I saw this on Quora. It seemed like a good thing to think about.


The Roman Republic is a fascinating case study largely because of how similar they are to us. Our entire system is based on the Roman model. Things like

  • Presidents
  • Vetos
  • Filibusters
  • Electoral college
  • The Senate
  • The legal system

Our government is largely a modern incarnation of the Roman Republic. There are of course differences and other influences but the broad strokes are largely the same.

The same thing can be said for Roman society. They were a proud people who viewed themselves as the arbiters of light and civilization. They fiercely defended their Republic and its values for generations. In addition, they were consumeristic, litigious, hedonistic (but always dreaming of the morally upstanding previous generations), inventive, and flexible- similar to US citizens.

Now as we all know Rome fell into authoritarianism and suffered leaders like Caligula and Nero. This is the part that is relevant to us. Rome offers us the chance to learn from a similar civilization and avoid their mistakes.

We have not learned well because we have made the same mistakes.

As Rome went from regional power to superpower they faced issues. The wealth gap had grown, the poor were desperate and angry, and money corrupted every level of politics.

In this stepped 2 political parties. The Populares were a reformist party that supported the poor and the Optimates were a conservative party that supported tradition.

These 2 parties started to dominate the system. Slowly but surely the entire Roman government was consumed by these parties until almost every living politician and citizen clearly aligned with 1 party or the other. Then 4 things happened

  1. The parties started viewing each other not as rivals but as enemies. The greatest threat to Rome was the other party- not the Parthians or Germans.
  2. The entire government started to focus 100% on obstructing the other party. Governance became impossible and the government became horribly ineffective
  3. Since the parties were already spending their time going after one another, and since they viewed each other as a threat, violence became acceptable. Slowly but surely peaceful speeches and protests turned into violent clashes
  4. The parties started revolving more and more around influential and popular leaders. These demagogues held increasing power in the Republic and had legions of loyal followers.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you see the parallels too?

The result of these 4 things was civil war. First, between Sula and Marius, then the Cataline conspiracy, then between Caesar and the Senate. Civil wars do not necessarily kill Republics, instead they are the virus that causes the heart to fail. Civil wars or just civil conflicts lead to instability and fear. When people are afraid they will willingly hand over their power and their rights for safety. This is what threatens us.

We are on the VERY same pathway right now. We follow leaders more than ideals, we view one another as enemies and threats, we allow violent riots instead of peaceful protests, and we are all willing to go to war over this.

Do I think civil war is going to happen now? Not really. I don’t think the 2020 election will result in an outright civil war.

But regardless of who wins it will only make things worse. Biden is playing to the progressives- meaning Republicans will despise him. Trump is doing what he does meaning Democrats hate him.

The problem is that this trend of viewing political opponents as threats to the nation has already set in deeply. Every 4 years we have this winner-take all battle where the future of the nation is on the line. This is already a hostile setting before you add 2 political parties that view each other as the greatest threat to mankind there is.

Partisanship in American politics is at an all-time high and everyone is doing it. More worrying is the people- the hatred that spews from all directions on social media and even on Quora. If you want to talk politics you will be belittled, demeaned, insulted, and threatened- and this will happen constantly and in nearly every discussion.

I wish I knew what we could do- I wish anyone really did. I just don’t see any other way this plays out beside a very violent and turbulent future. To tell you the truth I am afraid- I am deeply afraid that the world my children inherit from me will be a giant catastrophe. I am afraid I will be alive to bear witness to the collapse of my home and the ruination of my civilization. I hope we can come together, I hope we can avoid the mistakes of the past, and I hope the future is a bright place. I hope that we aren’t like Rome and somehow, for the first time in human history, we are able to avoid the coming storm we have created. Maybe I am wrong about all this- I would like nothing more.