Not usually one of my favorite writer, Richard Gwyn, has an extraordinarily insightful article about Cullen Murphy’s book Are We Rome? (2007). Gwyn writes:
There is also a parallel across the centuries in the way the private sector in the U.S. is taking over more and more governmental activity in the form of philanthropy (as for universities and hospitals); the change agent here is the multiplication in the number of multi-millionaires, all eager to get their name on a piece of stone.
No differently so in Rome where the exorbitantly wealthy few paid for temples, baths, stadiums, public feasts.
The consequence was that the collectivity was hollowed out. In the U.S., as in Rome, public undertakings of all kinds arrive like gifts, with the public excluded from either involvement or obligation. (link)(pdf)
The are four scenarios possible, Murphy suggests:
- Fortress America (a militarized state),
- City-State America (powerful cities drive the nation much like Renaissance Italy),
- The Boardroom Scenario (a country lead by corporations–almost there), and
- “Being American” (an antidote to the decline that returns the nation to its founding beliefs in egalitarianism).
I’m routing for #4.