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
Dutton, 2008, 352 pp

Books about the end of the American era and a "return to multipolarity" should be read alongside this fascinating contrary view. Madden, a scholar of ancient history, argues that the United States shares important similarities with the long-lasting Roman Empire. His thesis is not that the United States is the new Rome. It is that the two polities share a similar culture, self-image, and national character—and that these features have set Rome and the United States along a similar path to dominance. For Madden, the two powers are not empires in the traditional sense, as powers that seek to conquer and control others. Rome during its republican era was and the United States today is an "empire of trust"—that is, a power that exerts control by establishing an understanding of how power is to be restrained and responsibly exercised. Rome, Madden argues, was unusual in its ability to make friends and allies, and it did so because other peoples were convinced that it would use its power responsibly, carefully, even mercifully. The book develops this thesis through lively stories of republican Rome and its imperial relations, finding parallels and lessons for the American experience. The implication is that what separates the United States from would-be global hegemons is its political culture of limited state power and republican rule.