Watching what is going on in Europe (my son, who is studying in a French university currently, asked me the other day, “should I wait 10 days till the Eurozone collapses and then buy my train tickets to Geneva?”) and looking at the state of government finances in the USA, has got me thinking about the captioned. Let us assume that we can learn from history, after all Chinese leadership views its current concerns in the light of the warring states period and other times of warlords arising whenever the central government looses the “Mandate of Heaven”. Looking at it from a Western perspective, here is an amusing site (The Minimum Wage Historian) where you can find some information specifically about Rome:
Empire Fail: “Why did Rome Fall?”
The four conclusions arrived at by Zach and his panel of guest judges (Anna Komemne, the first woman historian, Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, Charles Martel, commander of the Franks, and Bonaparte): “So, to recap; large groups of people that are not loyal to the government. Outside pressure from foreign powers that want what you have, stifling government that makes the people resent it, incompetent, out of touch leaders that care only about themselves.”
These problems sound familiar, don’t they?
Here is another source that I’ve not seen quoted fully on the Internet – it is a sidebar from:
Why did Rome Fall…?
From time to time in the course of this discussion of the Roman Empire from B.C. 27 through 641 A.D. we have noted that a particular event or given situation or a certain individual helped further the fall of Rome. But nowhere have we attempted to say that “Rome fell because…… There is a very good reason for this: Rome “fell” longer than most states have existed. Consider that the only states since Rome to attain comparable power in Europe were the empires of Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler; all alike ephemeral. Consider that the Pax Romana, gave the Mediterranean world nearly two centuries of virtually uninterrupted peace, where the best that modern Europe can claim is a generation between 1871 and 1914. Anything coming to grief after centuries of supremacy is not going to collapse for one piddling reason. Rome fell -because a complex set of circumstances were at work. Indeed, the fall of Rome begins long before the Empire was established. The Roman Empire was a partial result of the weakness of Hellenic civilization. For some centuries before Augustus assumed the title princeps, the Graeco-Roman world had been on the skids, with war and revolution at least as common as they are in “modern times.” Many of the weaknesses of Hellenic civilization helped sap the strength of the Roman Empire. And the Empire itself created a few new problems.
Reasons for the fall of Rome range from the patently absurd (“The Roman Empire did not fall, it was murdered.”) to the profoundly philosophical (“The Roman Empire fell because, having fulfilled its destined role as the Un[i]versal State of Hellenic Civilization, it was no longer needed.”). Any attempt to plow through them all would take up more space than the entire article. Nevertheless, appended to this discussion is a sample of some of the more interesting “reasons,” not all of which are valid. The real cause lies somewhere among these, most likely in a combination of the more logical suggestions. These have been marked with an asterisk (*).
Rome Fell Because…
*Plagues reduced the population and the fertility of the survivors.
Lead pipes and utensils poisoned the aristocracy, lowering their birth rate and intelligence level of this most important class.
The admission of “inferior” races to the citizenship lowered the vigor of the pure Roman stock.
Christianity made people less concerned with this world.
*Augustus jury-rigged apparatus of state was unable to cope with certain types of recurring crises.
*Civil wars sapped the strength of the Empire.
The barbarians proved of “superior” (i.e., Teutonic) stock.
The people practiced birth control without restraint, thus causing a loss of population.
Abandonment of the old, “good” Roman. institutions and virtues which had helped bring Rome to greatness.
“Bread and Circuses.” The people became lazy.
*The army got out of hand due to lowering of standards and discipline.
Easy living made the Romans soft, permitting the barbarians to overrun them with ease.
The liberal-thinking Emperors attempted to spend too much on the poor in their efforts to uplift them, thus draining the financial resources of the state.
*Slavery impoverished the citizenry.
God turned his favor from Rome for its sins.
Orgies and other entertainments sapped the vigor of the Roman people, while venereal diseases destroyed their fertility.
*The state collapsed under the weight of its bureaucracy.
*The barbarians became civilized enough to contend with the Romans on an equal footing.
The flow of gold to the Orient to pay for luxury goods eventually dealt a death blow to the Roman economy.
*The enlistment of barbarians in the army created a potentially explosive situation.
*The existence of slavery and an impoverished citizen mass created a large internal proletariat which would eventually prove disloyal to the Empire.
The Empire had lasted long enough. It was time for a change.
*The bulk of the inhabitants of the Empire failed to share in the incredible prosperity, remaining impoverished and restive.
The aristocracy, permitted too many members of the lower classes to participate in affairs of state, thereby diluting the value of the experience and brains which the aristocracy possessed.
*As the state became more despotic the average citizen, and even members of the upper classes, became less interested in it, thereby causing a loss of confidence and support.
*Failure to establish a workable constitution.
Too many of the old institutions were left with a measure of power, which tended to disrupt the machinery of Empire.
Abandonment of the old religion, which had given moral strength to the Roman people.
Widespread homosexuality among the upper classes led to a decline in the birth rate among the aristocrats, thereby reducing the available pool of leadership manpower.
Nofi, A. A. (1973, July/August). The fall of Rome. Strategy& Tactics Magazine, 39, 21.
And a final, grim, quote:
“Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.”
Tainter, J. A. (1990). The collapse of complex societies. New York: Cambridge University Press.