"Today, though, we find ourselves in the midst of the ascent of a figure right out of Petronius: an orange-colored vulgarian of meretricious display, right down to the trophy wives from Far Elsewhere—with an ambition to dominate, a cunning out of proportion to his wisdom, a contempt for truth coupled with a readiness to manipulate, and a personal arrogance combined with, and indifferent to, a universal understanding that he is utterly unfit to govern. Now that we are in possession of an honest-to-God demagogue of the classical model, old portents of doom seem pertinent.
Our civilization bears little relation to the Roman one. A slave-based, pre-technological society—aqueducts are cool, but they are not jet travel nor the Internet nor neutrino nets—bears no relation to one built on the double Enlightenment gift of secure scientific knowledge and ever-increasing tolerance. But all republics and democracies in history do have something in common. They’re fragile. That’s why Lincoln could speak so solemnly at Gettysburg of government of the people, by the people, for the people perishing from the earth. For him, it wasn’t rhetoric; not at all. Mostly, they had. So themes persist, and the Forum walk instructs. Whether moved by rich men’s recklessness or poor people’s fearfulness—or a little of both—strong social arrangements do fall too easily apart. We hope that it’s our demagogue who’s doomed. But democracy remains more delicate than we imagine. The lesson of the Roman Forum is that everything is more delicate than we can imagine."