Lessons from the fall of an empire [FT]

“It is the time of year when people are casting about for good books to read to resolve the current perplexity. If you are sitting in Washington, there are few guides to the unique position of the US, whose military expenditure exceeds that of the next 14 countries combined.

The most frequently cited historical parallels, Britain and its 19th-century pax Britannica, or 16th-century Spain, the first country to grasp New World prosperity to dominate the Old World, do not really fit modern America. Both were locked in rivalry with other nearly equal European powers: France and (in the British case) Germany.

Washington readers could do worse than go back to a study of the first real exerciser of unipolar power, the Roman Empire. The book to read is Edward Gibbon’s classic study, whose first volume was (by chance) published in 1776, the year of the signing of the American declaration of independence. Gibbon’s advice immediately looks quite attractive and relevant to today.” MORE

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