Decline and Fall

By Gregory Lauder-Frost

Content on the Traditional Britain Blog and Library does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Traditional Britain Group

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We often hear the phrase that we should learn from history or we shall repeat it. There is much in this. Since the 1960s our society has been overtaken by liberalism and socialism, both ultimately destructive forces. The first a form of anarchy, an anything goes philosophy, the second grounded in the French Revolution and ultimately Marx, the dual objectives being the abolition of the historical established society and all the institutions which form part of it. Unlike the French & Russian Revolutions this has not happened instantaneously in Britain but by stealth, by Fabianism. Fabian was a Roman general who believed in the siege mentality and wearing the enemy down slowly by attrition and other means. Few would disagree this drip feed approach has not occurred in Britain as since 1945 there has been no effective opposition.

The Romans, it seems, still have much to teach us. From the third century, and perhaps even before then, the rot was setting into ancient Rome, and here I speak mainly of the Western Empire.

The Roman world entered into a serious economic upheaval, which had political and economic consequences of the first importance. “Never had the world seen such an economic disorder” says Lot. The currency, for instance, had become debased and the true silver content of the coinage almost wiped out, not dissimilar to Britain’s. The State exacted very heavy taxation on even foodstuffs including bread, wine, oil, vinegar, lard, bacon; fodder for cattle, wood, equipment, cloth, vessels, horses, mules, oxen etc. Dues were also made on all kinds of cartage and labour. This ultimately led to tax evasion on a grand scale and theft and embezzlement of all kinds. Rome itself produced practically nothing and the populace were kept in semi-idleness (benefits) with the super-abundance of entertainments & games (today’s football? TV?), all of which was funded by taxation. Commerce on a large scale seemed only to concern itself with the luxury trade and these came largely from the East. The end result was that new commercial centres arose far from Rome, such as Alexandria and Constantinople over which Rome had a much looser control. The psychology of the Roman had moved away from industry and any recognisable commercial policy. Dishonesty was rife. Everyone stole, public servants took bribes, and offices were purchased. Usury was the Italians’ large-scale speculation as far back as the first century BC and during the Empire; “it was practised in all its forms, whether by big banks or the petty money-lenders who were a swarm of locusts capable of impoverishing the richest country, even real El Dorados like Asia.” Trade became the monopoly of the Orientals, especially of Syrians (Phoenicians and Levantines) and Jews and it was still so after the disappearance of the Empire. Rome, drained of capital, the product of long centuries of work of the Mediterranean world, dried up.

The decay and end of ancient art arrived with, ironically, the arrival of Christianity, and then Islam. The Church fathers, in attacking idolatry, condemned eo ipso the most magnificent creations of art, the representations of the gods and heroes. Not merely statuary, but all representations of mythological scenes, by means of mural painting, of paintings on vases, and engraving on precious stones, fell under the blow of an inexorable reprobation. The nude in art was not permissible for the Christian Church. Christianity accommodated itself to ancient art, by neglecting large parts of it. Lot states that “Christianity buried ancient art, rather than killed it.”

Even in architecture, in which Romans excelled, by the third century their buildings were being constructed of coarse materials swamped in mortar, rather than of fine stones deftly prepared, and they were erected too fast. It was said that after the great architects of the Antonines, there are only masons. This is evidenced in our world today by the post-war abandonment of building beautiful buildings, which often copied the magnificence of the ancients, and instead putting up hideous, monstrously awful, meaningless utilitarian structures. The classicist Andrew Fear, in addressing the Traditional Britain Group’s conference in October 2012, went some way to denouncing those progressives and modernists of today who discard the greatest aspects of the ancient world, architecture and the arts being part of that. We have seen in the 20th century the total debasement of art in paintings, sculpture and music, much of this being highlighted by Roger Scruton in his brilliant TV documentary and book on “Beauty”. So-called ‘composers’ like Harrison Birtwhistle, whose ‘music’ is simply an obscenity, are honoured by the State and cheered further by the rebels.

More importantly was the decadence of Literature and the slow but sure disappearance of ancient Philosophy and Science from the Roman World. Again the Church was at the forefront of this. We see echoes of this today in the perversion of history writing, which in the 20th century has been churned out by the Left (Hobsbawn et al), by jingoists, propagandists and those promoting victors’ history. The elevation of emotions, sensationalism and political point-scoring over fact. We see also the appalling drivel being produced in ordinary literature with prestigious prizes being handed out to those whose books should have been pulped, full of perversions, foul language and obscenities, many of them being handed to schoolchildren and sometimes even exams being based upon them. As with Roman civil corruption, here we have it also with the bodies of people who make these awards to each other being made up of the same fellow-travellers. The self-referential Liberal-Left promoting themselves. Most Roman scholars agree that the deep cause of the decline of Roman literature was the pseudo-humanistic education. The crowning stage of education had become the study of the figures of rhetoric. The Romans believed that rhetoric and speeches were all that was left to distinguish themselves from the barbarians.

The Senate had retained something of its ancient prestige but had become rotten. The wholesale destruction of accumulated wealth of the Senatorial and Equestrian order was assisted by political persecutions and the dissipation of their fortunes. Vespasian tried to found a new nobility amongst provincial families as for centuries the Romans had believed, as Duruy puts it in his “History of the Romans”: that “civilisation is advanced by superior men and not by crowds; if nature no longer creates men of this calibre, civilisation falls back.” Here is surely a comparison with our arrogant parliament and their attempts via taxation and legislation to destroy the ancient aristocracy and to abolish the equally ancient House of Lords, replacing its centuries of accumulated wisdom with amateurs and spivs. The Roman Empire also became permanently divided into four prefectures. Surely devolution mirrors this? A vast corrupt bureaucracy developed which ran the empire without having to seriously worry about or be responsible to Rome. “The Roman State, from the end of the third century, was like a ruined landlord who wants to keep up the same establishment as in the days of prosperity.”

The Imperial Roman government succeeded, in the West at least, in satisfying the towns and accorded with the aspirations of the town-dwellers amongst the lower and middle classes. In the last two centuries of Roman rule the State acted as Providence. “For the city plebs”, says Lot, “the Roman Empire seems really to have been the golden age…..the plebs of the towns, sated and care-free, took no real interest in anything but pleasures.” These included almost casual adultery, open homosexuality - notably at bathing establishments, and wanton abandonment of societal norms and laws. The earlier respect for family life, which Fustel de Coulanges wrote of, simply vanished. Indeed later in his works he mentions “the corruption of morals and the weakening of the will and the unnerving, so to speak, of character.” In addition there was “the terrible apathy of the populace. The greatest political events passed over the heads of the people like black or golden clouds. Later they would watch even the ruin of the Empire and the coming of the barbarians (alien immigrants?) with indifference. A worn-out body whose fibres no longer reacted to any stimulus.”

Principal references:

Lot, Ferdinand, Professor at the University of Paris, “The End of the Ancient World”, London, 1931.
Gibbon, Edward, edited by J.D.Bury, M.A., Litt.D., “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, London, 1897, 7 voume.s

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