A FEW REFLECTIONS ON ROME VERSUS NOW
Abstract: A first paragraph on the clear and present plutocracy in the USA is followed by a paragraph explaining that Rome degenerated because plutocracy requires the people to be stupid, but stupid people can’t handle a world that is not exactly the same as it was before.
As Rome, a self proclaimed "developed world", stagnated, stupefied under the decerebrating plutocracy, the Barbarians caught up, technologically, and the ecology got exhausted, and the fascist leaders reacted with more fascism, and more mental terror, making the situation worse. That is how Rome "collapsed". The rest is details.
The next paragraph is a reader’s objection, which was made to me already several times. The reader reminds me of the thesis of Tainter, a professional historian who is often brandished these days by the plutocrats, to explain away the problems the West is having, and, in particular to claim that a notion such as plutocracy has nothing to do with them (this is total contradiction with the classical view that greed is THE explanation for decay, ever since Solon, the founder of the Athenian constitution, 26 centuries ago; Solon, a poet and philosopher, and a very courageous politician and revolutionary, took strong anti-plutocratic measures which allowed Athens to blossom into her golden age).
Tainter believes that societies become too complex, and that is too onerous, so they collapse. I try to show, with a few elements here and there, why this neo-conservative thesis is completely erroneous in the case of Rome (and also in other cases, including the present one).
Tainter’s thesis fits with the meta principle of the USA ever since Nixon: reduce government, turn everything to the private sector (Nixon created private Health Maintenance Organizations, on the public dime, hence massive for profit health care in the USA; later Reagan took Nixon’s torch, and set the government on fire, with his boy, Summers. Summers was allowed to continue his work of destruction under Clinton, and was of course chosen by the most brazen plutocrats as mentor for the naïve young Obama; the public financing of private banks has blossomed ever since).
Finally I fast forward in the last paragraphs to the situation now. It is getting quickly worse, philosophically speaking. Philosophical Rubicons are crossed, the abyss is near.
Although this is not the subject of this essay, civilization, to function, has to create its own strong morality, which is different, and opposed, to the natural morality of man, which is, in part, violent, evil, even "criminal" (by civilizational standards).
This tale of two moralities is complicated by the fact that, by definition, civilization brings together immense numbers of people, allowing the full power of the exponential function to come into play, for better or worse.
The exponential can grow the good in proportion to itself. It can also grow evil, proportionally to itself, and the power of greed, proportionally to itself. In other words, civilization’s exponential is Pluto’s best incubator (Rousseau vaguely guessed this).
Pluto is not just about money. The Greek philosophers condemned plutocracy, and City-states passed laws against it, and abuse of riches; even imperial Rome did this. My critique goes much further, though: it’s not just more and more money in fewer and fewer hands, it is also more and more evil in fewer and fewer hands, as the supine masses contemplate bovinely the gathering slaughter, sighing vaguely that it is not about them. (Yet.)
Thus the decay of civilization starts with the decay of morality, rotting from the top. Because civilization has let its guard down, as it stopped fighting actively the exponential growth of Pluto, that it itself generates.
And here we are: torture made official, predator robots hunting humans as in the Terminator movies, the president crowing about it, greedsters government supported, at the cost of nearly everything else, pirates crowing about using worldwide conspiracies to undermine countries and currencies, and now, last and not least, assassination of citizens, just because they do not think right, and talk too much.
Even in the Middle ages, European governments did not assassinate citizens for thought crime: a semblance of judicial process was maintained. It was felt then that the state of law required judicial executions, to maintain, at least, the appearance of justice. But now the government of the USA is trying to introduce a new custom: think bad, die fast. In Latin: new "mores", new morality. The abyss is here. (A telling detail: Republican Rome was neither torturing nor, a fortiori, arbitrarily executing citizens. It was against the law. A law the fascist Roman Principate violated, in the next five centuries.)
PLUTOCRACY BIG ENOUGH TO DROWN THE WEST:
A number of financial big shots have insisted that preventing individual banks to become Too Big To Fail would be enough of a reform. But this is completely insufficient, because what has become too big to fail is the entire financial industry. And the financial industry used that power in 2008, as I pointed out at the time. The top financiers said: give us money, to us personally, or we will close the ATMs, and cut off all the money economy. They were given the money personally, instead of yanking out the banks from them, and nationalizing them, with that same money (to be sold later at a profit, as Sweden did). As it is, even now the entire financial system is on life support from the public, as the plutocrats keep on splurging on the money flow that, unbelievably, they are still given the opportunity to control (control beats jail, any time).
In theory, finance is supposed to be like an oil, allowing the friction-less transmission of savings to valuable investments. Right now it has become instead a metastatic oil spill engulfing civilization. This is entirely due to the fact that politicians have been bought by that financial cancer they helped create stealthily. The system keeps on growing, because the public does not understand how the labor, saving and taxes of common people is used to make an oligarchy very rich. It is not so much that it is too technical, and people do not have enough mathematics, nor moral fiber left to appreciate how revolting that exploitation has become. No, more simply, a careful propaganda machine disguises the tricks used by the financial oligarchy.
Just thirty hedge funds control, together, more than one trillion dollars (that is 2/3 of the normal USA federal budget). Now, of course, the largest banks are behaving like hedge funds. This is actually by behaving as hedge funds that the bank holding companies collapsed in 2008: 300 billion dollars of mortgage defaults were transformed into 24,000 billion dollars of potential losses, in the USA alone, as the hedge funds like bets of bank holding companies backfired.
The financial crash was purely a hedge fund phenomenon. Had the Banking Act of 1933 still been in force, this could never have happened. (But the plutocratic boy, Summers, had demolished the Act under puppet-in-chief Bill Clinton.)
So here, when I say 30 hedge funds control as much as two third of the federal budget, by "hedge funds" I meant pure hedge funds, the ones reserved to the hyper wealthy (by the way, to open an account at the so called "bank" Goldman Sachs, you will need ten million dollars, although every US taxpayer gave vast amounts of money to Goldman Sachs, by paying taxes, they can’t enter that temple of wealth). Oh, by the way, there are not just 30 hedge funds: there are about 10,000 of them in the USA, and as many in Europe.
Hedge funds use strategies such as "butterfly" trading. They consist in taking huge leveraged and opposite positions. One side will always lose, but the other will win so big, that it does not matter. All what is needed is markets that move big (so that there is a big loss, or a big win). So the question about the monstrosity of finance becomes: can an "industry" that controls around 15 times WORLD GDP move markets?
There are other lightly regulated pools of capital, and tax heavens are part of the shadow financial empire which tries to control the planet. The tax system of the USA is entangled with US corporations and tax heavens, so this plutocratic system functions as an integrated whole: the USA’s political structure has been captured by plutocracy.
In 1998, one hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management failed, and the US Federal Reserve intervened on the most gigantic scale to save a number of investors who were friends. It’s all about friendship among the rich and famous. The Fed, the supposedly independent central bank of the USA, is part of that system, and fears to be exposed to the light of the day, as all good vampires do (that is why it does not want to be audited by the US Congress, lest all the gifts to friends would be exposed to the light of the day).
Quantitative and high frequency trading increases the complexity, opaqueness, and self fulfilling prophetization of financial markets, allowing plutocrats to become ever bigger relative to the political and economic systems. Market shut-downs such as the one of May 6 (market down 10% in a few minutes for no reason whatsoever, except huge sell orders from giant plutocratic organizations: Citi, etc.) will increasingly happen. US Senators were just engaging in a vote to curb the banking industry at the time. When asking for explanations, we were told that a trader confused the letter m, and the letter b. So he sold billions, in a fraction of a second, when he should have sold millions. It reminds me of fairy tales for children. Panicked, the senators did as they were told, implicitly, and voted down a pesky law, that would have bothered the banks.
ROME CRASHED BECAUSE PLUTOCRACY SUSPENDS EVEN INDISPENSABLE PROGRESS:
In Rome, the richest of the rich became so rich that they ended up owning the country. This is happening now, again, and foremost, in the USA.
The universes of derivatives, shadow banking, tax heavens are the ultimate too big to fail that sucks up nearly all capital, depriving the rest of civilization of sufficient economic activity (capital is potential power; no capital, no power).
The hundreds of trillions of derivatives, many times world GDP, are as much capital which is not available for the real economy. This is why important technologies either very different and practical, or futuristic and indispensable, are not developed. And why there is not enough money for education, and any other activity that could make the masses more clever, and see through the system (seeing through is good for technology, but very bad for plutocracy, which thrive on the unseen).
Plutocracy blocks technology.
Why? Because technological progress depends upon intellectual progress. Plutocracy wants the population to be stupid and impotent. Blocking intellectual progress, and thus controlling the learning and thinking institutions that allow progress is foremost. The Roman emperors deconstructed the educational system, burned the libraries (starting with emperor Jovian, 363 CE), and transferred books and the knowledge from independent individuals and institutions, to "Catholic-Orthodox" monasteries. The emperor, as Christian-in-chief, or "thirteenth apostle", controlled the monasteries, not the libraries and academies.
We also have explicit declarations from Roman emperors, centuries before the imperial imposition of Christianity, that new inventions may destabilize society, and thus emperors paid inventors to keep their inventions secret. It is not a coincidence that the time of great technological and industrial progress in Europe, later, would see so many revolutions. Progress is one whole.
Progress in Medieval Europe started as early as 1100 CE, when professor Abelard and his partisans confronted the religious fascists led by Saint Bernard. At the time the revolution had to do with the immense popularity of the cathedral schools, and their transmogrification into universities, and architecture had gone beyond Roman science (as demonstrated by Gothic cathedrals, which replaced Roman cathedrals, with the invention of flying buttresses, which embodied the forces, in particular wind loads, that the buildings were submitted to).
One could look at an even earlier renaissance: the Franks made a revolution in education, even before Charlemagne, by trying to make schooling mandatory and universal. This was the exact opposite direction from the late Roman empire. It was followed with an advancement of technology; the tenth century is “full of beans” (which Frankish biotechnology had just evolved).
Roman plutocrats blocked the evolution of society, of all of society. When they made changes it was mostly out of dire necessity and fascist control. This excluded really new methodology. So, for example, Christianism, an old style superstition was imposed, to help establish a stronger fascism than the one used by prior emperors, in the first three centuries of the Principate.
This drift towards fascist superstition was so deep that it was emperor Diocletian that established this, the emperor as sun-god, to be called "Dominus". Constantine just switched to using the Catholic church, which had an already existing paramilitary structure in place, and which rested on a cult of personality of a tyrannical father and a chosen son that could be easily translated into the imperial cult (whereas worshipping the sun was all too natural, and all too real).
Gibbons focused on Christianism, as the cause of the collapse of Rome: I explain how this superstition came about, the last nail in the fascist-plutocratic coffin. For Gibbons, Rome reached apogee under the Antonine emperors. For me, Rome started to decay when the plutocracy took control of the Senate, under the republic, three centuries earlier than the period Gibbons admired so much.
A FEW MEN AGAINST PLUTOCRACY: NOT ENOUGH.
One man or two could have changed everything; Caesar and Cicero knew it, and so did the plutocrats at the time. That is why Caesar and Cicero, long opposed to each other, became allies. And that is why the plutocrats were in such a rush to assassinate Caesar, who, although himself the top plutocrat (and "dictator for life"), was also the leader of the Populares, and had shown the capacity to change everything.
Correctly, Caesar decided to use the most formidable army the world had ever seen to destroy all of Rome’s external enemies, in one blow. We will never known what could have been. But, just as with the assassination of the Gracchi, and thousands of their supporters, the enormous mental force of plutocracy is not to be neglected: for one Caesar, and one Cicero, how many were ready to die for plutocracy, so much they believed in it?
When the Gracchi were confronted by armies of thugs paid by plutocrats, the later had succeeded to leverage themselves, thanks to their wealth, in controlling the republic. This control was not total, as 110 years of near constant civil war and dictatorship (such as the one of Lucius Cornelius Sulla) followed.
Verily this is how the Greco-Roman empire crashed: THE INDISPENSABLE BRAINY IMPROVEMENTS WERE NOT MADE IN A TIMELY MANNER (the same scheme happened in most other collapses of civilizations).
This would befall any civilization, lest it continually reinvents itself. Indeed, any given technology is always unsustainable, in the fullness of time. So new is always needed. That means new brainwork. That means progress, the opposite of conservatism.
An Internet interlocutor called "George" replied to a version of the preceding, exhuming an historian plutocrats have been using to claim they are innocent: "Patrice, some authors (Tainter in particular) have a theory for “most collapses of civilizations”, which basically boils down to diminishing/decreasing returns on complexity.
Thus, the reason that “indispensable improvements were not made in a timely manner”, according to Tainter, is that because of the diminishing returns rule, society ran out of the ability (or willingness) to cope with the need to add on more complexity to deal with the problems caused by the accumulation of complexity.
In a sense, the ever increasing supply of energy-dense fossil fuels since the dawn of the industrial era has enabled our current civilization to more than offset the consequences of the diminishing returns to complexity – so far. But, as in the Merchant of Venice, the pound of flesh will have to be paid in the end.
Reply: TAINTER BARKS UP THE WRONG TREE. IT IS NOT COMPLEXITY THAT WENT UP, BUT STUPIDITY:
A complexity theory of collapse has something for itself in the sense that, as old technologies exhaust themselves by exploiting what was there before, until it is no more, it is necessary to develop new technologies to replace them. So complexity rises, and always has, ever since there are men, and they think. Failure to follow that natural trend results in a crash.
But it does not seem to be the argument Tainter is making.
Tainter argues that sustainability or collapse follow from the success or failure of problem-solving institutions and that societies collapse when their investments in social complexity and their "energy subsidies" reach a point of diminishing returns. Tainter recognizes collapse when a society rapidly sheds a significant portion of its complexity.
For me, this argument of Tainter is neither here, nor there, in the real world. Viewing invasions by Germans, Huns or Mongols as "shedding complexity" is silly, although, of course factually true, since everything burned down. Sheer terror is more like it. The Mongols actually debated whether to eradicate China and change its ecology into a steppe.
Tainter’s mishmash of ideas and observations is generally viewed as meaning that: investment in social complexity are characterized with diminishing returns. In other words, Roman welfare ruined Rome. And Reagan made the sun rise over America, by dismantling the state (except the army, so Reagan could go and ruin other states too).
Tainter’s basic thesis, is a rather curious one for an historian to make. It is beyond a doubt that, by the late Middle Ages, social complexity in Europe was far above that of imperial Rome, and "returns", far from diminishing, as Tainter would have it, were well above those of Rome, and increasing. It had been so since 1000 CE.
Tainter’s picture is so simplistic that it ends up being completely inappropriate. To rehash the most well known facts is rather superficial, while invoking "diminishing returns" here and there, is an incantation which can only satisfy plutocrats. for plutocrats, it’s all about returns. The conceptual category tied to the notion of “returns”: it is that of finance, the realm of the plutocrat. Thus Tainter conveys at the outset the notion that confinement to the plutocratic realm is all we need to explain the world.
To brandish imperial overextension as a cause of decay is nothing new. Emperor Hadrian was so familiar with it, that he pulled the Roman empire out of Mesopotamia, and other places, with catastrophic military consequences, as the pressures of enemies nearly broke the empire under Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian’s unfortunate retreat would haunt Rome forever, and thereafter. It may be why the American legions are in Mesopotamia now, still trying to reestablish order, and progress, in rather pathetic way, 1,900 years later.
Complexity has to do with collapse, but not the way Tainter has it. I believe that it is the other way around from how Tainter has it. It is the incapacity to handle complexity that went up drastically, not the complexity itself (complexity always trends up, at a pulsating, but overall steady pace).
As I keep on repeating, the increasing incapacity for thinking is blatant in the Greco-Roman empire: most of the creative thinking is at the beginning, or under the republic, or even earlier in the free Greek city-states.
After a while, under the Principate, thinking completely vanishes. Centuries go on and on, and no thinking of any value is created, let alone any major new idea implemented. Rome reigned, on an intellectual desert the plutocracy had created. Far from becoming ever more sophisticated, the empire was getting always less complex, mentally speaking.
Anti-intellectual terror, though, was in full evidence: the pope Gregory the Great threatened to burn his own bishops if they taught "grammar’ to the people (the Franks shrugged, and protected the bishop of Die, who kept on teaching "Grammar", to the People).
Mental malfunctioning is how empires go down.
The Mayas depended crucially upon some particular tree species for construction, and kept exploiting them for many centuries, if not millennia. Yucatan became a vast technological garden, with a huge hydraulic network. But, in the end, the Mayas suddenly overexploited the trees they depended upon. Far from getting into too much complexity, the Mayas had forgotten the old subtleties. They had forgotten the old ways, where morality comes from, the customs, the time honored ways, the "mores". It is not so much complexity that had increased (OK, the intense drought at the time may have complicated matters), rather than the incapacity of the Mayas to handle it. The balance of power between the City-states of Tikal and Calakmul may have been disturbed by an arriviste queen from another city, around the time when the calamitous, centuries long drought struck (would I add). But it remains that the Mayas were suddenly unable to cope, because they had created a mess, instead of creating solutions.
DECEREBRATED BY PLUTOCRACY, ROME HAD BECOME A SITTING DUCK:
Basically, by the year 700 of its founding (0 CE), under "Augustus", the "One-Who-Augments", Rome became increasingly idiotic, and, although the situation of the empire was much simpler, it was incapable to deal with it. Rome had become idiotic because it was controlled by Roman plutocracy, and it was in the interest of Roman plutocracy to make the People of Rome (Populus Romanus) completely idiotic, thus to make Rome completely idiotic, overall.
One can control, imprison and fleece sheep, not philosophers, engineers, and poets. One of Augustus’ first moves was to throw out much of the old Senate, and replace it by one of his own plutocratic liking.
So, when NEW technological challenges appeared, confronting Rome, the NEWLY idiotic Rome was unable to deal with them. Instead, Roman technology stagnated, and society degenerated into a plutocratic theocracy… Although, recent archeology shows, the economy kept on improving (contrarily to what Tainter is claiming).
Meanwhile the Barbarians caught up with Roman technology, especially military technology: the Franks became the shock troops of the Roman empire (the Franks became the elite of the army under Constantine, 310 CE, a fact confirmed under Julian (356 CE) who was voted Augustus by the Franks, after the emperor Constantius II tried to order them to the Orient to fight the Persian Sassanids. This was a full 150 years before the Franks took control of Gallia and Germania…in the name of Rome).
After the collapse of the Roman state (not of the Roman civilization or language, but of the Roman state), technology would start advancing again, under the Franks (inventing from beans to stirrups, to horses’ collars, to massive labor horses, to sophisticate agriculture and deep plows turning the ground, to Gothic cathedrals to wind and water power everywhere; by 1000 CE, the energy Frankish citizens had at their command was the highest in the world).
In the case of Rome, it is pretty clear that the bizarre evolution of Roman society had nothing to do with increasingly complex problems.
For its first seven centuries or so, Rome was confronted to enormous, extremely complex problems, of the most extreme lethality, which looked hopeless to solve.
From the Etruscans’ colonization, to the war with the Sabines, to the invading Gauls, who captured Rome, and asked for ransom, to the brazen Carthaginian plutocratic empire, and its high tech Navy, to Hellenistic dictatorships, complete with charging elephants, to violent marauding hyper powerful German warrior nations, complete with deadly fighting women, destroying all Roman armies, but one, to the problem of getting rid of kings, and giving increasing powers to the People, to the status of the Allies, to the very complex, evolving constitution and voting systems, Rome, the Roman republic, had giant problems everywhere, and responded to them by enormously complex solutions, which were moving all over the place, as the centuries went by.
Towards the end of the republic, the situation had become much simpler: Rome was master of the world. Rome could not be killed, and actually was not killed: the Merovingian empire of the Franks (“Imperium Francorum”) replaced progressively the Greco-Roman empire (from the defeat of the last non Frankish Roman army in 486 CE, to the capture of Constantinople in 1204 CE). But the queens of the Franks spoke Latin, and did so imperially, thinking of themselves as Roman (we have some of their letters!)
At the end of the Roman republic, only three military powers could be distinguished, in the far distance. Caesar intended to solve the military situation once and for all, with one giant military expedition that would submit Persia, Sarmatia and Germania in one shot, coming from behind. Unfortunately he was assassinated by plutocrats masquerading as republicans, the day before he was going to take his leave. That assassination was a drastic collapse of the ethics of survival of the republic (since when would good Roman republicans assassinate the commander in chief, the "dictator", as he was going to war against terrible threats?)
In a few months, Rome lost it all. Marcus Antonius, "Marc Anthony", soon boyfriend of Cleopatra, nailed the hands of Cicero, lately allied to his master, Caesar, on the doors of the Senate, an unimaginable gesture, prior, when Rome was a republic.
What had collapsed was ETHICS and morality (mores = customs in Latin). After that, the ruin of the empire was just a matter of time. The situation was simple in all ways, EXCEPT in the ethical realm, where plutocracy reigned on minds and society alike.
WHEN DID ROME COLLAPSE?
It seems to me that Tainter does not know Roman history as well as his ambition demands.
A first problem is when did the “Roman collapse” occur? Collapse of what? The Roman republic? Was the collapse when Octavian ("Augustus") became Prince ("Princeps"), or half a millennium later, when the last Western Roman emperor reigned in Rome, or in the Seventh century, when the Roman Senate disappears, or when, in 846 CE, the Muslims sieged Rome and occupied the future Vatican? A Frankish army chased the Muslims away.
Tainter, of course, gives the conventional answer: Rome collapsed when the last emperor was deposed in the West. But that was just a detail: Theodoric would soon be Roman emperor there, in all but title, and the Roman Senate would go on for more than a century. The last certified Roman emperor visited Rome in Meanwhile, in Gallia, Clovis, son of his Roman imperator of a father , was made Consul. Roman Consul. As far as the Franks were concerned, they were Rome. They never collapsed. And Roman emperor Justinian did not attack them, when he retook control of the entire Mediterranean (but for the shores that the Imperium Francorum controlled). This was in 554 CE.
The collapse of Rome is a very mysterious subject, because the more one looks at it, the less one sees it. Just another example: Otto III, crowned in Rome in 996 CE, as “Holly” Roman emperor, made Rome the administrative centre of his empire and revived elaborate Roman customs.
Otto III was a successor of Carlus Magnus, "Imperator Romanorum". A bit earlier, in a joint land-sea operation, the Frankish army and the Byzantine (= Roman) Navy had crushed the Muslims in Provence, with a final sea battle in the Gulf of Saint Tropez, where the Gregian fire was used, with its usual success.
That is why I go back to the point when the ethical collapse of the republic started, when the plutocrats of the Roman senate had enough clout to impose their destruction of (by then) democratic Carthage and the free Greek City-states (including Athens).
COMPLEXITY SOLVES PROBLEMS, STUPIDITY DOES NOT:
Much earlier, when confronted with intractable military problems, the Roman republic invented new military technology: Spanish short sword, to make short work of the phalanx, from the side, javelins that one could not be thrown back, sure to stay stuck in the enemy’s shields, advanced metallic armor, ballistics, and so on. Carthaginian ships were captured, and duplicated, etc. Confronted to huge ocean going Gallic sailing ships, the Romans invented a way to seize their sails. Having to feed the cities, they built a giant trading system, with aqueducts using waterproof cements of their own making. And so on. Republican Rome was a plethora of new high technology.
Under the empire, although it became obvious that further technological progress was needed, economically, energetically and militarily, the emperors deliberately made an anti-invention policy, paying inventors to NOT invent. Because, they said, inventions would increase unemployment (meaning: make plutocracy unstable). Interestingly the first industrial uses of water power occurred in Roman Gaul (where technology would soon blossom under the Franks, because the Franks had not enough slaves, having outlawed slavery for Christians and Jews).
The mind solves problems by augmenting complexity. Just look at physics, mathematics, and biology. Our present theories are certainly more complex, and more powerful, than ever before. Our present societies are also more complex, and that very complexity allows them to solve more. Where has Tainter been?
IS ARROGANCE, OVER EXTENSION, AND "DIMINISHING RETURNS" THE PROBLEM?
Another observation from a reader was this: "@ Patrice Ayme: The Greco-Roman Empire crashed from their over indulgence of arrogance. They partied hardy on the laurels of the past. Sounds familiar? Technology had nothing to do with it, but the over extension of Roman armies into lands that were plunder-less from past plundering. They killed the “Golden Goose”, period! This parallels the United States too… with our perennial Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran… if the Military Complex War-Mongers can get their way… wars accomplishing nothing, but moving us closer to the precipice of financial ruin! I ask you to question yourself – have America’s leaders become arrogant, and drunk with hubris?
To which I reply: FACTS ARE HARD, PLUTOCRACY IS HARDER:
It is true that the present day USA is insufferably arrogant. Even criminally so. And it is true that insufferable arrogance, obvious in the speeches of Pericles, led to the downfall of Athens.
The "plunder-less" theory comes straight from Tainter. It is central to its "diminishing returns" concept. Many provinces of the empire thrived for centuries, as long as the Barbarians did not show up. Thus, that the empire stalled from lack of plunder is not supported by detailed evidence of the history of Rome.
Instead, Imperial Rome was imperially incoherent, because it was led by mentally small people, preying on each other. The plutocratic leadership worried more about other plutocrats rather than about Barbarians, or the grandeur and future of Rome.
Having suffered a severe defeat there, Augustus told his successors to leave most of Germania alone. But that left a frontier with a high fractal dimension, impossible to defend, precisely what Caesar wanted to fix. Finally emperor Carlus Magnus, ‘Charlemagne", completed that conquest, doing part of what Caesar wanted to do, a short frontier on the other side of Eastern Europe. Thus Charlemagne, following Caesar, created Europe, and the Romans did not. Although, of course the Roman army, was gigantic, getting to as much as 800,000 men in the Late Empire. But it was going nowhere. It was a sitting duck, with rusting technology.
Arrogance is not very much in evidence in the last few centuries of the Roman empire. However, the Romans were extremely arrogant, wrapped as they were in a strong legal and ethical system under the republic, and it worked well for the republic. It was the arrogance of superior morality. Generals who could put their hand in the fire, and stayed unmoved. By contrast, Rome became a mess under the empire, and moral arrogance went down as confusion went up.(This seems to support Tainter’s thesis, but not really, once one looks in the details).
There are other character flaws besides arrogance, and the Romans , or more exactly the Roman plutocracy that ruled Rome during the empire/principate, accumulated plenty of these. Cupidity and greed were foremost. The empire was not only ruled by the richest, but its soul was guided by Pluto. This is the crucial point: it’s not just about wealth, but the nastiness to enforce it.
Technology, or rather the lack of drastically new, adapted technology, played a huge role in the down-going of the Greco-Roman empire.
First of all, of course the technology of political organizations (“political science, economics”) became simplistic in the empire/principate: an emperor seized power, and the army vowed to obey him. Or the army would chose an emperor, and then try to impose him. That was ridiculous simple, politically speaking, relative to the enormous complexity of the republic (with its various chambers, assemblies, responsibilities, duties, voting system by "tribes", balance of powers, powerful judiciary).
Plutocracy also voided Rome, and Italy, of all and any control on its destiny (putting millions on the dole, and making them impotent economically and militarily, before outright switching the capital out of reach, all the way to the way to Asia; Romans, and later Italians, were forbidden to serve in the army).
More important for the loss of military control, was the disappearance of a technological edge in armaments. Instead, the Barbarians acquired the edge. Composite bows used by the Parthians, and then the Huns, threw arrows that could pierce Roman armor. The economic technology also faltered: unexploited land grew (from the end of small farming by independent owners, another device deliberately imposed by plutocracy, because small land ownerships had been given backmany times in the republic, with land redistributions). The mines with their indispensable metallic ores became unprofitable, from a dearth of slaves and difficulty of extraction.
AMERICAN INSANE SLIDE IN THE MORAL ABYSS, WHERE PLUTOCRACY WANTS IT:
Where does the West stands as a comparison to Rome’s slide into the abyss? Well recently, the leader of the USA, in perfect tuxedo, joked, as a stand-in comedian, to great laughter among the worthies of the main stream media of the USA, about "predator drones".
"Predator drones" bomb people, far from battlefields. Hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilians have been killed in these strikes (the military of the USA is now careful to hide that tragedy, at least from the public of the USA). Also we learn that orders have been given to kill an American born citizen who is a Muslim cleric, who just speaks with a bad tone of voice. Now, it’s not in my habits to defend Muslim clerics (see P/S).
Inasmuch as I detest Muslim radical literalist fundamentalism, I do not believe that it necessitates to throw out the foundation of Western civilization. Indeed we are in a state of law, not in a state of assassination. Supposedly, the government of the USA has decided that this cleric, apparently hidden in Yemen, was putting out too effective of an anti-American discourse. So what the government of the USA is now saying is that American born citizens can get killed purely for their ideas. And with no more due process than some administrative decision.
As the New York Times puts it all too soberly: "The notion that the government can, in effect, execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence, makes some legal authorities deeply uneasy."
Now I am not naïve, and I do believe that assassinations have their place, and that secret services (under the threat of prosecution), should have some latitude to do so, after presidential approval, as needed (under Mitterrand, in France, a few foreign agents were selected for assassination, each year).
But the mental process that is going right now in the USA is completely different. Declaring that American born citizens can be killed, just because of what they say is going back to the sort of morality the plutocrats who opposed the Gracchi displayed in Rome: WE KILL YOU, BECAUSE, YES, WE CAN.
This criminal arrogance is moral collapse, hence collapse of the republic. Of the American republic. This is exactly how Athens collapsed; it exterminated a City-State, for no good reason, but sheer hubris. Of course, the other 200 Greek City-States felt immediately more inclined towards Sparta. Similarly, moral collapse, of a less brutal type, happened also in Rome.
More than five centuries before the Visigoths seized the eternal city (410 CE), Roman morality had started to collapse. And then progress was set in reverse. Similarly, indications of American moral collapse are everywhere. The hypocrisy has got so colossal that it is obviously there to produce giant red herrings behind which to hide reality, not just the truth.
GIVE ME RED HERRINGS, AND I WILL SEE PINK:
An example of the distortion of reality is the contrast between the treatment given to Polanski, and that of the torturers of the USA. Polanski is an Auschwitz survivor whose life was broken in Los Angeles when his eight and a half month pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was tortured to death by the Charlie Manson gang, having pieces of her body removed while alive. Polanski’s child also died. Polanski has spent many months in prison for a sex charge, consensual "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor" (her own mother had sent her unsupervised daughter to Polanski for a second photographic session in Jack Nicholson’s home, 34 years ago; see P/S).
In the USA the obsession with Polanski is sky high, all devouring. If you get indignant about Polanski, you are a citizen in good moral standing. If not you do not, you have got to be, well, French, like Polanski, or Bernard Henri Levy (Polanski’s philosopher friend). It will remind Europeans of the old American obsessions with "sodomy", and inter-racial sex. Both used to be unlawful, both allowed to perform very nice lynchings. Not that I approve of Polanski’s deranged act, but neither do I obsess about it, in these times of unlawful wars, predator drones, official torture, and citizens’ assassination for speech crime. The obsessors want to obsess, though, because it allows them to forget about the rest.
Ominously, prosecution against Polanski heated up while he finished his excellent latest movie, "Ghost Writer". "Ghost Writer" accuses the USA to be a giant conspiracy of quasi infinitely malevolent hypocritical lowest of the lows, shrouded in American academia.
In that movie, the ex-British Prime Minister has fled arrest for war crimes by European justice in one of these islands for the rich off Massachusetts. The ex-British PM has lived his life as a puppet of a murderous plutocratic world plot centered on Harvard University, and American secret services, serving, well, the plutocracy. As the Harvard/US Secret Service conspiracy gets revealed, inquiring minds get killed, and nothing is left of them in the end, but papers in the street, torn by the wind.
While Polanski get prosecuted and imprisoned, the advocates, theoreticians and implementers of torture in the USA are honored and empowered. One is a university professor (at UC Berkeley) and the other is a Federal judge (in San Francisco, an extremely powerful job). They are both based in the San Francisco Bay Area, supposedly the most liberal place in the USA (imagine what would happen to Polanski in Los Angeles: torture, execution?). In other words, in the most liberal place in the USA, the theoreticians and enforcers of government torture thrive. (Code Pink is trying to change that, but not yet.)
"Ghost writer" is not just on the screen. It’s on main street. It’s in Wall Street. And, say Polanski, it’s in US academia. I have myself long attacked Harvard as a center of an immense plot, an erroneous vision of subjugation. Many things thought to be archetypes of Nazism were directly adapted from Harvard, including songs, because at least one of the most important leaders of the Nazi party was from Harvard. Lawrence Summers, the dismantler of Franklin Roosevelt’s Banking Act of 1933, the main creator of metastatic finance, was president of Harvard, until his grotesque sexism drove him out.
Another growing obsession has been the "Tea Party". Those people consider Obama a "socialist", because of his health plan (which is very friendly to the hyper rich… although much less friendly than the status quo). The Tea Party claims to represent the People, but the situation is reminiscent of what happened with the Nazi Party; People’s rage, plutocratic service.
Meanwhile the worst financial manipulators who ever were (most of the top of the American financial system), some demolishing currencies (after a plot: George Soros), some demolishing countries (Goldman Sachs and its paid prostitutes, the rating agencies), are left free to keep on with their self serving, world destroying conspiracies, while using fresh public money to do so, offered to them by their generous accomplices in government.
We have seen decay and rot, it starts with the head.
Fortunately, the USA is not in the situation of Rome. The People of USA is not alone, facing a mad plutocracy, as the People of Rome was.
Europe, differently from Greece when Rome attacked it, is strong, and not just militarily. Moreover, Europe was brutalized by fascism and all Europeans know that fascism was related to wealthy manipulators, and have stayed vigilant. Hence the brutish stupidity of the attacks by the plutocracy against the European Union. This time, though, there is no Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin to help. And fortunately, the president of the USA, Obama, played a positive role, telling Chancellor Merkel to do the right thing (Franklin Delano Roosevelt had not played enough of a positive role during the powering-up of Hitler). Obama apparently knows that the USA is better with a strong EU than without it. Progress of one, but progress of the most important one. So there is hope. But it’s going to be a jolly fight.
P/S 1: KILL THEIR IDEAS, DON’T KILL THE THINKERS:
I view literal fundamentalist Islam as a personal enemy, although I do understand its usage by freedom fighters, and although I am quick to point out, that, for decades, it is American secret services, and the imperial machines of the USA, which have been the greatest promoters of this extreme superstition, which enfeebles the minds, just what plutocracy is always looking for in its enemies. This is so true, that it is starting to be known. Some people in the Middle East and Pakistan even believe that bin laden, in full accord with his ex-employer, the CIA, set-up the 9/11 attack, to give a reason for the USA to invade the Middle East. Although I am more than willing to attack the superstition, and I recognize the necessity of combat against armed enemies to neutralize them, I draw the lines at people who just think, or just talk. Those should not be touched.
What of fighting words? Well, they can be prosecuted, but first they should be denounced and interdicted. This applies to covering women under a tent on account of their gender, a form of threatening, fighting communication.
P/S 2: WHO IS THE MOST SEX CRAZED?
Following his indictment on one sex charge, Polanski agreed to a plea deal that spared him prison time (he had spent about 45 days in jail during a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, halved for good behavior). But when it seemed that a Superior Court judge might not honor the deal–and sentence Polanski to prison–the director fled the country. After "Ghost Writer" loomed in the distance, and the thoroughness and independence of American justice came into question, in matters such as unlawful war, torture, and the subjugation to financial criminals, it was time to beat the sex drum. As if one old guy having had some sort of sex with a minor, compared with the death, pain and suffering of 250 million people in fear of "predator drones” throughout Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Yemen. But in the USA, it does.