How to Conquer Tyranny and Avoid Tragedy: A Lesson on Defeating Systems of Empire

From Socrates to Cicero to our calamitous 21st century...


By Cynthia Chung

It is common today to be confronted with the belief that any country, any civilization that gains a certain degree of power, will be destined to become an empire. After all, we are in an American system of empire right now that is presently clashing with competing “systems of empire” from the East, correct?

Well, this is at least, the geopolitical thinking that has been driving 75 years of cold war to this present day. That despite us being told that the cold war ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is rather evident that this cold war is still ongoing.

So is humanity doomed? Can a flourishing and prosperous civilization avoid the seductions of empire?

At first glance looking at history, the answer looks rather bleak for us. It can easily look like the good is always losing to tyranny. The list is seemingly endless of assassinations, betrayals, the madness of the mob, the degree of villainy that tyranny is willing to commit; such that it seems nothing genuinely good has the ability to last for very long before it falls once again into the clutches of tyranny.

It is true that we would be very hard pressed indeed to find an example in our history where a great civilization did not undergo periods of empire and that many great civilizations entirely collapsed as a result of it. Many of these former systems of empire still exist as large cities or countries today. If these regions were to once again hold immense power, would they return to the whim of empire?

Such a question cannot be answered until we have a thorough understanding of what causes a civilization to enter into a system of empire. By this I do not mean a cold, calculating summary of events and dates of “historical” significance. What I mean by a study of history, is the story, the drama behind the events that took place. What moved the people in their passions, their concerns, their fears that shaped the judgments and actions of their time. By us entering into the drama as if we were participants ourselves within these potent moments in history, we will in turn be able to look upon our own time with fresh eyes. We will be able to compare how our thoughts were different and how they were similar to those of the great civilisations of the distant past; and by observing how their thoughts culminated into the consequences of large events in history, we can judge whether our similarity or difference to these periods in time is a good or bad thing.

In this class, we will review the story of the rise and fall of both Ancient Athens and Rome.

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