Archive for September 12th, 2017

Gibbon’s “Decline & Fall of Roman Empire” In Pluto Context

September 12, 2017

The British, French educated historian Edward Gibbon explained that he accomplished the work of “philosopher” in his justly famous “Decline and Fall of Rome” (DFR). 3,000 pages of dense text! Gibbon explained that the art of the “genius” historian was to select, as a “philosopher”, among a morass of facts “which are just facts”, those of higher significance. The irony, of course, is that his life’s work eschew highest significance, although he himself pulls the curtains for a brief instant, flashing the reality his work misses entirely…

To detect facts of the highest significance, and make them speak, is the fundament of the art of highest thinking. (This is true for all of philosophy, including of the natural sort, as Albert Einstein pointed out.).

Under Trajan, the Empire was at greatest MILITARY & territorial extent, when Gibbon starts his story. Later, the empire would extent much further, spiritually speaking through the concept of “Christian Republic”.

Trajan also introduced welfare and taxes on the richest. He could have gone further, but bemoaned he was too old to emulate Alexander (who didn’t introduce welfare and taxes on the richest, BTW…) Indeed he promptly died and his successor Hadrian was not cut from the same cloth, and precipitously evacuated much of the empire Trajan had conquered. (The map above shows clearly that the German barbarians were too close from the heart of the empire, just north of Italy, and sure enough, Marcus Aurelius spent his reign repelling them there; his ignorant son, Commodus withdrew further, Hadrian style…).

Under Augustus, legions reached Ethiopia and Yemen, but Augustus was full of avarice, and the notion of a world civilization didn’t appeal to him. In any case, he had none to propose. So he pulled the legions back from Germany, Africa and the Indian Ocean shore, and left a will, read in the Senate, advocating a shrunken empire, the exact opposite notion from his great uncle, Julius Caesar….

The “Decline and Fall of Rome” embraced not just the Roman empire from 100 CE to 1453 CE, but also Islam, and the Crusades. Gibbon, rightly, wrote an entire history of the West, from 100 CE, to 1500 CE!

Indeed, the idea that Rome survived the Decline and Fall of Rome was not a new observation: the empire of the Franks, the Imperium Francorum, was, de facto, Rome: it used the latest refurbished (Justinian legal code) Roman law, etc. It could be argued that the Frankish Empire was more Roman than Constantinople, because it spoke Latin, not Greek. By 800 CE, the Imperium Francorum proclaimed itself  “RENOVATION of The Roman Empire”..

Thus, then, of course, Gibbon, by his own implicit admission, should have called his book: The Decline, Fall and Resurrection of Rome! When Gibbon was writing his book, the British empire was much larger than the Roman empire, and arguably better organized and centralized. The French empire was not far behind, and, by his own admission, Gibbon recognizes that the Russian empire dwarfed Rome, in some sense.

Something even stranger is that Gibbon recognizes the obvious: most of the Roman Empire was created under the Republic. And it was because the soldiers defended their rights and their properties. Whereas, in the period Gibbon considers, when the Republic has been replaced by what he calls a “monarchy”, soldiers were motivated by greed, obedience and “religion”.i

Thus, however broadly he encompassed the history of the West after 100 CE, Gibbon could only miss the true cause of the corruption which he bemoaned, and caused the decline and fall of the Roman State.

But there was no choice: for 8 years a Member of Parliament (where he was “mute”), Gibbon enjoyed fame and clout in the British plutocracy. Gibbon could not sing the praises of the Republic. All the more as he made clear, in 1793 CE, that however admirable French artillery was, the valor of French soldiers deserved a better cause (or words to this effect). Gibbon had seen the conspiracy and alliance of European plutocrats attacking the French Republic. Gibbon had actually seen a battle (and was part of a militia ready to defend England against a French invasion, a rather ironical matter, as it was France which was invaded by everybody from the gang of all “aristocrats” united, not England!.

However deliciously informative reading him is, Edward Gibbon was deeply biased. So was all of history, ever since “politics” was founded. “Politics” means “looking at the City-State”. That look was not friendly, because most Greek City-States had democratic characters lost, ever since. To the sort of regimes Gibbon admired… and was a part of.

Gibbon didn’t draw the obvious conclusion from the sketch, in a few lines which he made of the Roman Republic, or how the Roman Empire came to be. His entire “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is biased, from context alone. From the universe which he chose to consider.

Today the British Parliament voted 326 to 290 the previously named “Great Repeal Bill” overturning the law from 1972 infeodating  British law to European law (by accepting the supremacy of the latter). This displaces sovereignty on 12,000 laws.

It’s as Mick Jagger put it in an excellent video “England lost”. In it a dishevelled English gentleman loses his mind from imagined frights, and dashed hopes to turn England into Singapore. At the end, the Briton runs straight into the sea, then stops, dazzled. A black man helps pull him out. A terse blonde 14 year old.girl tells him:”where do you think you could go?..pull yourself together”.

Clearly, by the time of Gibbon, the delusion was going strong. We don’t harbor it here. To understand the Decline and Fall of Rome is to understand the decline and fall of the RESPUBLICA Romana. It’s the Republic and its republicans which built the empire, not the evil baboons the English plutocrat Gibbon is fascinated by…

Patrice Ayme’

Advertisements