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In the Footsteps of Rome

Summary:
Once the shared memories of these values are lost, the Empire ceases to exist; there is nothing left to reform or renew. Is renewal/recovery from systemic decline possible? The history of the Roman Empire is a potentially insightful place to start looking for answers. As long-time readers know, I’ve been studying both the Western and Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empires over the past few years. Both Western and Eastern Roman Empires faced existential crises that very nearly dissolved the empires hundreds of years before their terminal declines.The Western Roman Empire, beset by the overlapping crises of invasion, civil war, plague and economic upheaval, nearly collapsed in the third century C.E. (Christian Era, what was previously A.D.) — 235 to 284 C.E., fully

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Once the shared memories of these values are lost, the Empire ceases to exist; there is nothing left to reform or renew.

Is renewal/recovery from systemic decline possible? The history of the Roman Empire is a potentially insightful place to start looking for answers. As long-time readers know, I’ve been studying both the Western and Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empires over the past few years.

Both Western and Eastern Roman Empires faced existential crises that very nearly dissolved the empires hundreds of years before their terminal declines.The Western Roman Empire, beset by the overlapping crises of invasion, civil war, plague and economic upheaval, nearly collapsed in the third century C.E. (Christian Era, what was previously A.D.) — 235 to 284 C.E., fully two hundred years before its final dissolution in the fifth century (circa 476 C.E.).

Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) faced similar crises in the seventh and eighth centuries, as its capital of Constantinople was besieged by the Persians in 626 C.E. and the Arab caliphate in 674 C.E. and again in 717 C.E. The invasions which preceded the sieges stripped the empire of wealthy territories and the income those lands produced.

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In both cases, the Empire not only survived but recovered a substantial measure of its former resilience and stability. Fortune delivered strong leadership at the critical moment: leadership that was able to protect itself from petty, self-aggrandizing domestic rivals, force the reorganization of failed, self-serving bureaucracies, inspire the populace to make the necessary sacrifices for the common good, win decisive military victories that ended the threat of invasion, and generate a moral claim to leadership via personal rectitude and/or participation in a religious revival.

Absent such strong, stable, legitimate leadership, neither empire would have survived their existential crisis.

But strong leadership alone isn’t enough. A strong military leader can win battles, and a strong political leader can aggregate power, but these are merely steps to the ultimate goal of strong leadership, which is to reform the Imperial system so it once again serves the needs of the entire Empire rather than just the greed of the few at the top of the wealth-power pyramid.

The system itself must still hold the potential to be reformed. If the systems of communication, trade, control and finance have all eroded beyond the point of no return, then the victories of a strong leader die with that leader.

The army must still have the means to recruit new legions, the Treasury must still have a system to collect tax revenues, the central leadership must have a way to communicate with far-flung commanders and local leaders, and so on.

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Charles Hugh Smith
Charles Hugh Smith is an American writer and blogger. He is the chief writer for the site "Of Two Minds". Started in 2005, this site has been listed No. 7 in CNBC's top alternative financial sites. His commentary is featured on a number of sites including: Zerohedge.com., The American Conservative and Peak Prosperity. He graduated from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu. Charles Hugh Smith currently resides in Berkeley, California and Hilo, Hawaii.

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