Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Decline and Fall, Part 1


In a previous post, fellow MySandmen blogger Major Mike examined the feasibility of modern civilization pushed to anarchy by the forces brought on by, and supporting, Islamofascism. I recently finished reading an excellent book about the decline and fall of Roman civilization, and thought the context of Mike's post would be a good opportunity to provide a book review and history-based analogy to contemporary issues.


In his latest book, The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization, historian Bryan Ward-Perkins analyzes and refutes the commonly-held notion among contemporary historians that the end of the Roman Civilization wasn’t really a “fall,” but was a more peaceful transition from one societal system to another. In citing examples from the archeological record, he demonstrates that the Roman Civilization actually did experience a profound “fall” from its previous glory.

Roman society was not unlike our own, with a very complex economic system of individual specialization. This allowed nearly all economic strata of society access to high-quality goods and services. To use a contemporary example: quality dining ware can be purchased at both Williams-Sonoma and Wal-Mart. These two resellers have radically different prices for those goods, but when compared to what could be used as a vessel from which one consumes their food, the Wal-Mart and Williams-Sonoma dinner ware have very similar high quality. Similarly, the archeological record throughout the Roman Civilization indicates that high-quality pottery was in use by all strata of society. That is, until the Goths, Vandals, Germanics and other peoples outside the empire started showing up for their piece of the Roman pie.

The invaders didn’t necessarily come to kill people and break things, although they did a little of both. Many of the invaders had been forced out by the influx of the Huns on their native lands. As they crossed the Danube, the Seine, etc. into the greater Roman Civilization, they found an extremely robust economic system. They wanted a piece of the action, in both money and power. While many of the symbolic trappings of Roman society remained intact (Germanic kings depicted on new coins modeled on Roman coins, for instance), the new values system brought by the invaders, as well as the chaos brought on by the them, caused a gradual but definite decline in Roman society, especially in the West. Archeological evidence indicates that, after a period of perhaps 100 years or so, high-quality pottery and roofing tiles that were once used by rich and poor alike were only used by the rich and powerful, while the lower classes used extremely fragile and low-quality pottery. After that period of decline, the archeological record for everyday high-quality items virtually disappears throughout nearly all of the Western Roman World. Presumably, since the specialized high-quality goods were no longer being manufactured and/or distributed, those people were forced to use the low-quality goods that the smaller, non-specialized economy could produce.

The phrase that Ward-Perkins uses to describe the decline of Rome is “disappearance of comfort.” Stop and think about that for a moment. On the surface of it, it perhaps doesn’t mean that much. But imagine yourself in a world where your hometown has just been taken over by people with a markedly lower idea of quality of life and values system, disrupting the economy that provides you with the daily comforts that you take for granted. Could you really live without those daily comforts that a highly-specialized and diverse economic system provides for you? Your Organic Royal Jelly & Aloe hypoallergenic skin cream, perhaps? Your Honda Civic Hybrid’s battery? The HEPA filter on your home central heating & air conditioning system? Your non-rBST hormone milk? 500 thread-count sustainably-harvested pima cotton sheets on your space-foam mattress? How about AA batteries? Fluoride Toothpaste? Snowboard wax? Once you tally up all of the seemingly endless number of modern high-quality goods we use daily, you discover how truly interconnected and specialized, and therefore fragile, our social/economic system is. Just like Rome of Antiquity.

Next: Decline and Fall, Part 2: Flexible History


Major Mike said...

Great follow to my piece...the fragility of our situation is magnified by the dependence of our economic systems on a single word...confidence. If I had concerns about where my next meal was coming from, the market for 500 TC sheets would evaporate overnight. That is the very reason we must protect our civilization with both martial means and the psycological defenses of confidence and steadfast resolve. Otherwise our soft and fleshy populous will be no match for the increasingly sophisticated Islamofascists. MM

Mr.Atos said...

To witness the Roman model applied via fiction, to modern America, I would recommend reading David Brin's account of the aftermath of a similar decline of the West as depicted in his novel, The Postman. No, not the movie. Read the actual book. His is a striking and frightening look at American society in the midst of a new Dark Age, with hamlets and Keeps, thieves and wizards (of a believable sort), barbarian hordes and monsters. It also contains a lesson about what is the most fundamental aspect of civility that must be embraced in order to prevent or remedy such a collapse.

Hint: It is the very thing the Left seems so eager to destroy...


Major Mike said...

Mr. A...on correction...the left isn't trying to destroy communication...they are trying to control it...with their dangerous, pacifist, leftist, neo-communist drivel. Their constant attacks on the credibility of our institutions (as if their papers/networks/stations are perfect) unwarrantly erode the confidence of the masses in those institutions, and creat fissures ripe for the influx of anarchy.

The control of the communication is the danger...our virtual domination of talk radio, and some very good blogging are our only ray of light in these darkening times. MM