'Dark Ages America' begins as a grim prophecy of decline and fall, citing four traits shared, he says, by the late Roman Empire and the United States today, namely, 'the triumph of religion over reason,' 'the breakdown of education and critical thinking,' the 'legalization of torture' and declining respect and financial power on the world stage.This isn't the first time Berman has compared America to the last days of the Roman Empire. Back in 2000 he wrote another book, The Twilight of American Culture, that also received a negative review in the Times (by, Alexander Star, editor of Lingua Franca) :
Berman compares the predicament of contemporary America with that of the Roman Empire in its final days. Just like Rome, the United States suffers from an increasing gap between rich and poor, a teeming bazaar of eccentric faiths and a general dumbing-down of the collective intelligence... Despite all of America's entrepreneurial ''dynamism,'' a new dark age is falling.... he tells us that [during the Dark Ages] ''the intellectual disciplines of distinction, definition and dialectic'' were lost...I'm only going to address the newer book (I included the bit from the second just to show that Berman likes to beat this particular horse) and I'm also going to ignore the American half of Berman's hyperbolic (I believe) comparison.
The first thing to note is that it was only the Western Roman Empire that "fell" as Berman believes. The Eastern half did pretty well (as Byzantium) for another 1000 years or so. In fact, if you're bored already: stop reading. What I just wrote is the most important take away point.
The reasons for the "fall" of the Western half are many, including a weakened political system and failed tax system. One potential causal force that has certainly lost favor is that of a military "Barbarian invasion." Yes, there are still aspects of it that are entirely appropriate, but it's no longer simply crossing the Rhine in A.D. 406 followed by Attila 50 years later and it was all over for Rome. Instead, many argue that the Western Roman Empire essentially assimilated itself away.
Now to deal with Berman's list of 4 reasons for the fall of Rome. Hmm. The "triumph of religion over reason"... please see the point about Byzantium. Seems like they lasted for 1,000 years as a religious empire.
Second--and related to the first--the bit about the "breakdown of education and critical thinking." Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that it was because of the same church that Berman finds so despicable that the philosophy of Aristotle was rescued. Ever hear of Saint Thomas Aquinas?
Third, the "legalization of torture". I confess, I'm not sure what he means by that one. He could be alluding to the Spanish Inquisition that ocurred 1,000 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but who knows? Besides, refresh my memory: wasn't there a guy named Jesus who, along with two other fellas, was crucified by the Roman Empired circa A.D. 35? Or is crucification not torture? Or does Berman's timeline for the "fall" begin sometime after Caesar and before Marcus Arelius?
Then there is the last bit about Rome's declining respect and influence. Well, the respect for Rome declined so much that the various Barbarian kingdoms that cropped up tried to mimic it as much as possible (at least initially). They copied Roman law, tried to use Latin, adopted the Roman Catholic religion and a myriad of other things. Of course (again), there was still quite a bit of respect for and influence felt from the Eastern Roman Empire!!!!
To be fair, all of this is a bit snarky and only based on one review. I guess the main point I'd like to make is that any use of the "Fall of Rome" has to take into consideration the fact that the wealthier, more politically and militarily stable half of the Roman Empire managed to "hold on" for another 1,000 years.