Rome in the second century BC was growing fast; Romans were making more little Romans so effectively that poverty was becoming a problem, as farmers had to split their land among too many sons. By the end of the republic in the first century BC, quite the opposite was happening: Romans were not reproducing anymore.
A variety of Roman practices seemed to have played a part in the plummeting birth rate. The legal age for an adult man to marry a female was age 12 — but these laws were apparently not enforced, and considering what nutrition was like at the time, you can imagine the physical and emotional damage that likely resulted, preventing successful reproduction. Abortion, contraception, infanticide, prostitution, and homosexuality also dramatically lowered birthrates.
The result? Rome found itself increasingly importing “barbarians” from outside their nation to do the agricultural work that Romans would not do, because there were not enough Romans anymore. Does any of this ring any bells?
By the last gasp stages of the Roman empire, there are some really disturbing problems with guest workers — but the problem is not the immigrants, but their righteous anger at mistreatment. The Visigoths, pressed by the Huns, ask Roman permission to settle in the empire. Short of workers and soldiers, the empire granted their request. But Roman authorities took advantage of their desperate situation by selling food to the Visigoths that was supposed to be given to them — who had nothing to sell but slaves. The Romans sold the food in exchange for “good-looking women, [and] pursued mature boys for disgraceful purposes.” Eventually, the abuse of the Visigoths ended badly for Rome — very badly, with the sack of Rome in 410 AD.
There are a lot of causes of the fall of the Roman republic, and it is important not to get too carried away with the comparisons. The early Roman republic was primarily a military state, in a way that the United States historically has not been. At least one of the causes of the fall of the Roman republic was that armies became increasingly loyal to their general — not to the Roman republic. (That’s why, when you take your oath entering the U.S. military, it is to uphold the Constitution — not your commander.) We also have not descended into the regular use of violence for political purposes that began with the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus — and continued all the way to Julius Caesar’s unfortunate end.
Still, I keep finding many disappointing parallels — and it does not do anything for my hopes for the future of this republic.