Lately there has been a lot of talk about civilization and civilizations. You hear people talk about the “clash of civilizations” by which they are describing the tension between “The West” and Islam. And there’s a lot of talk. These are old concepts and they’ve been revived after the failure of “The End of History” which is to say after the 9-11 attacks.
And then there’s talk about the failure of western culture and the Fall of the West. Here the factors are the loss of cultural vitality and native population decrease and the dilution of identity through massive immigration. This is countered by the contention that the global culture is just replacing the outdated local identities. We’re all becoming citizens of the world. After all, we all (or most of us) have an I-phone and a gmail account. We can’t be that different.
So any way there’s a lot of talk.
I’ve been thinking lately about how a civilization dies. So when you do that you have to go back to the great-grand-daddy of all civilizational collapses. That’s right you guessed it.
“THE DECLINE & FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE!!!!!”
At the outset let me paraphrase Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day and say, “Edward Gibbon ain’t got nothing on me.”
That’s the textbook case for all theories and phenomena. And in the example of Rome there are a number of analogies to the United States. And this is not surprising because the Founding Fathers used Rome as one of the sources for their state building project.
In Part I of this post I’ll describe the reason for the decline. In Part II I’ll discuss the results.
Both states depended on the citizen soldier to defend her in her earlier days from more powerful enemies. Both were recognized as exceptional nations that combined practical innovation and great energy. Both states began as highly religious people who honored the family as the basis of its legitimate power and where the pater familias ensured that traditions were maintained and discipline was real. Both states started as a nation of small farmers. Both states began with a conscious intent to eliminate hereditary monarchs.
This similarity extended beyond the conditions at their founding. The other striking similarity was their success at expanding and consolidating their states and incorporating new ideas and things into their lives. Also it would not be an exaggeration to say that they had an almost unshakable belief in their greater destiny.
So what brought down the Roman Republic? It appears that the very success they had in war and their emulation of their more cultured neighbors was the eventual cause of the destruction of the republic. The contact with the greek and near eastern communities led to the adoption of more luxurious standards of living and the breakdown of family authority. The copying of fashionable greek homosexual behavior threatened the continuity of family life and traditions. The changed role of women in society also helped to degrade traditional home life.
The continuous state of war in the later republic and the scope and distance of the wars fought eventually made it impossible for the citizen soldier to exist. A man couldn’t drop his plow, fight a battle and then go back to his fields. He had to be gone for at least several years at a time. This required the need for conscription for very long periods of service. Eventually this produced the professional army that owed its loyalty to the ones paying its salary. Eventually they became very like mercenaries who could deliver the empire to the highest bidder.
Also the wealth amassed by the conquest of the older eastern states made some of the generals wildly wealthy and they used this wealth to build enormous farming estates in Italy to the virtual exclusion of the former small farm owners. As an added problem the wholesale importation of conquered peoples as agricultural slaves further devalued the worth of the small farmer. As the power of the state and the bureaucracy grew the majority of the citizens resembled more and more the medieval serfs, attached to a landed aristocracy and dependent on agricultural labor to remain alive. So by the height of the Imperial Age you had the paradox of a Roman State that had used its highly professional army to conquer all the neighboring states and basically eliminate external threats. But by the same token the majority of the citizens were essentially slaves to a highly oppressive aristocracy. And because of the strength of the army there was no reasonable hope for a revolt.
Now let’s compare the United States.
The traditional lifestyle and roles of Americans have been in flux since around the turn of the Twentieth Century and these changes have been accelerating ever since.
Female Suffrage, sexual freedom and the independence of children from parental authority has reached the point where even traditional family groups live a confused and unsatisfactory existence. With the advent of the homosexual rights movement and its subsequent mainstreaming by the Supreme Court it is fair to say that traditional family life is now viewed as aberrant by the trendsetters of society. The ability of society to protect children is now to be questioned.
Since the end of the Vietnam War the army has become virtually a professional volunteer enterprise. Nothing short of a direct attack on the US homeland (the 9-11 attacks) has been able to galvanize anything like a desire for general mobilization. Moreover, a concerted effort is being made by large segments of the government to discourage the belief in the need for the Second Amendment.
The era of the family farm started to disappear with the increase in manufacturing jobs in the mid-1800s. But these factory jobs were able to sustain a high average income and spawned the middle class. However, since the end of the 1980s automation and globalization have lead to great dislocation of workers and disruption of almost every facet of American life. Family life especially has been negatively impacted. With the advent of wholesale immigration of skilled third world labor by globalist “American” corporations the problem has reached a critical stage. It is easy to see how eventually this will lead to the majority of Americans being reduced to poverty and virtual serfdom. And with the advent of advanced artificial intelligence it begins to look like a very powerful government could use a professional armed forces to suppress any revolt (especially if that population has already been disarmed).
In Part II we’ll discuss how the changes in the Roman state (and modern analogs) made it inevitable that eventually it would collapse.