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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

Gab@StFerdinandIII -

Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Corona, 'The Science' or Scientism, Islam, the State, the cult of Gender Fascism, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion...

Tempus Fugit Memento Mori - Time Flies Remember Death 

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Lessons from Rome and culture.

When the elite eschews education and science expect the worse.

by StFerdIII

Norman Cantor in his opus “The Civilization of the Middle Ages” makes a compelling and thoughtful case for cultural decline, preceding civilizational decline. He was writing about the linkages between ancient Rome and European medieval society. Many of the antecedents of the Catholic Roman era originated from ancient Rome of course. Cantor was inquiring about why an empire of close to 100 million, one of the longest surviving, prosperous and advanced in antiquity, become an over-bearing, statist relic destined to fail which over time would pass into a Roman church dominated Western European empire ? Primus inter pares might be the destruction of high Roman culture.

Many interrelated reasons exist for the inexorable destruction of Rome during the 5th century. The population declined by 20% or more between 250 AD and 400 AD due to disease, plagues and sexually transmitted viruses. The economy shrank as workforces and trade contracted. Technology – never a high priority in a slave-based empire – was stagnant. New processes and methods of production declined markedly after 300 AD.

Without innovation manufacturing of products suffered with local products replacing the international. Distribution and shipping suffered dramatically as well, due to an upsurge in piracy – especially when the Germanic Vandals conquered North Africa and cut off the key trading sea-lanes in the Mediterranean during the 4th century. It is clear as well that agricultural output for a host of reasons – disease, over-farming, a reduction in slave supply, climate changes – dropped off considerably during the 4th and 5th centuries.

As the economy contracted taxes rose. The state needed to increase expenditures on infrastructure, public games and baths, welfare and the military. The burdens of tax and regulation were particularly acute during the 5th century. It is fair to say that many Romans welcomed the end of the empire – as long as the 'barbarians' withdrew the nailed boot of the state from their throats – which is what happened. For many the collapse of Rome was a blessing.

But what caused all of the above ? Political incompetence surely. Moral decay. Leadership vacuums. Cantor makes the important point that nothing in the history of Rome made decline inevitable. The empire had many problems including an impossibly long frontier to defend, hostile tribes to the north, and the Persians to the east. But none of these problems were new or unsolvable. The real issue with Roman decline is the fatuousness of the Roman elite embedded in a serious cultural decline once Constantine the Great, the originator of the empire's state religion of Christianity, passed away in the mid 4th century:

“Because the economic base had seemed perfectly secure, aristocrats were not trained to apply themselves to economic problems. When production, economy, and slave power declined, the Roman forms of life and education were too deeply entrenched to adjust to changed circumstances.” [p. 43]

Roman society was rigidified. This is a key point which is often missed in assessing why the great empire melted away. It was hierarchical, static, pretentious and stood against innovation in any form – economic, military or spiritual. For instance, the Rome-based patrician class never jettisoned their age-old polytheistic paganism for Christianity. This is one of the reasons why Constantine built Constantinople as his Roman-Christian capital. The ossified well-off in Rome had no interest in spiritual debate or inquiry and certainly none in reform.

For Cantor the political – social inadequacies of Rome were reflected in its culture and education. Young noble Romans were never taught science, math, Greek inquiry, or manufacturing. They were taught literary works, memorization, rhetoric and trained in law. For the Roman elite the permanence of Rome was a fact. Rome had always existed and would always persist. Hence the way to power and economic spoil was through the use of words, the law and the power of persuasion in politics enhanced by rhetorical skill. The wealthiest Romans therefore had no idea about innovation; the use of technology to liberate the slave class to more productive work, morality and ethics and the barbarism of some aspects of the Roman world; or simple curiosity about how to make things better. They did not care.

Roman culture was at least in part the pre-cursor of its own failure. The dead hand of the imperial state embodied in the massively destructive civil wars initiated by competing families, clans and mafias are the manifestations of a greedy, self-absorbed, arrogant and largely purblind elite. Taxes, regulations, persecutions and the inability to change or adapt are all hallmarks of the collapsing statist actor. Outside of Roman law, the ideas about freedom, market exchanges, individual conscience, and the use of creativity, and energy to make advances in science, math, technology, and production simply did not exist. Rome was the ultimate communal experiment - run by a mafia elite.

Ancient Rome is not of course modern day America. Americans more than anyone other nationality recognize this simple fact. The differences are too numerous to mention including the democratic pluralism of the US. But some lessons can apply.

Roman society became dumbed-down. Gladiatorial contests, and base primitive circus performances were created to busy and amuse the illiterate mass. A once literary society based on written innovations in poetry, drama and historiography, devolved quickly to an oral tradition signifying a classic decline in intellectual effort and power. Sexual promiscuity was rampant – probably 10 % or more of the empire's women were full or part time prostitutes – and sexual diseases took a significant number of lives each year. Education became a cultural millstone and was non-existent for most people and pathetically irrelevant for the elite. Mores and ethics were not improved or debated.

One can see in reading about Rome that the morass of cultural apathy and the substitution of a culture of indifference, death, sex, and narcissism set the stage for the decline of the Roman world. The rot started at the top and quickly migrated to the general body politic.

Society today is going through the same unsettling changes as those which shook Rome sometime after the period of the Antonines or post 200 AD. Cultural decline in an ancient agricultural-slave empire would take time. In the modern world of mass communications, digitization and immediacy, cultural decline can take just a few generations.

The impacts from cultural decline are not hard to recognize in the modern world. Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the diseased cultural zeitgeist is the move from a literary-book tradition to an oral-visual display of almost mindless gratification and the dependence on the 'state' to do all things, for all people, all the time. Television, digital media, films, and show productions are all visual and largely oral. Many are also mindless filler. When society moves from a culture which extols the literary to one which worships the oracular and visual, it is a sure sign that a momentous cultural shift has occurred. The same is of course true when the state and the communal supersedes the individual, and freedom. The dead hand of the state is never a warm embrace - it is always a death grip.

At some point the more intelligent Romans knew and even embraced the idea of the empire ending. They could see it in the culture. Maybe in the modern world the same sentiments apply. Perhaps in today's world one can also muse that if culture precedes decline, than how dark will the new 'dark ages' become once the rot of empire leads to its collapse ?

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