A CRITICAL DECLINE

THE MAIL

To the Editors of The Crimson:

Jaroslav Pelikan has had the good sense to call attention to the obvious: that Americans are now suffering from a "failure of nerve," a "sense of collective impotence," and a doubt as to whether the "future holds anything worth striving for"--a condition which shows at least some parallel to that of Rome in decline. Many acute social critics--notably Lewis Mumford in America and F.R. Leavis in England--have been saying similar things, not out of despair but in the hope that if we face the situation we can make room for the shoots of new life trying to struggle through the concrete.

Now three Harvard historians, Oscar Handlin, John Clive, and John Womack, Jr., want to deny the obvious (Crimson., Nov. 14). Professor Clive's reasons are especially striking: he asserts "that America's tremendous technological capacity makes any comparisons between the United States and Rome meaningless." Also, "One sure indication that America is not declining is that more and more people are reading Gibbon."

Professor Clive might be interested to read a manuscript, circa 400 A.D., by the Roman historian Johannes Clivius, who states, "Those absurd fellows who believe that Rome is in decline are ignorant of our empire's tremendous technological capacity: our roads, bridges, aqueducts, chariots, public buildings, feats of military engineering. Moreover, more people are reading Vergil than ever before." Peter Wirth '69