6.17.2007

Roman Empire: gold standard of immigration

Roman Empire: gold standard of immigrationBy Cullen Murphy, LATimes - 6.16.07)

The ancient superpower could teach the U.S. a thing or two about a strong multicultural society.

YOU'VE SEEN the phrase a hundred times: "the world's longest boundary between a First World and Third World country." But hearing those words the other day, as the immigration bill seemed to be falling apart in the Senate, my thoughts turned not to the 2,000-mile border of the United States and Mexico but to ancient Rome's 6,000-mile border with … well, its border with everywhere.

There's a widespread view that the Roman Empire was swept away mainly by a relentless tide of hostile outsiders; we've all heard ugly references to the "barbarian hordes" in today's immigration debates. But the truth is that Rome was the world's most successful multiethnic state until our own — and history's longest lasting one, bar none.

So it's natural to wonder if the Romans might have anything to teach Americans. I'd argue that they do. One lesson is that the notion of "taking control of the borders" is overrated; borders were pliable then, and are even harder to define (or police) now. A second lesson is the importance of nurturing a national culture. It was the source of Rome's power, just as it is the source of ours.

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