How Does a Civilization Die? Part II: The Fall

How Does a Civilization Die? Part I: The Decline

So Part I of this essay shows you how a strong free people transitions into an empire. Its successes and growth eventually channel its development into a complex social construct that requires interdependence and eventually destroys freedom and individuality in exchange for collective security and stability. And with the loss of individuality and initiative there comes a certain passivity and fatalism.

By the 120 A.D. the Roman Empire was said to be at its height. Trajan was a warrior emperor. He conquered what is Romania and defeated the Parthians thereby adding Mesopotamia (Iraq) to the empire. He was enlightened in his choice of successor picking a wise ruler instead of just going with familial loyalty. As far as anyone could tell the empire would last forever and eventually encompass the entire world. But within sixty years the roman world would be plunged into internal and external conflict from which it would never wholly recover. Its vitality quickly diminished and its intellectual, cultural and economic levels would all retreat from the high points they had reached during the republican period.

Many historians attribute this ebb to a plague in the second century A.D. Others say that the various barbarian incursions were responsible. I think they are mistaking effects for the cause. The Germanic tribes and Huns were no more powerful or numerous than the Carthaginians or the Gauls of previous times. In fact under the circumstances of the republican times these same peoples would have been eventually absorbed along the frontier of roman territory and converted into subjects and eventually citizens.

And under normal circumstances, the roman army was still an effective fighting force (although much diminished from its earlier might). So how was it dismantled by illiterate barbarians and who didn’t have the where with all to coin their own money or make their own arms?

The short answer was that the roman people didn’t know what to do. Whether they were the slaves of roman land owners or germanic overlords they were still slaves. And slaves don’t drop their ploughshares and grab swords to fight off invaders. They keep ploughing and hand over the fruits of their labor to the landlord regardless of whether he’s named Romulus Augustus or Odoacer. And long before the end, the lack of martial spirit had become so typical that the roman army took to outsourcing their work to the very barbarian tribes that they were supposed to be defending against.

Now let’s look at the United States.

I can remember hearing that during World War I young American men were hoping that the U.S. would get involved so that they would have the chance to fight. My own grandfather who was under-aged enlisted under the pseudonym of Charlie Young in order not to miss out on the adventure. What about today. Now granted, after the 9-11 attacks thousands of patriotic young men enlisted and did their part proudly. But look at the Millennials. They’ve been brought up to equate assault with saying “mean things.” How does someone who thinks in terms of “micro-aggressions” handle the Hun at the door? He doesn’t.

Economically, the globalist corporations and the last few administrations have dismantled almost all the industries that formerly employed millions of middle class Americans and shipped them to China and Mexico. With the help of Obamacare and the tax code they are now finishing off the small and medium sized companies that are left. Pretty soon the only ones not on welfare will be government emploees.
Socially, the first and second amendments are under attack and eventually we won’t be allowed to say or think anything the government doesn’t like. And without guns we’ll never get to change that situation.

So yeah, that’s sort of where the Romans started on the downward road to medieval serfdom. I think realistically we still have a few more years to change course. But I think it’s hard to be optimistic.

As a sort of exhibit of what the situation looked like in the final days of the Roman Empire I think the following example is instructive.

About 450 A.D. Atilla the Hun, the Scourge of God was sacking and despoiling the cities of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. This almost exactly coincides with when historians mark the end of the Western Empire and the beginning of the Germanic kingdom of Italy.

Anyway, the Eastern Roman Emperor sent a delegation to Atilla’s camp to negotiate tribute to limit the Hunnish incursion. One of the delegates was a Greek named Priscus who wrote a history of his times that has survived. His description of this delegation includes his meeting with a renegade. This was an eastern roman citizen of greek descent who had been captured when the Huns sacked Viminacium (a city on the Danube). He adopted the Hun lifestyle. He was now a full member of Atilla’s court.

Priscus questions the renegade about his life. The renegade defends the Hunnish lifestyle and attacks the Roman institutions. He defends the life of a marauder describing how after battle the warriors can enjoy their spoils in leisure. Even balancing in the hardships and dangers of war the life was good. He compares this to how the Romans in time of war suffer from the poor quality of the army and generals and if their army is defeated the civilians have no arms of their own to defend themselves. In peace time they are burdened with crippling taxation and the laws and the courts are hopelessly rigged against the common man. It was not the life you would choose.

Priscus answers these charges by defending the fairness and well-meaning nature of the roman law and claims that the divisions of society are necessary for the efficient and proper function of life.

The renegade grants that in theory the roman world should be a good place but he concludes by saying that the rulers were corrupt and had ruined the roman world.

Looking at this window into the past it’s hard not to draw parallels to our own time. In theory all the things we do increase fairness and safety but in reality they damage the health of the nation. The government restricts freedom and amasses power into its own hands. The people become less able to improve their own lot and control their own destiny. They become more dependent on an all powerful state and less capable of acting independently in an emergency. Sound familiar?

So this is how a civilization dies. It regiments the populace into castes like insects in a hive and when a catastrophe disrupts the pattern of normal life the whole structure collapses like a deck of cards. The inhabitants lack the flexibility or will to adapt and save themselves and their world by changing.

How Does a Civilization Die? Part I: The Decline

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.

How Does a Civilization Die? Part-II: The Fall

August 21st 2016 Election Status Report

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Presidential Poll is a rolling poll that is updated daily. It’s based on a 3,000 eligible voters. Today Donald Trump is ahead of Hillary Clinton 45% to 43%. What does this mean? Well, actually who knows. What it means to me is that a non-republican polling group has Trump ahead. To me that makes it credible. It doesn’t mean he’s definitely winning. But it does mean that those ridiculous polls by every left wing pollster imaginable showing Hillary ahead by 10% or 15% or even 20 % are a bunch of crap.

And that’s important. It means the drive by media will attempt another hit piece about Trump eating baby unicorns. It also means that Louisiana and the other bad news for democrats stories have had some traction. Labor Day is getting close and it’s time for the campaigns to switch into high gear. Expect endless political commercials and endless democrat outrage at anything Trump says. Well, it’s time for him to up his game. And based on the last week’s worth of speeches (in Milwaukee and Louisiana) I think he might be ready.

Hopefully Trump’s folks are ready to start spending money on advertising. I just hope they use it to go for the throat. Playing it safe isn’t what got him this far and it isn’t what he needs to pull ahead. The appeal to black voters was smart and also innovative. It speaks to the fundamental weakness of the democrat coalition. A few more jabs like that would put a good scare into the dems and might even get some votes from unexpected quarters.

I think focusing on the Millennials would be a very smart move. They are the primary recipients of the Obama economic meltdown. The Bernie voters are still out there and ripe for the picking. Another good move might be focusing on some cultural factors. Playing up the political correctness aspects of progressive organizations and groups and how they restrict the freedom of everyday people would seem to be fertile ground for campaigning.

Finally I think pointing up the most obnoxious qualities and policies of Obama (IRS attacks, executive orders putting coal miners out of work) is a political winner. So prepare for the two-fold narrative push:

1) Hillary is already a “lock.”

2) Have you heard the latest Trump gaffe?

That’s what the Trump campaign needs to push back on. Hopefully they’ve put together a good strategy. If there are going to be debates I expect that will be Hillary’s weakest link. She’s not very good off the cuff. The only thing he has to be careful about is looking to mean to the old bag.

Independence Day – A Few Thoughts

So I’m an American. Great grandson of immigrants. Close enough to the boat to know what it is like to be one of the newbies but around long enough to feel a pride in belonging to something exceptional.

I was brought up on the notion that living here was as close to being in heaven as you could get without having to die. And in a lot of ways it lived up to the hype. The streets weren’t paved with gold. But they were paved. No one starved. And that even went for the “poor.” Even the marginally working class had enough to feed a family. Everyone could read and write and if you weren’t a hopeless sociopath chances were you could hold down some kind of job and support yourself. Most folks attended a church and dragged the kids along to help “steer them in the right direction.”

The general notion was that America was a machine that took well-intentioned people who followed the rules and worked hard and from them generated wealth and happiness for everyone.

But sometimes the machine ran off the rails. The two big hiccups that I grew up with were the 1930’s and the late 1970’s. Each of these events damaged the morale of the nation and brought into question the stability of our way of life. No one knows how the world would have turned out if the Second World War hadn’t “saved” us from the Depression but what is important is that by the twentieth century Americans believed that not only could the US government avoid recessions but if it didn’t it would be held responsible. Herbert Hoover was vilified as the epitome of a callous plutocrat. And Jimmy Carter was cast out as a loser who had allowed the American industrial engine to stall out into stagflation.

Coming up to the present, George W. Bush was blamed for the Crash of 2008. In an eight year period that in many ways resembled the ’30s, Obama seemed to mostly get a pass for not reviving the American economy. This is reminiscent of the treatment FDR received. Apparently if you can vilify your predecessor successfully enough you can avoid blame (if you’re a democrat).

So what have we learned? Americans expect results. Especially from republicans. Apparently people don’t expect democrats to make the economy work. They will settle for handouts. But republicans have to deliver. The logic must be, “you people are always talking about free enterprise, well, put up or shut up.”

So here’s the whole thing in a nutshell. If you want to be a republican president coming in under a bad economy and you want to be re-elected, you not only have to revive the economy but you also have to do it in your first two years. Otherwise you’ll lose the Congress and be hamstrung by the democrats.

Unless of course you can buy off the people with free stuff (a la the democrats) and/or distract them with some bigger problem. Trump is betting that immigration is that bigger problem. And he may be right. If he actually accomplishes a good chunk of his deportation idea, he may get some extra time to revive the economy.

All right, this whole convoluted essay is basically trying to confirm something that is becoming harder for even the purest free trade advocate to ignore. The American People are fine with business making lots of money, as long as they are part of that equation. If American companies move all their plants and their jobs offshore then they’re not American companies. And they should not be treated as such. And if a foreign company builds a plant in the US and employs Americans then they should be rewarded any way we can. It’s not all that complicated. Americans with jobs don’t turn into a mob. So get them jobs, now!

Whoever gets into office next better get results and fast. Or else there are gonna be fireworks.