Tom Holland is a British writer, historian, and broadcaster. Among his many books are Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic (2003), Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom (2008), and In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (2012). His latest book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, will be published by Basic Books in October. (August 2019)

Follow Tom Holland on Twitter: @holland_tom.

NYR DAILY

America Is Not Rome. It Just Thinks It Is

Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836)

Back in the dying days of the Roman Republic, it had pleased the conservative senators who defined themselves as “optimates,” the best, to disparage their opponents as “populares”: populists. Yet the popularis tradition was one which, no less than their own, had long been part of the fabric of Roman politics. That it came to be weaponized by a succession of notorious Caesars—Caligula, Nero, Commodus himself—did not mean that it was necessarily incompatible with the functioning of a republic. The realization that mockery of elites and the trampling of political convention might be transmuted into popularity with the plebs had not inevitably doomed Rome to autocracy.