Decline of Roman Empire: Decline fo Europe

Great stuff, from

An Excess of Inconvenient Similarities

[...] Modern Europe has an uncanny ability to imitate those last sad stages of the Roman Empire. It does it though with such persistence and gusto that it does appear like a parody of the Roman Empire in decline. If Aristophanes was around the time when the Romans were liquidating the shop he would definitely come up with something like the Europe of today to satirize it.

“The number of ministers, of magistrates, of officers, and of servants, who filled the different departments of state, was multiplied beyond the example of former times; and (if we may borrow the warm expression of a contemporary), ‘when the proportion of those who received exceeded the proportion of those who contributed, the provinces were oppressed by the weight of tributes’”.

This is from Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Retroactively Gibbon has become the authority on modern European politics.

Gibbon on our military strength:

“But the armies of Rome, placed at a secure distance from danger, were enervated by indulgence and luxury. Habituated to the baths and theatres of Rome, they took the field with reluctance, and were chiefly composed of veterans who had almost forgotten, or of new levies who had never acquired, the use of arms and the practice of war.”

On our civilizational morale:

“We have already seen how various, how loose, and how uncertain were the religious sentiments of the Polytheists. They were abandoned, almost without control, to the natural workings of a superstitious fancy. The accidental circumstances of their life and situation determined the object as well as the degree of their devotion; and as long as their adoration was successively prostituted to a thousand deities, it was scarcely possible that their hearts could be susceptible of a very sincere or lively passion for any of them.

When Christianity appeared in the world, even these faint and imperfect impressions had lost much of their original power.”

On our taxes and demographics:

“The horrid practice, so familiar to the ancients, of exposing or murdering infants, was become every day more frequent in the provinces, and especially in Italy. It was the effect of distress; and the distress was principally occasioned by the intolerable burden of taxes, and by the vexatious as well as cruel prosecutions of the officers of revenue against their insolvent debtors.”

On our laws and public spirit:

“But the operation of the wisest law is imperfect and precarious. Their power is insufficient to prohibit all that they condemn, nor can they always punish the actions which they prohibit. The legislators of antiquity had summoned to their aid the powers of education and of opinion. But every principle which had once maintained the vigour and purity of Rome and Sparta was long since extinguished in a declining and despotic empire.”

I have only read Gibbon’s first two volumes. I dread to go on.


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