American Decline

America is the Holy Roman Empire of the 21st century

This is an insult to the memory of the Holy Roman Empire.

By Ryan Cooper

The Week

Germany is today a first-rank power: rich, strong, and efficiently governed. But just over 200 years ago, most of its current territory was a shambolic mess — part of the Holy Roman Empire, which even at the time was recognized as an anachronistic political fossil. More than a thousand years old at that point, the empire was a patchwork of hundreds of different duchies, electorates, principalities, kingdoms, church lands, and so forth, some of them just a few dozen acres (Liechtenstein is one of these relics which still survives), with an exceptionally complicated and illogical tangle of legal institutions overlaying them all. Surpassed by history, the confederation was ripe for the picking by an opportunistic tyrant.

The United States today bears an uncomfortable similarity to that doomed empire. The American Constitution is the oldest in the world still operating, and has been obviously out of date for well over a century. Half the basic mechanics of government are either malfunctioning kludges or a gross betrayal of its own founding principles. Countries that fail to maintain themselves to this degree often do not survive.

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