Tuesday, June 02, 2009

They’ve been here before, and it Hurt. For Centuries.

Which is to say, in a death-spiral. While continental talking heads chide American for errors presumably made due to a lack of attention to history, in reality the ones wagging a finger at America for being a martial “new Rome” need to look at what really put it out of it’s misery, and the centuries of misery that came thereafter.

What did a number on the roman empire and set Europe on a centuries-long slog from which they could only have emerged from widespread poverty with free-trade and non-conformist ingenuity?

This peaceful infiltration of barbarians which altered the whole character of the society which it invaded would have been impossible, of course, if that society had not been stricken by disease. The disease is plain enough to see by the third century. It shows itself in those internecine civil wars in which civilization rends itself, province against province and army against army. It shows itself in the great inflationary crisis from about 268 and in the taxation which gradually crushed out the smaller bourgeoisie while the fortunes of the rich escaped its net. It shows itself in the gradual sinking back of an economy based upon free exchange into more and more primitive conditions when every province seeks to be self-sufficient and barter takes the place of trade.

From Eileen Edna Power’s 1924 book, Medieval People
The most obvious manifestation of Roman society in decline was the dwindling numbers of Roman citizens. The Empire was being depopulated long before the end of the period of peace and prosperity which stretched from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius.

[ ... ]

The long duration of Augustus's legislation to raise the birthrate is significant; successful it was not, but the fact that it was maintained on the statute book and systematically revised and developed for three centuries shows that it was at least accounted necessary. It is true of course that the mortality rate was a far more important factor in those days than it is in our own, and the mortality from pestilence and civil war from Marcus Aurelius onwards was exceptional. And it is plain that the proportion of celibates was high in the Roman empire and that the fall in the fertility of marriages was going on. It is the childless marriage, the small family system that contemporary writers deplore. In Seeley's striking phrase: 'The human harvest was bad,' It was bad in all classes, but the decline was most marked in the upper ranks, the most educated, the most civilized, the potential leaders of the race. In the terrible words of Swift, facing his own madness, the Roman Empire might have cried: 'I shall die like a tree--from the top downwards.'

[ ... ]

Why (the insistent question forces itself) did this civilization lose the power to reproduce itself? Was it, as Polybius said, because people preferred amusements to children or wished to bring their children up in comfort? Hardly, for it is more marked among the rich than the poor and the rich can have the best of both worlds. Was it because people had grown discouraged and disheartened, no longer believing in their own civilization and loath to bring children into the darkness and disaster of their war-shattered world?

[ ... ]

We do not know. But we can see the connection of the falling population with the other evils of the empire--the heavy cost of administration relatively heavier when the density of the population is low; the empty fields, the dwindling legions which did not suffice to guard the frontier.To cure this sickness of population the Roman rulers knew no other way than to dose it with barbarian vigour. Just a small injection to begin with and then more and more till in the end the blood that flowed in its veins was not Roman but barbarian.
Also employing Canada as an example, Mark Steyn notes that much of it goes not so much to ideologies, but their experience as a population bettered by state control, the brutal measures that inherently come with it, but also the same desire to put their own pleasure above their own children, and consequently about their lack of confidence in the future of humanity:
We are witnessing the end of the late twentieth-century progressive welfare democracy. Its fiscal bankruptcy is merely a symptom of a more fundamental bankruptcy: its insufficiency as an animating principle for society. The children and grandchildren of those Fascists and Republicans who waged a bitter civil war for the future of Spain now shrug when a bunch of foreigners blow up their capital. Too sedated even to sue for terms, they capitulate instantly.
To quote the Dead Kennedys, like the Romans they’re Too drunk to F*ck
Reconnecting nanny-state populations with cross-generational solidarity requires much more than the marginal tax breaks the Portuguese government announced or the nine thousand bucks the Russian state is now offering for second children. The most important action in reacquainting individuals with a larger sense of life is the one that governments recoil from: shrink the state.
The same demographic death-spiral that motivated dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to ban all forms of contraception and abortion was a result of something very similar: the making of the new communist man presented no case for the future, much as it did with the rigid roman society. What’s bewildering is that what is meant to be a sort of leisure-state socialism which has long tried to bolster having children with financial incentives is doing the same thing: making no case for the need to think about the future, especially in the face of a new barbarism – one with a potent ideology that wants your techniques to build domes and watermills, but could care less about your language, literature, and humanism.
In the end, it’s not about cash: after all, materialism and self-gratification are why Eutopians gave up on the future in the first place. The best reason to diminish social programs is not to put more money in people’s pockets but to put more responsibility in people’s pockets.

[ ... ]

To ask the question is, in large part, to answer it. Even if a Muslim wanted to, how would he assimilate with, say, Canadian national identity? You can’t assimilate with a nullity, which is what the modern multicultural state boils down to. It’s much easier to dismantle a society than to put anything new and lasting in its place. And across much of the developed world that’s what’s going on right now. Multiculturalism makes a nation no more than a holding pen.
Returning to Mme Power, we find a striking parallel to Europe’s newest barbarians, much as the socially dislocated culturally non-European confronts the decadent aborigine, the decay in society is at first unseen, later thought of as a ‘lifestyle’, and later still rationalized before the decent and decay that followed: life expectancies shortened, the pillaging continued, and what was left of the body of human knowledge had to be hidden away or survived inadvertently at what were Rome’s most remote outposts.
They cannot, Sidonius and his friends, ignore as Ausonius and his friends did, that something is happening to the empire. The men of the fifth century are concerned at these disasters and they console themselves, each according to his kind. There are some who think it cannot last. After all, they say, the empire has been in a tight place before and has always got out of it in the end and risen supreme over its enemies. Thus Sidonius himself, the very year after they sacked the city; Rome has endured as much before--there was Porsenna, there was Brennus, there was Hannibal.... Only that time Rome did not get over it. Others tried to use the disasters to castigate the sins of society. Thus Salvian of Marseilles who would no doubt have been called the gloomy dean if he had not been a bishop. For him all that the decadent Roman civilization needs is to copy some of the virtues of these fresh young barbarian people.
Not to peddle gloom or advertise for predestination, but the obstinacy of the present day folk we are talking about point directly to accommodation with vulgarity that will lead past their own morally acceptable limits, to be followed by an uncontrollable violence of some kind, and a punished population. All of it will be seen in reflection as unnecessary and a stain on humanity. Again.

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