The Newnan Times-Herald

Subscribe Now

Subscribe Now

Opinion

The Origins of Vandalism


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jun. 14, 2022 - 3:51 PM

The Origins of Vandalism

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.

One thousand five hundred and sixty-seven years ago this month, an event occurred that gave rise to the term “vandalism.”

It was the Sack of Rome in the year 455, and it was the Vandals who did it.

It was not the first time the imperial city was ravaged, and it would not be the last. Gallic Celts pillaged republican Rome in 387 B.C. Eight centuries later, in 410 A.D., the Visigoths led by Alaric burned, murdered and ransacked for three days. The last sack of Rome in ancient times occurred at the hands of the Visigoths in 476 A.D. and is generally regarded as the death knell of the Western Roman Empire.

What the barbarians did to Rome, hoodlums on a smaller scale did to Minneapolis, New York, Portland and Chicago in 2020 but for this significant difference: The ones who assaulted Rome were foreigners.

The Sack of Rome that began on June 2 in 455 lasted 14 days. The Vandals first disabled the city’s vaunted aqueducts, depriving the citizens of water. The extent of the damage they inflicted in those terrifying two weeks is debated by historians, but we know for sure that they ripped off every speck of gold and silver they could carry.

A superficial analysis of the fall of Rome (in the West) would suggest that foreign invaders killed it. But imagine someone with COVID who jumps from a plane at 35,000 feet without a parachute. It’s a lousy coroner who would pronounce the man “dead from COVID.” The coroner would be dead right about “dead” but the jumper actually expired with COVID, not from COVID. Likewise, foreign invaders were a nuisance to Rome, but the cause of death was suicide.

The American historian Will Durant argued that “The political causes of decay were rooted in one fact—that increasing despotism destroyed the citizen’s civic sense and dried up statesmanship at its source.” In the Epilogue to his book “Caesar and Christ,” Durant wrote:

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.

The Roman historian Tacitus witnessed a marked decay of Rome in his own lifetime. He lamented the demise of the liberties of the old Republic and the rise of politicians of dubious character. “Lust of absolute power is more burning than all the passions,” he wrote. “When men of talents are punished, authority is strengthened,” he explained. Tacitus deplored sleazy legislators who stole from taxpayers to enrich themselves and their friends: “And now bills were passed, not only for national objects but for individual cases, and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.”

As eerie parallels between today’s societies and that of ancient Rome echo all around us, we’re overdue for a wake-up call. Maybe that should start with a serious understanding of exactly what killed Rome. It appears we are drinking the same poison the ancient Romans did.

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.