How Civilizations Go Down. Why There Is Hope

Gloom and doom go only that far. A number of commenters, or authors such as Machiavelli, entertained pretty abysmal considerations on humanity and its future.

In the case of Machiavelli, pessimism was understandable: he rode two horses condemned to decline and fall, namely the Republic of Florence (which was turning into a plutocracy), and Caesare Borgia, Cardinal at 18 years of age, who later resigned his church position in an attempt to seize power in Italy, a place where Spain had invaded the south (freed centuries prior, by the Franks, from the Muslims), France was trying to hold onto Naples (but lost because the Spanish general in command was too good). Most of the peninsula was covered by forts and domains which had feuded for centuries.

Nowadays, we have grounds to be optimistic. I will explain why below. However with a caveat: history is now flowing extremely fast, as we are approaching a technological and computational, thus theoretical singularity.

We Already Have A Better Understanding Of What Brought Rome Down The First Time, We Can No Doubt Avoid It, The Second Time, With Even More Understanding

We Already Have A Better Understanding Of What Brought Rome Down The First Time, We Can No Doubt Avoid It, The Second Time, With Even More Understanding

There are three reasons why civilizations collapse: invasion, ecological collapse, plutocracy.

I use all the time analogies with Rome’s Decline and Fall, yet on a much grander scale than Edward Gibbon. I root firmly the Decline and Fall as starting in 200 BCE, with the rise of plutocracy. There are a lot of deep analogies between what happened then, and what is happening now.

Yet we also enjoy major differences with Rome. To avoid Rome’s fate, we have to cultivate these differences. (And our gaze turns towards the European Union.)

Rome was a quarter of humanity, and Roma was ALL the civilized, and Republican influence zone. Yes, China, India, Persia, and well before Egypt, were civilized. But only the only drowned and expired Sumerian cities could pretend to have a high Republican index: Sumer invented the bicameral system still in use today. Persia did not, China did not, and, as far as I know, neither did India.

But Rome, like the top Greek cities, was a Republic. However, most Greek cities crashed and burned within a century or so. Rome built a huge empire, and lasted so long, it’s not clear it ever stopped. Although it declined, and fell, it got up again, as the Franks engineered and observed. Thus Rome founded the present political system

Persia was advanced enough to seriously bother Greeks and Romans, it was only or equal civilizational level for a fleeting moment under Darius, and in the late Sixth Century (thus, 1,000 year later). (This is my own observation/theory, sure to rile up some out there!)

All the neighborhood of Rome was vastly inferior. Although the Celts were superior in ocean going ships and metallurgy, and even captured Rome in the Fourth Century BCE, their abominable religion was quite a drag.  Actually, it was such a drag, the Celts embraced Greco-Roman civilization even before Julius Caesar showed up with his ten legions.

The Persian religion, Zoroastrianism was very advanced, arguably more so than Christianism (which copied many of its elements, in particular the obsession with truth and the logos, thanks god). The Middle East got tied down by the instauration of “hydraulic dictatorships” all over. The Persian/Iranian/Mesopotamian ensemble was a vast military mess which never recovered imperially, thus politically, from the People of the Seas invasions.

Now the situation is quite different.

First, the USA is a EUROPEAN COLONY.Rome was not a colony; it was initially occupied by Etruscans, themselves one of the People of the Sea. But, at the same time, the Etruscans civilized Rome. Rome also got civilized by the “Magna Grecia”, the Great Greece of Southern Italy, stating in Nea Polis (Naples).

Second, the mother ship, Europe, gave birth to a gigantic empire. It’s not just that European colonies control the Americas and Australia. France, the USA and Britain Exclusive Economic Zones, EEZs, covers much of the world’s exploitable oceanic depths.

Although weakened by its own crazies (Prussia/Germany/Nazis, Mussolini, Franco, Lenin/Stalin and their subordinates), plus major American plutocratic maneuvering, and in a bad state presently, Europe not quite done yet. After all the good guys (French Republic and British pseudo-monarchy) won. Now the French Republican systems, and monarchies to the same effect, cover Europe. Germany is sister republic to France, in particular.

Third, the Roman Republican system spread way beyond Europe and her colonies. China and India, and most of the rest of the UN have actually adopted (and adapted) many of WESTERN civilization’s better sides. However, China is still a dictatorship, and (partly) India a mess.

Another difference with Rome starts with a similarity: Rome got in a huge ecological crisis, starting around 100 CE. The Romans could not understand what was happening. They said:”The world is getting old”. Well, what was happening is that Romans had exhausted the soils, and the mines. However we know what they did not: tremendous technological progress can enable to change exploitation regimes.

Thus, the fourth difference with Rome; a huge CO2, GHG, Climate Crisis is incoming, but everybody knows about it, and fixes are in sight. A crisis is an opportunity as the Chinese would say.

Hope? People have to learn from history, and that means, the real history. Hyper maneuvering by USA plutocracy happened in much of the Twentieth Century, and is still ongoing right now. People can’t understand that, as long as they don’t realize that, without American plutocracy, Hitler just won’t have happened. At least, not happened as catastrophically as he did.

But there is hope that people, thanks to the Internet, realize that they have been manipulated in both what they know, and what they can hope to achieve. In particular, Direct Democracy is in the best position to succeed ever. The Athenian Republic found difficult to achieve Direct Democracy, because it did not have the Internet. The average Athenian voter was one day’s travel away from the voting booth. Nowadays, the average voter has her, or his hand on the voting device, namely the smartphone. No more excuses.

Objections can be raised. The preceding was a partial answer to several commenters on this site, John, Aaron, GlouconX, Eugen… The latter jumped on Machiavelli to object to Direct Democracy; however, Machiavelli was not just an author and philosopher. Like Plato, and especially Aristotle, he was a vested ACTOR of the disasters he described, and thus deeply biased, all the way to the greatest depths of the human soul. People who have interest to be stupid, will be stupid. Be it only to forget the fools leading us by the nose. Direct democracy is the answer to stupidity.

However, there is snow outside and further comments will be delayed until enough snow will have been mastered by the imperialistic author of these lines. Hey, it may be the last snow ever, let’s enjoy a cold El Nino, while it lasts! Non-Linearity is ready to ambush us. Let’s build memories while we can, be it just to be melancholic later… being of many minds is what intelligence is about.

Patrice Ayme’  

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8 Responses to “How Civilizations Go Down. Why There Is Hope”

  1. gmax Says:

    As Eugen said, or Machiavelli, what makes you so sure the average idiot can get smart?

    Otherwise your analysis is much more complete and sharper than the Guns Germ and Steel guy. Diamond mentions plutocracy but only very vaguely and not by name in COLLAPSE. Rather like an afterthought


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I sort of answered the first point many times, but I guess I will carpet bomb a bit the pataphysics of the Multiverse fist, answering Dominique a bit more.
      Yeap about Diamond. Not too interested to cut the branch upon which he is perched.


  2. Partha Shakkottai Says:

    Hi Patrice:
    Michel Danino: 12 Great achievements of Indian Civilization …

Apr 15, 2012 · This lecture is a part of Symposium on Indian Cultural Heritage organised by VSC in Mar-Apr 2011. Born in 1956 at Honfleur (France) into a Jewish family …
    Is a good introduction to Indian Civilization and it’s unusual features. I am sure it will please you.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks Partha! We own the numeral system to India: they expanded on the half baked system the Greeks used. I don’t know Indian civilization(s) very well. A question: where there Indian republics? Rome’s superiority came from its Republic. That (mostly) gone, it could only conquer Dacia (Rumania), and could not hold onto Mesopotamia, nor Scotland…
      I will look at the video ASAP, but it won’t be for a while…


      • Partha Shakkottai Says:

        There were many at the time of Alexander. And many councils and committees with good rules for qualification. Danilo mentions this.


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Dear Partha: I will look at Danilo. What happened to all these republics? In Europe, the memory of the Roman Republic was never forgotten (long story; the Christians claimed to be reconstituting it; there was not really a time without a few republics in Europe after 500 BCE: Venice, Novgorod, Florence, Genoa, Alpine Republics, etc. Moreover the Franks supposedly elected kings/emperors…).
          OK, to ski!


  3. Evan Ravitz Says:

    Direct democracy works. Ballot initiatives used in 24 US states are the origin of everything from women’s suffrage and direct election of senators to minimum wages and Sunshine Acts to renewable energy mandates and medical and legal marijuana.

    But it’s unquestionable that the NSA is watching everything and has better encryption than we do and various actors are manipulating things. From what I know, having promoted direct democracy for 26 years, the only way now on the internet to make voting secure, that is verifiable, is to make it open ballot, not secret ballot, and display the results on the web, so everyone can verify that their vote is recorded correctly. If you are a techie you can add up all the votes displayed to see if they add up to the announced totals. I once saw polling showing I think 80% of people were okay with that. But in the old days, you could get fired for voting the wrong way, so secret ballots came in.

    I hope in the future the internet will serve as you propose. I’m all for using it for the debate and deliberation part of direct democracy.

    But in Oregon, for about four election cycles they’ve had Citizen Initiative Review, an in-person randomly selected jury holding hearings and hearing expert testimony and deliberating on video about each ballot initiative.

    The other way to improve the existing legal ballot initiative process, besides enlarging it to 50 states and nationally, is to allow online initiative petition signing, using the same identification as 25 States use for online registration and address changes. This makes the expense of collecting signatures far less, (reducing the power of money), saving the Secretary of State a lot of money comparing physical signatures, and getting people to read the initiative text online before signing.

    I started the Internet’s first direct democracy website in 1995. I just sold that domain name and have moved it to my personal site for now:


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hello Evan, and thank a lot for the very interesting comment, and your efforts for direct democracy. (Your comment got delayed by the links and the fact I had so much work, I was off the Internet.

      That the votes should be open ballot is a very interesting idea. But it asks for everybody to be courageous. Maybe an improvement would be to make it open/secret, at will. Those who want their vote to be open, would elect to do so, those who want it secret, or semi-secret (a trusted/NGO organization would be allowed to check votes were correctly registered) could do so.

      Please keep us informed! ;-)!


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