No talk about decline and decadence is able to avoid a mention or two of the last days of Rome. It’s a cliché inside a banality wrapped in a truism. But in the case of European politics it’s an urge that simply cannot be helped.
Take for instance what actually worries the European political class. Is it the declining economic prospects of the continent? Is it the deadly demographics? Is it a growing and increasingly fanatical minority within its borders? The answer is none of the above.
The issue is mama earth’s thermostat. Even if you think that this is the number one issue, you must realize that you won’t be able to deal with it without a vibrant economy and you must also realize that it won’t be a priority under any Caliphate.
So there was Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, writing during WWII The History of Western Philosophy in the section on the late Roman Empire period:
“It is strange that, with all Jerome’s deep feeling about the fall of ancient world, he thinks the preservation of virginity more important than victory over the Huns and Vandals and Goths. Never once do his thoughts turn to any possible measure of practical statesmanship; never once does he point to the evils of the fiscal system, or of reliance on an army composed by barbarians.”
He is genuinely puzzled by this phenomenon. Twenty two pages later he has another go at it:
“It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence before the dark ages were concerned, not with saving civilization or expelling the barbarians or reforming the abuses of the administration, but with preaching the merit of virginity and the damnation of unbaptized children.”
Perhaps that will be our fate too. In a future time we will be looked upon with bewilderment and contempt. Though a future observer might miss what was the motivation behind such societal failure.
What we often ignore is the existential significance an issue like global warming (whatever its scientific merits) has for the political class. There must be something out there that reminds them that all the car burning back in 68 wasn’t for nothing. An issue like that permits them to carry on business as usual. And here are three reasons:
* Apparently global warming explains everything; from divergent weather patterns to geopolitical events.
* It does allow one to ignore/distract from a whole array of issues enormously inconvenient to the left, the declining welfare state, divisive multiculturalism etc.
* It reinvigorates an economic agenda of command and control.
In short, superb explanatory and defensive capabilities coupled with a tremendous tax and spend potential.
It’s just too good to be true for the political class and therefore it must be an issue of paramount concern. Memo to historians: to virginity and unbaptized infants add incandescent light bulbs.
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.