I begin with this remark of the celebrated Roman historian Livy, written 2,000 years ago:
There is an exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past. There you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you can select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its consequences, you should avoid.
The history of ancient Rome spans a thousand years—roughly 500 as a republic and 500 as an imperial autocracy, with the birth of Christ occurring almost precisely in the middle. The closest parallels between Roman and American civilizations are to be found in Rome’s first half-millennium as a republic. We in our day can derive the most instructive lessons from that period. The tyranny of the empire came after the republic was destroyed and that’s the truly awful consequence of decay that America can yet avoid.
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