Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The modern West is *not* recapitulating the decline of the Western Roman Empire

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While there are some parallels, the differences between the decline of the modern West and the decline of the Roman Empire are qualitative and decisive.

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1. The modern West rose with the industrial revolution, which is unprecedented in human history.

And the industrial revolution was a consequence of multiple and frequent 'technological' breakthroughs that caused a massive increase in productivity - such that the population of the world increased seven-fold; so we now have a world of more than seven billion people - six billion of whom are utterly dependent on continued technological innovation and expertise.

2. In the 400s AD Christianity was extremely vigorous and devout, dominated the affairs of the Empire, and had been growing exponentially for about 14 generations by the high reproductive success among its adherents as well as rapid conversion - that certainly does not apply to the world of 2014, where most of institutional Christianity is not just feeble and declining - but substantially anti-Christian in intent and effect.

3. Ancient Rome was corrupt, incompetent, faced by too many problems and so on... but the modern West is not merely corrupt and incompetent - but rather it is actively working to destroy itself.

Because of the apostasy of the elites; the modern Western ruling class hates itself, and labours strategically and deliberately to mislead, weaken, subvert and invert their societal values, especially to attack the remnants of real Christianity and Christian values (both at home and internationally) - and to support and favour enemies of Christianity and Christian values (both at home and internationally).

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No - we are not recapitulating Rome - we are in new, unprecedented and uncharted territory. There have never been times like these, and there has never been a situation like this one.  

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7 comments:

deconstructingleftism said...

As I was writing my previous comment I remembered this was a common and much mocked trope of conservative Christians in the 1970's, at least in the US. I'll stick with my idea, though. If you look at the late 1st century the parallels are stronger.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - I wasn't just 'getting at you' with this post! But I had been commenting somewhere on exactly this topic.

The whole business of the end of Rome is fascinating and hard to understand. I often visit museums of Roman history, and was at one just yesterday. On the one hand, the end of Rome the city was not the end of the Roman Empire. But from an English perspective, it might as well have been.

The withdrawal of the legions precipitated what must have been one of the most extraordinary collapses of world history. Within not very long the economy and way of life of England had collapsed, the place had suffered multiple invasions (death, rape, enslavement and the rest), literacy had gone - and after a couple of hundred years even the memory of Rome had apparently disappeared altogether (the Roman ruins were assumed to be the work of 'giants). It was as if 400 years of Roman occupation had never been.

Imnobody said...

I may be mistaken but I agree with deconstructing leftism. The parallels are strong with the late 1st century or so.

- Affluent society and High quality of life. Check.
- Luxury. Check.
- Hedonism and promiscuity. Check.
- Abandonment of old religion. Check.
- Abandonment of old patriarchal customs. Check.
- Abandonment of old military spirit. Check.
- Professional army (since Caius Marius) with lots of immigrants (later). Check .
- Immigration and multiculturalism. Check.
- Rampant divorce. Check.
- Secular ideologies (stoicism, etc). Check
- A populace that can live without working (panem). Check.
- A populace whose life is centered on entertainment (circenses). Check.

About your three differences:

1. The Roman Empire economy sustained an "extra" population that disappeared when it collapsed.

2. The old Roman religion was a shadow of its former shelf.

3. I agree with you. This is unprecedented. Roman people did not hate their culture and they did not did anything intentional to destroy it. For me, this is the most important difference.


Hugh said...

You need to look at the last century or so of the Roman Republic for an accurate comparison to what's happening today--from the Gracchi forward. That's where you'll find the parallels. And they are many.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Im and H - A lot hinges on how important you consider Christianity to be - and whether the difference between a vigorously growing Christianity and a dwindling Christianity is significant.

I believe that the Roman Empire survived the fall of Rome for so very long ultimately due to strength of Christian faith. There is nothing equivalent in modernity.

Imnobody said...

@Bruce

I consider Christianity very important.

I believe that the Roman Empire survived the fall of Rome for so very long ultimately due to strength of Christian faith. There is nothing equivalent in modernity.

Of course, this time the fall will be faster and more catastrophic because of lack of Christian faith, nihilism and self-hate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imn - But I infer that you see apostasy as just an exacerbating factor; but I see the Western Empire as being overwhelmed, while the modern West is destroying itself deliberately.

(Of course, I am leaving out here the role of declining intelligence. This would not be causing the kind of collapse we are discussing, because 'dysgenic change' applies pretty much everywhere - and the West retains overwhelming technical and military superiority.)