Ugo Bardi observes that when a great civilization is failing, both the great and the small inhabitants are aware that something significant has changed, but they are almost completely unable to grasp the full extent to which societal change is taking place or conceive of the possibility of the complete collapse of their way of life.
Let’s start from the beginning…with the people who were contemporary to the collapse, the Romans themselves. Did they understand what was happening to them? This is a very important point: if a society, intended as its government, can understand that collapse is coming, can they do something to avoid it? It is relevant to our own situation, today.
Of course, the ancient Romans are long gone and they didn’t leave us newspapers. Today we have huge amounts of documents but, from Roman times, we have very little. All that has survived from those times had to be slowly hand copied by a Medieval monk, and a lot has been lost. We have a lot of texts by Roman historians – none of them seemed to understand exactly what was going on. Historians of that time were more like chroniclers; they reported the facts they knew. Not that they didn’t have their ideas on what they were describing, but they were not trying to make models, as we would say today. So, I think it may be interesting to give a look to documents written by people who were not historians; but who were living the collapse of the Roman Empire. What did they think of what was going on?
Let me start with Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who lived from 120 to 180 A.D. He was probably the last Emperor who ruled a strong empire. Yet, he spent most of his life fighting to keep the Empire together; fighting barbarians. Maybe you have seen the movie “The Gladiator”: Marcus Aurelius appears in the first scenes. The movie is not historically accurate, of course, but it is true that Aurelius died in the field, while he was fighting invaders. He wasn’t fighting for glory, he wasn’t fighting to conquer new territories. He was just fighting to keep the Empire together, and he had a terribly hard time doing just that. Times had changed a lot from the times of Caesar and of Trajan.
Marcus Aurelius did what he could to keep the barbarians away but, a few decades after his death, the Empire had basically collapsed. That was what historians call “the third century crisis”. It was really bad; a disaster. The empire managed to survive for a couple of centuries longer as a political entity, but it wasn’t the same thing. It was not any longer the Empire of Marcus Aurelius; it was something that just tried to survive as best as it could, fighting barbarians, plagues, famines, warlords and all kinds of disasters falling on them one after the other. Eventually, the Empire disappeared also as a political entity. It did that with a whimper – at least in its Western part, in the 5th century a.d. The Eastern Empire lasted much longer, but that is another story.
Here is a piece of statuary from Roman times. We know what Marcus Aurelius looked like.
Now, if it is rare that we have the portrait of a man who lived so long ago, it is even rarer that we can also read his inner thoughts. But that we can do that with Marcus Aurelius. He was a “philosopher-emperor” who left us his “Meditations”; a book of philosophical thoughts. For instance, you can read such things as:
Though thou shouldst be going to live three thousand years, and as many times ten thousand years, still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses.
That is the typical tune of the book – you may find it fascinating or perhaps boring; it depends on you. Personally, I find it fascinating. The “Meditations” is a statement from a man who was seeing his world crumbling down around him and who strove nevertheless to maintain a personal balance; to keep a moral stance. Aurelius surely understood that something was wrong with the Empire: during all their history, the Romans had been almost always on the offensive. Now, they were always defending themselves. That wasn’t right; of course.
But you never find in the Meditations a single line that lets you suspect that the Emperor thought that there was something to be done other than simply fighting to keep the barbarians out. You never read that the Emperor was considering, say, things like social reform, or maybe something to redress the disastrous situation of the economy. He had no concern, apparently, that the Empire could actually fall one day or another.
Now, I’d like to show you an excerpt from another document; written perhaps by late 4th century. Probably after the battle of Adrianopolis; that was one of last important battles fought (and lost) by the Roman Empire. This is a curious document. It is called, normally, “Of matters of war” because the title and the name of the author have been lost. But we have the bulk of the text and we can say that the author was probably somebody high up in the imperial bureaucracy. Someone very creative – clearly – you can see that from the illustrations of the book. Of course what we see now are not the original illustrations, but copies made during the Middle Ages. But the fact that the book had these illustration was probably what made it survive: people liked these colorful illustrations and had the book copied. So it wasn’t lost. The author described all sorts of curious weaponry. One that you can see here is a warship powered by oxen.
Of course, a ship like this one would never have worked. Think of how to feed the oxen. And think of how to manage the final results of feeding the oxen. Probably none of the curious weapons invented by our anonymous author would ever have worked. It all reminds me of Jeremy Rifkin and his hydrogen-based economy. Rifkin understands what is the problem, but the solutions he proposes, well, are a little like the end result of feeding the oxen; but let me not go into that. The point is that our 4th century author does understand that the Roman Empire is in trouble. Actually, he seems to be scared to death because of what’s happening. Read this sentence, I am showing it to you in the original Latin to give you a sense of the flavor of this text.
“In primis sciendum est quod imperium romanum circumlatrantium ubique nationum perstringat insania et omne latus limitum tecta naturalibus locis appetat dolosa barbaries.”
Of course you may not be able to translate from Latin on the spot. For that, being Italian gives you a definite advantage. But let me just point out a word to you: “circumlatrantium” which refers to barbarians who are, literally, “barking around” the empire’s borders. They are like dogs barking and running around; and not just barking – they are trying hard to get in. It is almost a scene from a horror movie. A nightmare. So the author of “Of matters of war” is thinking of how to get rid of these monsters. But his solutions were not so good. Actually it was just wishful thinking. None of these strange weapons were ever built. Even our 4th century author, therefore, fails completely in understanding what were the real problems of the Empire.
Now, I would like to show you just another document from the time of the Roman Empire. It is “De Reditu suo”, by Rutilius Namatianus. The title means “of his return”. Namatianus was a patrician who lived in the early 5th century; he was a contemporary of St. Patrick, the Irish saint. He had some kind of job with the imperial administration in Rome. It was some decades before the “official” disappearance of the Western Roman Empire; that was in 476, when the last emperor, Romolus Augustulus, was deposed. You may have seen Romulus Augustulus as protagonist of the movie “The Last Legion”. Of course that is not a movie that pretends to be historically accurate, but it is fun to think that after so many years we are still interested in the last years of the Roman Empire – it is a subject of endless fascination. Even the book by Namatianus has been transformed into a movie, as you can see in the figure. It is a work of fantasy, but they have tried to be faithful to the spirit of Namatianus’ report. It must be an interesting movie, but it has been shown only in theaters in Italy, and even there for a very short time; so I missed it. But let’s move on.
Namatianus lived at a time that was very close to the last gasp of the Empire. He found that, at some point, it wasn’t possible to live in Rome any longer. Everything was collapsing around him and he decided to take a boat and leave. He was born in Gallia, that we call “France” today, and apparently he had some properties there. So, that is where he headed for. That is the reason for the title “of his return”. He must have arrived there and survived for some time, because the document that he wrote about his travel has survived and we can still read it, even though the end is missing. So, Namatianus gives us this chilling report. Just read this excerpt:
“I have chosen the sea, since roads by land, if on the level, are flooded by rivers; if on higher ground, are beset with rocks. Since Tuscany and since the Aurelian highway, after suffering the outrages of Goths with fire or sword, can no longer control forest with homestead or river with bridge, it is better to entrust my sails to the wayward.”
Can you believe that? If there was a thing that the Romans had always been proud of were their roads. These roads had a military purpose, of course, but everybody could use them. A Roman Empire without roads is not the Roman Empire, it is something else altogether. Think of Los Angeles without highways. “Sic transit gloria mundi” , as the Romans would say; there goes the glory of the world. Namatianus tells us also of silted harbors, deserted cities, a landscape of ruins that he sees as he moves north along the Italian coast.
But what does Namatianus think of all this? Well, he sees the collapse all around him, but he can’t understand it. For him, the reasons of the fall of Rome are totally incomprehensible. He can only interpret what is going on as a temporary setback. Rome had hard times before but the Romans always rebounded and eventually triumphed over their enemies. It has always been like this, Rome will become powerful and rich again.
There would be much more to say on this matter, but I think it is enough to say that the Romans did not really understand what was happening to their Empire, except in terms of military setbacks that they always saw as temporary. They always seemed to think that these setbacks could be redressed by increasing the size of the army and building more fortifications. Also, it gives us an idea of what it is like living a collapse “from the inside”. Most people just don’t see it happening – it is like being a fish: you don’t see the water.
The tragedy of the cassandra is that he has the ability to see the collapse coming, but no ability to do anything to stop it. I have been able to see the collapse of the USA coming since 1995, once the implications of the 1986 immigration amnesty became clear to me, but even I had no idea until fairly recently that this inevitable collapse was likely to be part of a larger civilization-wide event. It’s not merely the USA that is in bad shape, but the secondary powers of China, Russia, and Europe as well.
And the tragedy of the neo-liberal world order was that in thinking to bring progress to the world, they have brought destruction to the West. At this point, the imperial USA is beyond salvaging because the Not-Americans outnumber the Americans. This is why I have been urging people to stop thinking in terms of fixing the USA or restoring it to its former power and glory. MAGA is not an eight-year program, it is probably more of an 80-year program, and if we are unlucky, an 800-year program. If you think I am exaggerating, recall how long it took for Spain to become great again after it first experienced Islamic immigration.
Westerners either need an unlikely champion who is the optimal combination of Charles Martel and Pol Pot or we need to think in terms of preserving knowledge for the future instead of preventing that which our fellow Westerners will never be able to accept or understand until it is too late. They will preach about the evils of the nameless, faceless Left and preen about the importance of this as they posture about the importance of that, and all of it is entirely irrelevant.
Iam canes intra moenia latrantes.
The barking dogs are already inside the walls.
Our Druids may be better than those of the times of the Roman Empire, at least they have digital computers. But our leaders are no better apt at understanding complex system than the military commanders who ruled the Roman Empire. Even our leaders were better, they would face the same problems: there are no structures that can gently lead society to where it is going. We have only structures that are there to keep society where it is – no matter how difficult and uncomfortable it is to be there. It is exactly what Tainter says: we react to problems by building structure that are more and more complex and that, in the end, produce a negative return. That’s why societies collapse.
This also explains why the globalists feel fully justified in their Neo-Babelism. They believe that they are constructing a new civilization that will rise from the ashes of the old one, a secular Byzantium to Christendom’s Rome. That is why the phoenix is one of their favorite symbols. What most of them do not realize is that what they are building is not a new world order, but a very old one.