The idea of decadence is hardly novel, in fact it has been carry on luggage since expulsion from the Garden. But what exactly constitutes decadence, and whether we are, in our time suffering its effects is not so easy to discern.When, in the wake of political polarization, war and the declarations of some experts that we are in the throes of a terminal illness, the proposition merits examination. The departure point is usually the historical record which is at best not a fixed and certain story; rather it is an account of mistily understood events whose context is difficult to comprehend; events onto which we tend to project preconceptions, hopes and a fair share of anxieties. …
“Writing in 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville attributed the United States’ commercial success to American merchants’ willingness to face uncertainty and danger. Europeans, he said, wait for good weather and return to port if the ship is damaged; the American “departs while the tempest still roars . . .while on the go, he repairs his ship, worn down by the storm.”
The American settler, Tocqueville said, was “a very civilized man . . . who plunges into the wilderness of the New World with his Bible, a hatchet, and newspapers.” When Anthony Trollope traveled down the Mississippi in 1860, he found people living in sod huts and laboring from dawn to dusk. There was no prospect for an immediate improvement in their condition, yet they were optimistic about the future and felt not the slightest desire to return to civilization.”…Read More: http://www.fee.org/pdf/the-freeman/jones0504.pdf
These pictures contrast sharply with that of Americans being expected to take comfort from Secretary Tom Ridge’s “message of
reassurance and confidence” about the Department of Homeland Security’s vigilance over a holiday weekend. They contrast also with the picture of people standing in lines at the airport, removing their shoes, and waiting meekly for an approving nod from a dull federal employee.The old attitude of self-reliant independence has died. It is not simply that the world has changed, but that Americans have. It is not simply that our government has become intrusive, but that we do not resist its intrusions. ( Harold B. Jones ) Read More: http://www.fee.org/pdf/the-freeman/jones0504.pdf a
But what is a sick society exactly? The problems of framing an answer only begin by studying the fall of Rome, which is the most often cited equivalent to the American situation. Gibbon called the fall of Rome “the greatest perhaps most awful scene in the history of mankind.” But if, as the homily goes, Rome was not built in a day, then it clearly did not crumble and die in twenty-four hours either. The wages of sin may be mortal, but in the case of Rome the death penalty, the American penchant for capital punishment was perturbingly delayed.
Ilya Somin: Anyone who really wants to know the extent to which our problems are similar to those of the Romans should read British historian Adrian Goldsworthy’s recent book How Rome Fell. Goldsworthy shows that the main cause of Rome’s collapse had little or no parallel in the modern United States. That cause was constant civil war. Over the last 250 years of the Western Roman Empire, more emperors were killed by rivals for the throne than died of natural causes. Even more importantly, Goldsworthy argues that more Roman soldiers were killed in civil conflict than by foreign enemies such as the Huns and Persians. Given the constant threat of a coup, most emperors had to focus their efforts on survival, often at the expense of defense against external threats. For example, military commanders and provincial governors were chosen on the basis of personal loyalty to the emperor rather than ability.
In a fine application of public choice theory, Goldsworthy notes that late Roman emperors often were afraid to allow subordinates to win victories against barbarian enemies, because the successful general might then use his victories create a power base which he could use to overthrow his master. Obviously, the massive loss of life and economic resources caused by civil war undermined Rome as well. Read More: http://volokh.com/2009/12/30/how-rome-fell/
From 753 B.C. the traditional date of Romulus’s founding of the city on the banks of the Tiber, to the death of Marcus Aurelius, that last ” good emperor” in 180 A.D. – a date that may be taken as marking the onset of the winter season of the empire- is a span of 933 years. Bit from Marcus’s death to the ultimate fall of East Rome, or Constantinople in 1453 A.D. is a span of thirteen hundred years. In its battle to survive, Rome bled and rallied, to outlast a good many of the self-confident peoples who battered to get in. And in that battle too, it won the nearly universal regard as the barbarian peoples themselves came to aspire to the lofty plateau of entering into the dying empire’s inheritance.