"In The Footsteps Of Rome" - Is Renewal Possible?

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

Once the shared memories of these values are lost, the Empire ceases to exist; there is nothing left to reform or renew.

Is renewal / recovery from systemic decline possible? The history of the Roman Empire is a potentially insightful place to start looking for answers. As long-time readers know, I've been studying both the Western and Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empires over the past few years.

Both Western and Eastern Roman Empires faced existential crises that very nearly dissolved the empires hundreds of years before their terminal declines. The Western Roman Empire, beset by the overlapping crises of invasion, civil war, plague and economic upheaval, nearly collapsed in the third century C.E. (Christian Era, what was previously A.D.) -- 235 to 284 C.E., fully two hundred years before its final dissolution in the fifth century (circa 476 C.E.).

Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) faced similar crises in the seventh and eighth centuries, as its capital of Constantinople was besieged by the Persians in 626 C.E. and the Arab caliphate in 674 C.E. and again in 717 C.E. The invasions which preceded the sieges stripped the empire of wealthy territories and the income those lands produced.

In both cases, the Empire not only survived but recovered a substantial measure of its former resilience and stability. Fortune delivered strong leadership at the critical moment: leadership that was able to protect itself from petty, self-aggrandizing domestic rivals, force the reorganization of failed, self-serving bureaucracies, inspire the populace to make the necessary sacrifices for the common good, win decisive military victories that ended the threat of invasion, and generate a moral claim to leadership via personal rectitude and/or participation in a religious revival.

Absent such strong, stable, legitimate leadership, neither empire would have survived their existential crisis.

But strong leadership alone isn't enough. A strong military leader can win battles, and a strong political leader can aggregate power, but these are merely steps to the ultimate goal of strong leadership, which is to reform the Imperial system so it once again serves the needs of the entire Empire rather than just the greed of the few at the top of the wealth-power pyramid.

The system itself must still hold the potential to be reformed. If the systems of communication, trade, control and finance have all eroded beyond the point of no return, then the victories of a strong leader die with that leader.

The army must still have the means to recruit new legions, the Treasury must still have a system to collect tax revenues, the central leadership must have a way to communicate with far-flung commanders and local leaders, and so on.

The collective shared memory of imperial cohesion and competence must still exist in the general populace. Any political group identity, be it tribe, village, nation or empire, is anchored by a shared awareness of membership, i.e. the rights and responsibilities of belonging, and a collective memory of the group / empire as a functioning whole that served the many and not just the few.

Once the shared memory of the Empire as a functioning whole is lost, the entire notion of empire is lost.

The leadership in these existential crises of the third century C.E. in the West and the eighth century in the East could still draw upon a collective memory of a functioning empire. Residents had not yet lost the shared memory of serving in the army, of paying taxes, of stable trade protected by the Empire, of a stable Imperial currency, and so on.

Once the shared memories of these values are lost, the Empire ceases to exist; there is nothing left to reform or renew.

We are far down the road to a system that serves the few at the expense of the many. The collective memory of a system that once served the common good is fading. Strong leadership can still wrest popular political power from the self-serving elites atop the wealth-power pyramid and wield this political power to reform the system so it serves the many instead of just the few, but the window for such reform /renewal is closing fast.

In another decade, a living system that served the common good rather than just the interests of a few will be as distant as the shattered monuments of ancient Rome.


MK13 Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:01 Permalink

Populace back then had less choice to move. With current global fluidity, assets and asset generating individuals will simple relicate elsewhere.

Slack Jack armada (not verified) Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:36 Permalink

It is not the "Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empires"

Get your facts right: the Byzantine Empire was a GREEK Empire.

Get your facts right: The Eastern Roman Empire was a GREEK Empire.

You know they spoke and wrote Greek.

The Arabs kicked the Greeks out of what is now Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and "the shitty little country" (to quote a French diplomat) around 630 AD. Why do you think the Gospels were written in Greek?

Most of the people remained, eventually forgot their Greek, adopted Islam and became the Syrians, Palestinians, etc.

The Turks kicked the Greeks out of what is now Turkey around 1400 AD.

Most of the people remained, eventually forgot their Greek, adopted Islam and became the Turks of today.

In reply to by armada (not verified)

giovanni_f Slack Jack Tue, 07/25/2017 - 03:40 Permalink

that was the shortest possible summary of how the nowadays so-called middle east / east mediterranean societies degenerated in three stages from "human beings" (ancient Greeks) to "semi-humans" (Chrissjuns) and finally ended up as "goat fuckers" (stage 3).  that one little shitty country had the advantage to start already (and remain for ever) on stage 3. It's great they have also nukes at their disposal. 

In reply to by Slack Jack

GUS100CORRINA MK13 Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:28 Permalink

"In The Footsteps Of Rome" - Is Renewal Possible?My response: Revival of the Roman Empire. Interesting that this article appeared at this time because this is the prophetic perspective from the prophets in the Bible. I look forward to seeing how this unfolds in the weeks and months ahead.

In reply to by MK13

medium giraffe Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:04 Permalink

Sorry, but that picture of Whatshername-Schmaltz is fucking horrible.  It's difficult trying to click on a new article with that hideous swamp creature overshadowing the front page.  Her face looks like an unoccupied Freddy Krueger mask discarded due to its overpowering stench of vomit following a 12 hour drunken halloween party.  Anyway....

Proctologist Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:06 Permalink

The memory is lost.

Diocletian has yet to emerge in America, and our system won't work for him the way the Roman system worked for the tetrarchs. Outside of the MIC our populace has been defanged.

When he does, I give the deep state 10:1 odds of taking him out before private plans of taking on the MIC are made public.

However, the Feds are gullible enough to try Diocletians poor economic stabilization ideas.

historian40 Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:07 Permalink

"In another decade, a living system that served the common good rather than just the interests of a few will be as distant as the shattered monuments of ancient Rome."I'm not so sure.  All they need is the imagined thing, not necessarily a true memory.  We still imagine we live in the Republic originaly organized, and follow the Constitution, but that system was overthrown 151 years ago.  Pretty much since radio, their ability to manipulate perception is only bound by the hearer and viewer's own discernment between false and true.Like the kid on the witness stand, do you know the difference between the truth and a lie?

swmnguy Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:11 Permalink

I think the problem is that Finance has attained dominance and has subsumed the rest of the mechanisms and institutions of our society.Finance is a great tool, don't get me wrong.  When Finance accounted for about 5% of US GDP, things went swimmingly.  But now it's well over 40% and climbing in terms of GDP share.What's wrong with that?  The problem is that every transaction has to pay increasing carrying costs of finance.  As a result, the things we actually need get more and more expensive relative to purchasing power.  Luxuries can be cheap, both in cost and quality, but the housing, education, health care, child care, savings, transportation and monthly expenses associated with such things become unaffordable.For our system of using debt at interest as money, we have to have infinite inputs of money, energy, materials, and markets.  We live on a finite planet.  We've found all the continents.  We've discovered all the easily-extracted energy and materials.  We can, however, make money infinite, by making it abstract, and allowing no limits on debt.  That screws things up bigly over time, however.To continue to produce money in this way, people have to be willing to take on new debt.  For that to make sense, people have to have good reason to believe that if they take on the debt, they can put it to uses that will bring them more money over time, enough to pay off the debt with interest and live on besides.  So there has to be inflation, and the rate of interest has to be just above the rate of inflation.  Otherwise it doesn't work.  People won't take out loans if they don't think they'll have more money as a result later.We also look at labor as a cost to be cut to improve profitability, rather than an investment asset to be nurtured.  This makes no sense and is highly counterproductive.  Most businesses can rent or lease space or equipment, but they have to have labor to do anything.  With labor being counted as a cost, businesses have incentives to keep labor cheap, and export manufacturing to places where it is cheap, relying on nearly-free energy to keep shipping costs low enough to make it work.  This is the only way manufacturing companies can keep growing profits, but it impoverishes their customers, contributing to the vicious cycle.We're not going to fix our Empire while we consider labor to be nothing but a cost, and retain our current system of corporate finance capitalism.  Sooner rather than later, brute force will be once again substituted for any of the freedom mythologies that have grown up since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

swmnguy Too-Big-to-Bail (not verified) Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:48 Permalink

Thanks!  That's kind of my unified field theory of everything for now, unless and until I get bored with it and think of something else, or someone proves me conclusively mistaken.  There are a lot of things I can't account for, but I think the problem of how we consider labor has to be at the heart of it.That's what I love about ZH; it's the most likely place I know of where somebody can show me where I've gone wrong or gotten something right.

In reply to by Too-Big-to-Bail (not verified)

ds swmnguy Tue, 07/25/2017 - 12:59 Permalink

Yes. If labor is not the center of endeavors, aspirations but unbridled capitalism with largesse only for the elite, the system can only be sustained by force from the elite. The current extractive non inclusive system that exists not just in US are death systems. Man has free will. The free will includes the choice to die. The outcomes of the many tribes depend on this choice to treat what is evil ,"evil'. Morality however held by diverse tribes do not matter when the tribes are dead. Flirting with Predators land you in their bellies. 

In reply to by swmnguy

AurorusBorealus Mon, 07/24/2017 - 21:44 Permalink

I congratulate Charles Hugh Smith for having the good sense to learn about something before trying to blog about it.  I am weary of poorly informed and poorly read bloggers making facile and cliched connections between the West of today and some other event in history.The thing that I would point out here, however, is that Rome held on through the efforts of Constantine (who founded Constantinople and organized the East, which allowed it to endure for another 1000 years).  Constantine gave the empire new purpose and a new direction: the formation and spread of Christianity.  Contrary to Gibbon's poor account, Christianity did not destroy the empire.  Christianity held it together, especially Byzantium, and created the modern "West."  Outside of Spain and the oldest Roman territories, no one embraced Roman culture.  The Gauls, the Alemans, the Huns, they all did embrace Christianity, however, allowing "Christendom" to replace Rome as the "West" and become one civilization: Western Civilization.

Moose Chop AurorusBorealus Tue, 07/25/2017 - 11:53 Permalink

The leaders of the Roman Empire did not understand inflation. ALSO, they took more and more gold and silver out of their coins and they became even more worthless eventually to be replaced by a wood coin (Nixon). On top of that by the time the goths sacked Rome most of the land was owed by few elites (Monsanto and Saudi Arabia) and worked by servants and slaves (us) where as at Romes founding most of the farms and land were owned by the citizens .The Roman Empire rotted from within and the parallels between them and us are uncanny. now global corporations and not so sovereign nations  have a plan in place to depopulate (Murder people) the  earth so they can control the few who they let live to serve them. Not much has changed except for the stakes of the common man. Never before has there been such a threat to humanity: nuclear war, biological war, genetically modified food, technological warfare , psychological warfare and regulatory marshall warfare (under the guise of safety of course). Hi, we are from the government and we are here to help you. The positive is this, Trump won the election. For now, when it does crash the governments boots will, hopefully, not be on our throats while we fix things so they (the governments) can fuck things up again.

In reply to by AurorusBorealus

OKUSA Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:11 Permalink

Rome has never truly fallen. It still rules today. The power struggle for who controls it is the only difference. Backed by the Roman Catholic Church of course.

truthalwayswinsout Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:15 Permalink

What fragmented when Rome "fell" was not the civilization but the leadership of the Legions. They were still fighting right up to WWII.There has been nothing but continued war in the Roman World since 750 BC until 1945. The civilization has remained intact during that time; its just who is or was fighting for power.

adr Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:28 Permalink

Once you christen yourself an empire, you're already doomed.The elite can only exist off robbing the populace which leads to total collapse once none have the ability to produce anything of value. We are entering this final collapse now. The elite think they can print themselves enough wealth to exist, however all the wealth in the world can't teach you the real skills of value. The richest today are the greatest fools on Earth.  

grekko adr Tue, 07/25/2017 - 02:59 Permalink

I agree.  Large corporations, selling goods and services to the people, have shipped the peoples jobs off to poorer countries that cannot afford those same goods and services.  Apparently, their prior employees here cannot afford those goods and services anymore either, since they are now working 2 part time jobs just to get by.  So, since product sales are down, financial engineering takes place to prop up stock prices.  This spells the future bankruptcy of the corporation, all for short term profits of the corporate board, leaving no future for the corporation.  You are correct, "The richest today are the greatest fools on Earth".

In reply to by adr

sinbad2 Rustycakes Tue, 07/25/2017 - 03:45 Permalink

Used to be, now it's CE, and BCE.But don't worry keep using the old ones, the US kept using the old Roman calendar, for a hundred years after everybody else started using our current calendar with leap years.It seems Americans thought leap years were a catholic plot to steal days from Americans.

In reply to by Rustycakes

Neighbour Tue, 07/25/2017 - 00:04 Permalink

The road to world dominion has always been paved right through the center of ROME!Rome needs a Political leader who rules a super-power army. do you see any EU nation who wants to fill the position?"The EU possesses a "Symbol" which belongs to all European nations equally." THIS IS THE CROWN OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE, WHICH EMBODIES THE TRADITION OF CHARLEMAGNE!...Otto von Hapsburg. Currently these artifacts are Vienna.Let's give it a bit more time and watch our history dictate our future!

ludwigvmises Tue, 07/25/2017 - 02:41 Permalink

And we all know what came after the collapse of Rome. 1000 years of NOTHING. When the US empire collapses expect at least 100 years if not another 1000 years of declining global wealth and zero progress.