In This Review

Empires of Trust: How Rome Built -- and America Is Building -- a New World

Empires of Trust: How Rome Built -- and America Is Building -- a New World
By Thomas F. Madden
352 pp, Dutton, 2008

Since the birth of the American republic, writers and commentators have been drawing foreboding analogies between the state of the United States and the fall of Rome. Madden has taken this tired old chestnut and done something fresh with it. Pointing out that Roman power rose very high and lasted thousands of years (Constantinople fell to the Ottomans more than 2,100 years after the founding of Rome), Madden asks what analogies with the rise of Rome, rather than its fall, can teach about the future of U.S. power. The core similarity between the two states, he argues, is the degree to which their power flowed from a mix of factors: strong legal and military cultures, a distaste for foreign engagements, fidelity to allies, and a craving for security. The result in both cases was a slow and hesitant expansion and the creation of increasingly strong alliances. Although anti-Romanism was as common among Rome's allies and clients as anti-Americanism is today among the United States', in the last analysis, Rome's neighbors generally preferred to influence Rome's policies as allies rather than to fight Rome on the open field. The value of historical analogies over the millennia is necessarily limited; still, Madden's fresh take on the United States and Rome is provocative and stimulating and will give readers interested in both ancient and modern history much food for thought.