The transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire is sometimes used as a cautionary tale of how a relatively democratic system can delve into an autocratic dictatorship.
Even as a republic, the Roman state was more an oligarchy led by a ruling class of senate and consuls from aristocratic and powerful families. The evolution from a monarchy to a senate which led the government to dictatorship has fascinated historians for as long as records from that period have been studied.
The transformation occurred not solely with the ascension to power from Julius Caesar, but it was a steady erosion of institutional power by repeated waves of brute force, power and ambition from military leaders such as Marius, Sulla to finally Julius Caesar, Pompey and culminating with Caesar’s Augustus, the final nail in the coffin of the Republic.
Although history does not admit direct comparisons, it is interesting to attempt some comparisons with US history.
The country also initiated a constitutional government by a ruling elite averse to absolute monarchy. It also saw a meteoric rise to prominence in the world setting and after a direct dispute with the superpowers of its day, it gradually became the most powerful player in global politics, until achieving almost hyperpower state following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
However, we have seen how, like in Rome, internal divisions and challenges by leaders who ride the wave of populism and hyperbole to advance their own interests, gradually eroded the bedrocks of its institutions and sow doubt over the steadiness of its foundations.
After internal strife gradually reduced its power, Rome saw itself override by barbarians as Visigoths led by Alaric sacked the city in 410 AD, the first time the city fell to a foreign enemy in almost 800 years.
This week we saw a similar barbarian invasion of the US Capitol in the country’s capital, one of the highest symbols of American government, in this case, barbarians invited and incited by the emperor himself and his followers, refusing to accept the results of a free and fair election.
The Roman Republic fell after ambitious leaders decided that unspoken rules and traditions have no value if you refuse to acknowledge them or accept their legitimacy and use personal charisma and loyal troops to challenge them for personal glory.
History does not repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes. The next years will reveal if this moment represented the downfall of the American empire or the pinpoint that led it back from the abyss and proof of force from its institutions.
As usual, the rest of the world will look on as history continues to advance faster and faster