Modern Empires Have Been Unsuccessful in Implementing the Model of the Roman Empire

The Roman model has provided inspiration to later attempts to develop the imperial, supra-national model.  All of Western history subsequent to the fall and dissolution of the Roman Empire has looked back upon this empire to provide guidance on the question of how to succeed in overcoming the limitations of the nation-state and creating a supra-national unity.  Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The example of Rome has haunted the political imagination of Europe ever since.  Not only has it been behind the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne and Napoleon’s gigantic attempt and the German dream of world-empire governed by Teutonic efficiency and Teutonic culture, but all the imperial nations, including France and England, have followed to a certain extent in its footsteps.”

For a variety of reasons these modern attempts at empire have all failed, and the world has reverted, in a post-colonial age, to the national unit as the predominant basic building block of human interaction.  The more recent effort of creation of a supra-national European union is still undergoing its own problems and has not been completely nor universally successful, although it is still searching for a way to incorporate both the superstructure of a larger unity with the cultural and language differences within the individual national members.

The reasons for the failures to emulate the success of the Roman Empire reside both in the inadequacy of the implementation by the modern imitators, whereby they attempted to impose their own cultural and linguistic requirements on disparate peoples through military, economic and political control, or else, they simply tried to enforce their will for the purpose of exploiting the resources of the conquered nations, or they simply were unable to address the new concerns, opportunities and requirements that arose subsequent to the time of the Roman experiment.  In the case of Germany’s Third Reich, the attempt to master disparate lands and peoples was accomplished not only through military, political and economic prowess, but through an attempt to decimate and essentially exterminate peoples whom they did not want to try to integrate into their model, a bloody attempt that was later emulated by Stalin during his ethnic and political purges as he forged the modern Russian imperial model.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The European nations have extended their empires by the old Roman method of military conquest and colonisation, abandoning for the most part the pre-Roman principle of simple overlordship or hegemony which was practiced by the Assyrian and Egyptian kings, the Indian States and the Greek cities.”

The failures of these subsequent attempts are commented on as follows:  “It is as if Nature had said, ‘That experiment has been carried once to its logical consequences and once is enough.  I have made new conditions; find you new means or at least mend and add to the old where they were deficient or went astray.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 6, Ancient and Modern Methods of Empire, pg. 47