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Lessons of History
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Ted Rall's cartoon today makes use of the regrettable tendency of some pundits to draw comparisons between whatever they see as threatening America and those poor old failed and fallen Romans (who only lasted a couple thousand years).

It's always fun and easy to find parallels between us and ancient Rome. Justinian, for example, is often cited as a great emperor but some of his policies, eerily reminiscent of what we see today (a pundit might say...) ultimately proved disastrous, particularly the attempt to reconquer Italy, a grossly expensive adventure which nearly bankrupted the treasury and diverted resources which could have been better employed elsewhere. The Persians, to name just one other enemy, were a more serious threat than were the Ostrogoths, with whom the eastern empire had managed to co-exist since the fall of Rome a half century earlier. In The Secret History, Procopius, the historian and disgruntled official, excoriated Justinian, for squandering the surplus inherited from his predecessors.

Sound familiar?

However, as is usually the case, historical analogies begin to break down as soon as you try to venture very far out on them. Justinian didn't exacerbate his financial problems by cutting taxes. Not at all. He was more in the tax and spend mold. He raised taxes on certain landowners to ten times what they had been. He imposed grievous taxes where there had been none. Even the sale of bread was taxed, according to Procopios.

This is not to say history can't teach us anything, but perhaps its lessons are of a simpler sort than might be derived from complicated and strained analogies. History says that every leader who ever imagined he could control the world by use of military force failed. In the end, those would-be world rulers usually brought disaster down on their own people while the world spun on as before.

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