Julius Caesar Versus Harlan Sanders

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Why is Rome still on our minds? Kelsey Lewis Vincent asks. Because Rome was an archetype, a template of traditional imperium before the American fried chicken empire model rivaled it. For two thousand years it dominated the imagination. Rome is why we watched “The Gladiator.”


Rome had a magnificent aesthetic. Listen to the language of empire. First, spoken Roman Latin as depicted in the series “The Barbarians.” It makes you want to stand to attention. Next, hear the language of the fried chicken empire as stereotypically perceived by non-Americans. No wonder Hitler laughingly declared war on America. Hitler declared war on the U.S. (the U.S. did not) on Dec 11, 1941 as an administrative matter. “According to the terms of their agreements, Germany was obliged to come to the aid of Japan if a third country attacked Japan, but not if Japan attacked a third country. Ribbentrop reminded Hitler of this, and pointed out that to declare war against the U.S. would add to the number of enemies Germany was fighting, but Hitler dismissed this concern as not being important, and, almost entirely without consultation, chose to declare war against the U.S., wanting to do so before, he thought, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt would declare war on Germany. In general, the Nazi hierarchy held low regard for the military resolve of the U.S. under Roosevelt, a stance that is widely considered a major error in their strategic thinking. In their eyes the U.S. was a corrupt, decadent, Jewish-dominated nation weakened by its large populations of African-Americans, immigrants, and Jewish-Americans.”


A lot of people feel the fried chicken empire, whose anthems are advertising jingles, are debasing to the human condition and long to evoke legions marching home on the Appian Way until they crest the hill and see — Rome!  We can almost hear the legionary’s hearts beating in Ottorino Respighi’s composition “Pines of the Appian Way.” But perhaps most people would prefer driving over the ridge and, instead of beholding the arena, seeing the rest stop and Pizza Hut.

Perhaps the real fossil of Rome is history’s largest land empire, Russia. In fact the word “czar” or “tsar” comes from Caesar. “This was related to Russia’s growing ambitions to become an Orthodox ‘Third Rome’, after the Fall of Constantinople.” That is the classic imperial model. But is it still viable? The real lesson of WW2, made clear after the collapse of the USSR, was that a system based on subjugation, proconsuls and viceroys was not only infeasible but uneconomical.

The success of the postwar world and its commercial empires suggests that maybe Colonel Sanders was a greater genius than Julius Caesar. It could be that the fried chicken empire is greater than Rome. Only China seems to get this and has hastened to establish the rival Instant Noodle Kingdom. But Putin hasn’t adapted. Perhaps Russia’s biggest weakness is that it is trapped in the old Roman imperial model, which doesn’t work any more.


Putin’s ceremonial entry into the Kremlin has the air of time out of joint. In its doomed anachronistic magnificence it recalls the scene from “Band of Brothers” where paratrooper David Webster yells at a passing column of German prisoners with their carts: “Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General f***in’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses!” In a metaphorical sense, Putin’s Third Rome is riding horses that cannot hope to compete in the 21st century. There was a dream that was Rome and it has been dreamt. The rivalry for the future, drably, is between the Instant Noodle Kingdom and the Fried Chicken Empire.



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