Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Polymath-mania

So I'm a polymath, eh Mitch? A polymath?!! Um, well.... (quickly looking up the word "polymath" at dictionary.com) ... thank you. I knew that was a compliment. Yesiree.

On to other matters.

In my typical polymathic way, I noticed something about the formats of various blogs I read compared to this one (those of you less polymathically inclined may not be interested in the formats of blogs, so I'll try to be brief). I read a fair number on a regular basis. And the format of this one seems to be emerging in some weird cross-pollinization from them. I was thinking today about which ones I may be "borrowing" from based on what I read.

Instapundit? Master of the news links with pithy commentary style. I've tried that on occasion, but it doesn't seem to fit me well. And when I do try, I probably borrow Mitch's Shot in the Dark style more than Glenn's, format aside.

Roger L. Simon? Close in style, but I honestly don't think I took anything from him. I didn't even start reading him until a couple of months ago. But really odd that I do seem to blog very much like him.

Lileks? Well it's a weird comparison, but yeah. I think I'm copying the Bleat's style more as I go along. A sad thing too, because I don't write anywhere near as well. And it's not like I set out to write "mini-Bleat." But I have been reading it longer than any other blog (I know James hates to call the Bleat a blog, but everyone else does it anyway), and it is generally the very first site I hit in the morning. God help me if I start becoming hyper-organized and discover an unusual fondness for old matchbook covers.

I think what draws me most to that style is that in the Bleat James generally just writes about whatever strikes his fancy - politics, hobbies, family, any event in his life - and shoves it all into a single post. Sometimes it's a coherent single topic. Sometimes it shifts abruptly from one topic to another. I find that style conversational and natural, even if my writing doesn't allow me to pull it off as well as James.

Not that any of that is important to anything else. Just something I thought of. Anyway, Bleat-like, I will now move on to another topic. And it's still not the theatre stuff. That's still percolating, and will either become one monster of a post or several different ones.

What I intended to write about, in typical polymatherific fashion, was the Roman Empire. Seriously.

It's rather fashionable these days to compare America to the Roman Empire. And there are certainly parallels one could note: unrivaled military power, republican form of government, pagan cults to scary goddesses, etc. And while I have lots to say on the topic (I've studied it off and on since childhood - ain't that polymathish of me?), I think I'll narrow the focus down to just this: Rome did not become an empire out of a desire to be an empire. It became an empire because the alternative was to leave in place political chaos which consistently proved itself dangerous to Roman interests.

This needs a bit of context for those only informed about such things through traditional (i.e. poorly researched) news articles. The Roman Empire is not synonymous with Roman tyranny. Rome gained an empire while still a republic. Much of the expansion was peaceful, and when it involved war it was often war undertaken on behalf of a threatened ally. Rome was even invited in to take over rulership in some places. Only after the Republic was in shambles were true wars of aggression, expanding the empire for its own sake, undertaken. Before then the drive to expansion was fueled by a combination of concern for Rome's security (economic as well as physical) and altruism.

This is a point underappreciated by left and right, and it has great relevance to the post-9/11 world. I have thought about it on a number of occasions, but perhaps this post from Vodkapundit demonstrates its relevance better than I could. In attempting to explain why America is not going to go isolationist, he illustrates a potential drive to empire.

For better or for worse, America will remain involved in the world to an extent not seen since the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam, for the foreseeable future. In case you hadn't heard, we had a couple skyscrapers knocked over a couple years back, and we're still a little pissed off about the whole thing. From Marrakech to Manila, from the Rio Grande to the Rio Plata, we're all kinds of tied up in world events.

And like it or not, we're going stay that way. Another 9/11-scale terror attack is more likely involve us further in world affairs, than it is to force us to sue for peace. That's just how Americans are. We don't usually ask for peace; we prefer to dictate its terms.


This is the core of the Bush Doctrine, in so many words. And don't let election year rhetoric fool you; most Democrats share it, even if they'd execute it differently (IMO less competently).

We woke up one morning to discover that our security was threatened from kooks running around in pissy little countries half way across the globe. Therefore, in the interest of our own security, we became far more engaged with those pissy little countries. Once engaged, our own basic morality has prompted us to try to improve the sorry lot of those we found ourselves responsible for (i.e. residents of Afghanistan and Iraq).

We're trying like crazy to make this engagement brief and goal oriented, and unless you're a moonbat you realize no one is trying to build an empire out of this situation.

But intentions aren't the point. Sometimes the pissy little countries don't want you to leave. Sometimes your own security won't allow you to leave. Pretty soon the imposed order becomes routine for all involved. Certain economic interests come to take the situation for granted, eventually becoming dependent on it. By then there are a whole bunch of people - occupied, occupier, and independent - who all have a vested interest in NOT letting the situation end. No nefarious intentions are needed here. Just people acting in their own self-interest with the best of intentions.

Of course none of these parallels suggests destiny. History here serves as a warning, not a roadmap. But it's an important warning. Because the primary reason the Roman Republic fell into tyranny was that the needs of the empire couldn't be properly handled by the Republic.

I suppose this a very long way of saying that we have a lot riding on the viability of the new government in Iraq. And it's a lot more than the getting back in the good graces of the French.

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