A View of Rome from the Provinces

A View of Rome from the Provinces

Allister Sparks

The American scholar spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "Not since Rome," he said, "has a single power...

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The American scholar spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. "Not since Rome," he said, "has a single power so dominated the world--militarily, economically, culturally; in science, in the arts, in education." Around the Washington seminar table, sage heads nodded. It was not a statement uttered with boastful intent. It was spoken, and received by the audience, as an expression of self-evident truth.

Objectively assessed, the statement is probably true. American dominance in the world is indeed extraordinary. Yet, as the only foreigner in the room, I bristled. There is a disturbing whiff of hubris about such an assured assumption of one´s own superiority. I made some crack about how good it was to come from the provinces to Rome to sit at the feet of the patricians, but I fear the irony passed unnoticed. The American self-image of a mighty power that is also a benign hegemon, the global custodian of democratic values and human rights, is deeply rooted. There is genuine bewilderment at the fact that the United States is not universally admired but is, rather, often seen as domineering and manipulative.