitate the patriotism of the early American (and Roman) republic, and bring the citizenry back in touch with the military. It is a classical solution – unfashionable, impractical, yet undeniably sane.
Here from the New Yorker is a one paragraph review, under the rubric of ‘Briefly Noted’ of May 21, 2007:
Murphy writes that “Americans have been casting eyes back to ancient Rome since before the Revolution,” and goes on to interrogate the comparisons drawn both by “triumphalists,” who see the world’s only superpower in terms of the Roman Empire at its height, and by “declinists,” who see America as “dangerously overcommitted abroad and rusted out at home,” like Rome before its fall. Murphy makes telling points about the solipsism of political élites and the impact of corruption and cronyism on civil society, but he stops short of predicting America’s fall. (Indeed, he argues that it is simplistic to say that Rome fell.) Instead, he points to a malaise exemplified by the debasement of the term “franchise,” once associated with freedom to vote, and now with commerce: “Here, in miniature, is the political history of America.” Murphy prescribes antidotes, and finds grounds for cautious optimism in the words of Livy: “An empire remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice in it.” ♦
Just re-reading the first thirteen pages of his Prologue and its featured players: ‘The Robe’, ‘Quo Vadis’, ‘Spartacus’ ‘Ben-Hur’, Liam Neeson in ‘Batman Returns’, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Max Boot, Chalmers Johnson, Paul Kennedy, Niall Ferguson, Jane Jacobs, Victor Davis Hanson, Richard Horsley, Jerry Falwell, Dick and Lynn Cheyney, Regis Debray, Barbara Haber, Trent Lott, Clair Booth Luce, Richard Neustadt, Ernest May Lyndon Johnson , A.J. P. Taylor. The reader suffers the shock of name dropping !
But this sentence best exemplifies the Cullen Murphy literary enterprise:
Had the president of the United States , George W. Bush , been of a mind to compose his own ‘Meditations, he could legitimately say he wrote them ‘among the Alemanni’, the Franci ,the Celtae,’ because he was here with the Germans ,the French, the Irish and a number of other tribes for a summit meeting with the members of the European Union-…
I had ordered my copy of ‘Are We Rome’ in 2009 and read a portion of the Prologue. I had read, the year before, J.G. A. Pocock’s Barbarism and Religion, Volume One , The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1764. And Barbarism and Religion Volume Two, Narratives of Civil Government. Mr. Murphy failed to meet the standard set by this historian, even though Pocock doesn’t address the burning question of ‘Are We Rome’- Murphy wrote a magazine article that simply grew to book length!
On the question of Weimar see ‘The Weimar Republic Sourcebook’ edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, Edward Dimendberg. At 741pages of texts , from German writers of the Weimar period, and introductions that aids the readers understanding of period, place, politics, the place of women, cinema, Jews etc., etc.
A laboratory for competing visions of modernity, the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) continues to haunt the imagination of the twentieth century. Its political and cultural lessons retain uncanny relevance for all who seek to understand the tensions and possibilities of our age. The Weimar Republic Sourcebook represents the most comprehensive documentation of Weimar culture, history, and politics assembled in any language. It invites a wide community of readers to discover the richness and complexity of the turbulent years in Germany before Hitler’s rise to power.
Drawing from such primary sources as magazines, newspapers, manifestoes, and official documents (many unknown even to specialists and most never before available in English), this book challenges the traditional boundaries between politics, culture, and social life. Its thirty chapters explore Germany’s complex relationship to democracy, ideologies of “reactionary modernism,” the rise of the “New Woman,” Bauhaus architecture, the impact of mass media, the literary life, the tradition of cabaret and urban entertainment, and the situation of Jews, intellectuals, and workers before and during the emergence of fascism.
While devoting much attention to the Republic’s varied artistic and intellectual achievements (the Frankfurt School, political theater, twelve-tone music, cultural criticism, photomontage, and urban planning), the book is unique for its inclusion of many lesser-known materials on popular culture, consumerism, body culture, drugs, criminality, and sexuality; it also contains a timetable of major political events, an extensive bibliography, and capsule biographies. This will be a major resource and reference work for students and scholars in history; art; architecture; literature; social and political thought; and cultural, film, German, and women’s studies.
After the framing device of ‘Are We Rome’, Weimer and the thickets of Rachman’s political thought, the reader’s journey ends here:
The idea that Biden is a floundering incompetent is now being hammered home by the Republicans, who also point to the failure to control migration on America’s southern border — and to the administration’s struggle to get its spending package through Congress. One recent opinion poll saw Biden’s approval rating dipping to 38 per cent; others put him in the low 40s.
The White House is trying to project an image overseas of a resurgent America that is neither Rome nor Weimar. But in Biden’s Washington the fear that the president may fail — and the dread of what that might mean for America — now hovers in the background of every conversation.
Political Reporter & Almost Marx