When I was growing up, Christians of a certain eschatological stripe spent a lot of time musing about the coming political events that would immediately precede the end of the world. While I think we’re (thankfully) on the other side of the majority of that musing, there is a broader cultural reflection going on that is basically asking the same kinds of questions on a smaller scale about the United States. Are we at the end of our republic? Is a dictator on the horizon for us politically? Can we look at the history and collapse of other republics like ancient Rome and predict what’s coming down the road for us?
Though he doesn’t answer all of these questions, Mike Duncan’s The Storm before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic is an excellent place to start. Aside from its content (more on that in a minute), this book is well-written, easy to read, and accessible even for non-scholars. It is excellent and should be on your shelf.
More importantly, The Storm before the Storm is reasonable and balanced in its narrative. Covering the lead-up to the Roman Revolution from 146-78BC, Duncan gives an even-handed description of the events that eventually lead to the destruction of the Republic and the establishment of the Roman Empire. He treats the various individuals involved as fully-fleshed out human beings with complex motivations rather than as caricatures. He is also clear when people are in the wrong (often by failing to keep their word or honor agreements).
You’ll have to read the book on your own to get the details of his argument–and any application to the United States is utterly absent (which is to Duncan’s credit, as far as I’m concerned). But the parallels are still there. The breakdown of accepted practices, the use of established institutions for partisan grandstanding, the decline in the ability to compromise, the rise of angry rhetoric, and the inability of the economic classes to respect each other in society, all play a part in the grand narrative of the collapse of the Roman Republic.
All that to say, you should read this book and think carefully about the state of our own state. Christians haven’t always been great at that, and The Storm before the Storm is one tool that can help us think better about our own times and nation.