I have just been giving some talks and lectures in America, starting in Houston and ending up in Los Angeles vis Seattle. One of the places I visited was Scripps College (above), which is I guess the Newnham of Los Angeles, a women's college on the West Coast, so a kind of home from home. But there were other great locations too: Los Angeles Public Library, Seattle Town Hall and Christ Church Cathedral in Houston. Thanks to all for the great welcome. I am now in need of a good night's sleep!
I was, of course, talking about things Roman (as usual), but there was a difference from what I have found before. People at lectures have always been quite keen to raise questions about parallels between ancient Rome and modern America. But -- on the basis of this four-day visit (and it wasn't a representative sample, I agree) -- that has ramped up a notch. Everywhere I went, I had questions about how far we could draw parallels with, or learn lessons from, ancient Rome.
What is it that has driven this interest? In part, it seems to be Trump. As I've said before, there is something about Trump which brings out the Roman in people. But if I prefer to see the only real comparison in the Julius Caesar style hair, there have been all kinds of suggestions which make Trump the late Republican demagogue (Clodius?), or even the new Caesar in a much more fundamental sense (the classic populist dictator, the restorer of order after the debacle of the late Republic -- albeit at the cost of autocracy, and so on). In part, it was an issue of imperial geo-politics. Is the American empire (if that's what you should call it) experiencing a decline like that of the Roman empire? And what caused the decline of the Roman empire anyway?
A bit of both, of course. But I think it is driven by a much greater institutional echo between ancient Rome and modern America than anything we know in the UK. In Britain we connect with Rome largely through historical geography (roads, place names, and the Roman villa in our backyards); they were here. In the USA, it is much more a question of the (constructed) inheritance of political institutions: the senate, the Capitol, etc. So, at the cost of a bit of wild generalisation, political issues and debates can very quickly and apparently "naturally" get a Roman dimension. I mean, we don't here compare Farage to a Roman -- but that seems to be a favourite point of reference in the States.
It certainly produces some good and lively discussions, but how much it actually tells us about ancient or modern discussions is a moot point.