This should be required reading for EVERYONE. I have read it multiple times and I truly believe this is whats happening in the US. We are most definitely in the declining stage of this empire. I did not post the whole write up here. Just the parts about the end of an empire. When you read this take a step back and look at the US now DON’T look at it as “MERICA!” The file above is for the whole article from Sir John Glubb.
XX The inadequacy of intellect Perhaps the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world. Even on the low level of practical affairs this is patently untrue. Any small human activity, the local bowls club or the ladies’ luncheon club, requires for its survival a measure of self- sacrifice and service on the part of the members. In a wider national sphere, the survival of the nation depends basically on the loyalty and self-sacrifice of the citizens. The impression that the situation can be saved by mental cleverness, without unself ishness or human self-dedication, can only lead to collapse. Thus we see that the cultivation of the human intellect seems to be a magnificent ideal, but only on condition that it does not weaken unselfishness and human dedication to service. Yet this, judging by historical precedent, seems to be exactly what it does do. Perhaps it is not the intellectualism which destroys the spirit of self-sacrifice—the least we can say is that the two, intellectualism and the loss of a sense of duty, appear simultaneously in the life-story of the nation. Indeed it often appears in individuals, that the head and the heart are natural rivals. The brilliant but cynical intellectual appears at the opposite end of the spectrum from the emotional self-sacrifice of the hero or the martyr. Yet there are times when the perhaps unsophisticated self-dedication of the hero is more essential than the sarcasms of the clever.
XXI Civil dissensions Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensif ication of internal political hatreds. One would have expected that, when the survival of the nation became precarious, political factions would drop their rivalry and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save their country. In the fourteenth century, the weakening empire of Byzantium was threatened, and indeed dominated, by the Ottoman Turks. The situation was so serious that one would have expected every subject of Byzantium to abandon his personal interests and to stand with his compatriots in a last desperate attempt to save the country. The reverse occurred. The Byzantines spent the last fifty years of their history in fighting one another in repeated civil wars, until the Ottoman
moved in and administered the coup de grâce. Britain has been governed by an elected parliament for many centuries. In former years, however, the rival parties observed many unwritten laws. Neither party wished to eliminate the other. All the members referred to one another as honourable gentlemen. But such courtesies have now lapsed. Booing, shouting and loud noises have undermined the dignity of the House, and angry exchanges are more frequent. We are fortunate if these rivalries are fought out in Parliament, but sometimes such hatreds are carried into the streets, or into industry in the form of strikes, demonstrations, boycotts and similar activities. True to the normal course followed by nations in decline, internal differences are not reconciled in an attempt to save the nation. On the contrary, internal rivalries become more acute, as the nation becomes weaker.
XXII The influx of foreigners One of the oft-repeated phenomena of great empires is the influx of foreigners to the capital city. Roman historians often complain of the number of Asians and Africans in Rome. Baghdad, in its prime in the ninth century, was international in its population—Persians, Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Egyptians, Africans and Greeks mingled in its streets. In London today, Cypriots, Greeks, Italians, Russians, Africans, Germans and Indians jostle one another on the buses and in the underground, so that it sometimes seems difficult to find any British. The same applies to New York, perhaps even more so. This problem does not consist in any inferiority of one race as compared with another, but simply in the differences between them. In the age of the first outburst and the subsequent Age of Conquests, the race is normally ethnically more or less homogeneous. This state of affairs facilitates a feeling of solidarity and comradeship. But in the Ages of Commerce and Affluence, every type of foreigner floods into the great city, the streets of which are reputed to be paved with gold. As, in most cases, this great city is also the capital of the empire, the cosmopolitan crowd at the seat of empire exercises a political influence greatly in excess of its relative numbers. Second- or third-generation foreign immigrants may appear outwardly to be entirely assimilated, but they often constitute a weakness in two directions. First, their basic human nature often differs from that of the original imperial stock. If the earlier imperial race was stubborn and slowmoving, the immigrants might come from more emotional races, thereby introducing cracks and schisms into the national policies, even if all were equally loyal. Second, while the nation is still affluent, all the diverse races may appear equally loyal. But in an acute emergency, the immigrants will often be less willing to sacrifice their lives and their property than will be the original descendants of the founder race. Third, the immigrants are liable to form communities of their own, protecting primarily their own interests, and only in the second degree that of the nation as a whole. Fourth, many of the foreign immigrants will probably belong to races originally conquered by and absorbed into the empire. While the empire is enjoying its High Noon of prosperity, all these people are proud and glad to be imperial citizens. But when decline sets in, it is extraordinary how the memory of ancient wars, perhaps centuries before, is suddenly revived, and local or provincial movements appear demanding secession or independence. Some day this phenomenon will doubtless appear in the now apparently monolithic and authoritarian Soviet empire. It is amazing for how long such provincial sentiments can survive. Historical examples of this phenomenon are scarcely needed. The idle and captious Roman mob, with its endless appetite for free distributions of food—bread and games—is notorious, and utterly different from that stern Roman spirit which we associate with the wars of the early republic. In Baghdad, in the golden days of Harun al-Rashid, Arabs were a minority in the imperial capital. Istanbul, in the great days of Ottoman rule, was peopled by inhabitants remarkably few of whom were descendants of Turkish conquerors. In New York, descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers are few and far between. This interesting phenomenon is largely limited to great cities. The original conquering race is often to be found in relative purity in rural districts and on far frontiers. It is the wealth of the great cities which draws the immigrants. As, with the growth of industry, cities nowadays achieve an ever greater preponderance over the countryside, so will the influence of foreigners increasingly dominate old empires. Once more it may be emphasised that I do not wish to convey the impression that immigrants are inferior to older stocks. They are just different, and they thus tend to introduce cracks and divisions. XXIII Frivolity As the nation declines in power and wealth, a universal pessimism gradually pervades the people, and itself hastens the decline. There is nothing succeeds like success, and, in the Ages of Conquest and Commerce, the nation was carried triumphantly onwards on the wave of its own self-confidence. Republican Rome was repeatedly on the verge of extinction—in 390 B.C. when the Gauls sacked the city and in 216 B.C. after the Battle of Cannae. But no disasters could shake the resolution of the early Romans. Yet, in the later stages of Roman decline, the whole empire was deeply pessimistic, thereby sapping its own resolution. Frivolity is the frequent companion of pessimism. Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The resemblance between various declining nations in this respect is truly surprising. The Roman mob, we have seen, demanded free meals and public games. Gladiatorial shows, chariot races and athletic events were their passion. In the Byzantine Empire the rivalries of the Greens and the Blues in the hippodrome attained the importance of a major crisis. Judging by the time and space allotted to them in the Press and television, football and baseball are the activities which today chiefly interest the public in Britain and the United States respectively. The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius.
XXIV The Arab decline In the first half of the ninth century, Baghdad enjoyed its High Noon as the greatest and the richest city in the world. In 861, however, the reigning Khalif (caliph), Mutawakkil, was murdered by his Turkish mercenaries, who set up a military dictatorship, which lasted for some thirty years. During this period the empire fell apart, the various dominions and provinces each assuming virtual independence and seeking its own interests. Baghdad, lately the capital of a vast empire, found its authority limited to Iraq alone. The works of the contemporary historians of Baghdad in the early tenth century are still available. They deeply deplored the degeneracy of the times in which they lived, emphasising particularly the indifference to religion, the increasing materialism and the laxity of sexual morals. They lamented also the corruption of the officials of the government and the fact that politicians always seemed to amass large fortunes while they were in office. The historians commented bitterly on the extraordinary influence acquired by popular singers over young people, resulting in a decline in sexual morality. The ‘pop’ singers of Baghdad accompanied their erotic songs on the lute, an instrument resembling the modern guitar. In the second half of the tenth century, as a result, much obscene sexual language came increasingly into use, such as would not have been tolerated in an earlier age. Several khalifs issued orders banning ‘pop’ singers from the capital, but within a few years they always returned. An increase in the influence of women in public life has often been associated with national decline. The later Romans complained that, although Rome ruled the world, women ruled Rome. In the tenth century, a similar tendency was observable in the Arab Empire, the women demanding admission to the professions hitherto monopolised by men. ‘What,’ wrote the contemporary historian, Ibn Bessam, ‘have the professions of clerk, tax-collector or preacher to do with women? These occupations have always been limited to men alone.’ Many women practised law, while others obtained posts as university professors. There was an agitation for the appointment of female judges, which, however, does not appear to have succeeded. Soon after this period, government and public order collapsed, and foreign invaders overran the country. The resulting increase in confusion and violence made it unsafe for women to move unescorted in the streets, with the result that this feminist movement collapsed. The disorders following the military takeover in 861, and the loss of the empire, had played havoc with the economy. At such a moment, it might have been expected that everyone would redouble their efforts to save the country from bankruptcy, but nothing of the kind occurred. Instead, at this moment of declining trade and financial stringency, the people of Baghdad introduced a five-day week. When I first read these contemporary descriptions of tenth-century Baghdad, I could scarcely believe my eyes. I told myself that this must be a joke! The descriptions might have been taken out of The Times today. The resemblance of all the details was especially breathtaking—the break-up of the empire, the abandonment of sexual morality, the ‘pop’ singers with their guitars, the entry of women into the professions, the five-day week. I would not venture to attempt an explanation! There are so many mysteries about human life which are far beyond our comprehension.
XXV Political ideology Today we attach immense importance to the ideology of our internal politics. The Press and public media in the U.S.A. and Britain pour incessant scorn on any country the political institutions of which differ in any manner from our own idea of democracy. It is, therefore, interesting to note that the life-expectation of a great nation does not appear to be in any way affected by the nature of its institutions. Past empires show almost every possible variation of political system, but all go through the same procedure from the Age of Pioneers through Conquest, Commerce, Affluence to decline and collapse.
XXVI The Mameluke Empire The empire of the Mamelukes of Egypt provides a case in point, for it was one of the most exotic ever to be recorded in history. It is also exceptional in that it began on one f ixed day and ended on another, leaving no doubt of its precise duration, which was 267 years. In the first part of the thirteenth century, Egypt and Syria were ruled by the Ayoubid sultans, the descendants of the family of Saladin. Their army consisted of Mamelukes, slaves imported as boys from the Steppes and trained as professional soldiers. On 1st May 1250, the Mamelukes mutinied, murdered Turan Shah, the Ayoubid sultan, and became the rulers of his empire. The first fifty years of the Mameluke Empire were marked by desperate fighting with the hitherto invincible Mongols, the descendants of Genghis Khan, who invaded Syria. By defeating the Mongols and driving them out of Syria, the Mamelukes saved the Mediterranean from the terrible fate which had overtaken Persia. In 1291, the Mamelukes captured Acre, and put an end to the Crusades. From 1309 to 1341, the Mameluke Empire was everywhere victorious and possessed the f inest army in the world. For the ensuing hundred years the wealth of the Mameluke Empire was fabulous, slowly leading to luxury, the relaxation of discipline and to decline, with ever more bitter internal political rivalries. Finally the empire collapsed in 1517, as the result of military defeat by the Ottomans. The Mameluke government appears to us utterly illogical and fantastic. The ruling class was entirely recruited from young boys, born in what is now Southern Russia. Every one of them was enlisted as a private soldier. Even the sultans had begun life as private soldiers and had risen from the ranks. Yet this extraordinary political system resulted in an empire which passed through all the normal stages of conquest, commercialism, affluence and decline and which lasted approximately the usual period of time.
XXVII The master race The people of the great nations of the past seem normally to have imagined that their pre-eminence would last for ever. Rome appeared to its citizens to be destined to be for all time the mistress of the world. The Abbasid Khalifs of Baghdad declared that God had appointed them to rule mankind until the day of judgement. Seventy years ago, many people in Britain believed that the empire would endure for ever. Although Hitler failed to achieve his objective, he declared that Germany would rule the world for a thousand years. That sentiments like these could be publicly expressed without evoking derision shows that, in all ages, the regular rise and fall of great nations has passed unperceived. The simplest statistics prove the steady rotation of one nation after another at regular intervals. The belief that their nation would rule the world forever, naturally encouraged the citizens of the leading nation of any period to attribute their pre-eminence to hereditary virtues. They carried in their blood, they believed, qualities which constituted them a race of supermen, an illusion which inclined them to the employment of cheap foreign labour (or slaves) to perform menial tasks and to engage foreign mercenaries to fight their battles or to sail their ships. These poorer peoples were only too happy to migrate to the wealthy cities of the empire, and thereby, as we have seen, to adulterate the close-knit, homogeneous character of the conquering race. The latter unconsciously assumed that they would always be the leaders of mankind, relaxed their energies, and spent an increasing part of their time in leisure, amusement or sport. In recent years, the idea has spread widely in the West that ‘progress’ will be automatic without effort, that everyone will continue to grow richer and richer and that every year will show a ‘rise in the standard of living’. We have not drawn from history the obvious conclusion that material success is the result of courage, endurance and hard work—a conclusion nevertheless obvious from the history of the meteoric rise of our own ancestors. This self-assurance of its own superiority seems to go hand-in-hand with the luxury resulting from wealth, in undermining the character of the dominant race.
XXVIII The welfare state When the welfare state was first introduced in Britain, it was hailed as a new high-water mark in the history of human development. History, however, seems to suggest that the age of decline of a great nation is often a period which shows a tendency to philanthropy and to sympathy for other races. This phase may not be contradictory to the feeling described in the previous paragraph, that the dominant race has the right to rule the world. For the citizens of the great nation enjoy the role of Lady Bountiful. As long as it retains its status of leadership, the imperial people are glad to be generous, even if slightly condescending. The rights of citizenship are generously bestowed on every race, even those formerly subject, and the equality of mankind is proclaimed. The Roman Empire passed through this phase, when equal citizenship was thrown open to all peoples, such provincials even becoming senators and emperors. The Arab Empire of Baghdad was equally, perhaps even more, generous. During the Age of Conquests, pure-bred Arabs had constituted a ruling class, but in the ninth century the empire was completely cosmopolitan. State assistance to the young and the poor was equally generous. University students received government grants to cover their expenses while they were receiving higher education. The State likewise offered free medical treatment to the poor. The first free public hospital was opened in Baghdad in the reign of Harun al-Rashid (786-809), and under his son, Mamun, free public hospitals sprang up all over the Arab world from Spain to what is now Pakistan. The impression that it will always be automatically rich causes the declining empire to spend lavishly on its own benevolence, until such time as the economy collapses, the universities are closed and the hospitals fall into ruin. It may perhaps be incorrect to picture the welfare state as the high-water mark of human attainment. It may merely prove to be one more regular milestone in the lifestory of an ageing and decrepit empire.
XXIX Religion Historians of periods of decadence often refer to a decline in religion, but, if we extend our investigation over a period covering the Assyrians (859-612 B.C.) to our own times, we have to interpret religion in a very broad sense. Some such definition as ‘the human feeling that there is something, some invisible Power, apart from material objects, which controls human life and the natural world’. We are probably too narrow and contemptuous in our interpretation of idol worship. The people of ancient civilisations were as sensible as we are, and would scarcely have been so foolish as to worship sticks and stones fashioned by their own hands. The idol was for them merely a symbol, and represented an unknown, spiritual reality, which controlled the lives of men and demanded human obedience to its moral precepts. We all know only too well that minor differences in the human visualisation of this Spirit frequently became the ostensible reason for human wars, in which both sides claimed to be fighting for the true God, but the absurd narrowness of human conceptions should not blind us to the fact that, very often, both sides believed their campaigns to have a moral background. Genghis Khan, one of the most brutal of all conquerors, claimed that God had delegated him the duty to exterminate the decadent races of the civilised world. Thus the Age of Conquests often had some kind of religious atmosphere, which implied heroic selfsacrifice for the cause. But this spirit of dedication was slowly eroded in the Age of Commerce by the action of money. People make money for themselves, not for their country. Thus periods of affluence gradually dissolved the spirit of service, which had caused the rise of the imperial races. In due course, selfishness permeated the community, the coherence of which was weakened until disintegration was threatened. Then, as we have seen, came the period of pessimism with the accompanying spirit of frivolity and sensual indulgence, byproducts of despair. It was inevitable at such times that men should look back yearningly to the days of ‘religion’, when the spirit of self-sacrifice was still strong enough to make men ready to give and to serve, rather than to snatch. But while despair might permeate the greater part of the nation, others achieved a new realisation of the fact that only readiness for self-sacrifice could enable a community to survive. Some of the greatest saints in history lived in times of national decadence, raising the banner of duty and service against the flood of depravity and despair. In this manner, at the height of vice and frivolity the seeds of religious revival are quietly sown. After, perhaps, several generations (or even centuries) of suffering, the impoverished nation has been purged of its selfishness and its love of money, religion regains its sway and a new era sets in. ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted,’ said the psalmist, ‘that I might learn Thy Statutes.’
XXX New combinations We have traced the rise of an obscure race to fame, through the stages of conquest, commercialism, affluence, and intellectualism, to disintegration, decadence and despair. We suggested that the dominant race at any given time imparts its leading characteristics to the world around, being in due course succeeded by another empire. By this means, we speculated, many successive races succeeded one another as superpowers, and in turn bequeathed their peculiar qualities to mankind at large. But the objection may here be raised that some day the time will come when all the races of the world will in turn have enjoyed their period of domination and have collapsed again in decadence. When the whole human race has reached the stage of decadence, where will new energetic conquering races be found? The answer is at first partially obscured by our modern habit of dividing the human race into nations, which we seem to regard as water-tight compartments, an error responsible for innumerable misunderstandings. In earlier times, warlike nomadic nations invaded the territories of decadent peoples and settled there. In due course, they intermarried with the local population and a new race resulted, though it sometimes retained an old name. The barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire probably provide the example best known today in the West. Others were the Arab conquests of Spain, North Africa and Persia, the Turkish conquests of the Ottoman Empire, or even the Norman Conquest of England. In all such cases, the conquered countries were originally fully inhabited and the invaders were armies, which ultimately settled down and married, and produced new races. In our times, there are few nomadic conquerors left in the world, who could invade more settled countries bringing their tents and flocks with them. But ease of travel has resulted in an equal, or probably an even greater, intermixture of populations. The extreme bitterness of modern internal political struggles produces a constant flow of migrants from their native countries to others, where the social institutions suit them better. The vicissitudes of trade and business similarly result in many persons moving to other countries, at first intending to return, but ultimately settling down in their new countries. The population of Britain has been constantly changing, particularly in the last sixty years, owing to the influx of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa, and the exit of British citizens to the Dominions and the United States. The latter is, of course, the most obvious example of the constant rise of new nations, and of the transformation of the ethnic content of old nations through this modern nomadism.
XXXI Decadence of a system It is of interest to note that decadence is the disintegration of a system, not of its individual members. The habits of the members of the community have been corrupted by the enjoyment of too much money and too much power for too long a period. The result has been, in the framework of their national life, to make them selfish and idle. A community of selfish and idle people declines, internal quarrels develop in the division of its dwindling wealth, and pessimism follows, which some of them endeavour to drown in sensuality or frivolity. In their own surroundings, they are unable to redirect their thoughts and their energies into new channels. But when individual members of such a society emigrate into entirely new surroundings, they do not remain conspicuously decadent, pessimistic or immoral among the inhabitants of their new homeland. Once enabled to break away from their old channels of thought, and after a short period of readjustment, they become normal citizens of their adopted countries. Some of them, in the second and third generations, may attain pre-eminence and leadership in their new communities. This seems to prove that the decline of any nation does not undermine the energies or the basic character of its members. Nor does the decadence of a number of such nations permanently impoverish the human race. Decadence is both mental and moral deterioration, produced by the slow decline of the community from which its members cannot escape, as long as they remain in their old surroundings. But, transported elsewhere, they soon discard their decadent ways of thought, and prove themselves equal to the other citizens of their adopted country.
XXXII Decadence is not physical Neither is decadence physical. The citizens of nations in decline are sometimes described as too physically emasculated to be able to bear hardship or make great efforts. This does not seem to be a true picture. Citizens of great nations in decadence are normally physically larger and stronger than those of their barbarian invaders. Moreover, as was proved in Britain in the f irst World War, young men brought up in luxury and wealth found little difficulty in accustoming themselves to life in the frontline trenches. The history of exploration proves the same point. Men accustomed to comfortable living in homes in Europe or America were able to show as much endurance as the natives in riding camels across the desert or in hacking their way through tropical forests. Decadence is a moral and spiritual disease, resulting from too long a period of wealth and power, producing cynicism, decline of religion, pessimism and frivolity. The citizens of such a nation will no longer make an effort to save themselves, because they are not convinced that anything in life is worth saving.
XXXII Human diversity Generalisations are always dangerous. Human beings are all different. The variety in human life is endless. If this be the case with individuals, it is much more so with nations and cultures. No two societies, no two peoples, no two cultures are exactly the same. In these circumstances, it will be easy for critics to find many objections to what has been said, and to point out exceptions to the generalisations. There is some value in comparing the lives of nations to those of individuals. No two persons in the world are identical. Moreover their lives are often affected by accidents or by illness, making the divergences even more obvious. Yet, in fact, we can generalise about human life from many different aspects. The characteristics of childhood, adolescence, youth, middle and old age are well known. Some adolescents, it is true, are prematurely wise and serious. Some persons in middle age still seem to he young. But such exceptions do not invalidate the general character of human life from the cradle to the grave. I venture to submit that the lives of nations follow a similar pattern. Superficially, all seem to be completely different. Some years ago, a suggestion was submitted to a certain television corporation that a series of talks on Arab history would form an interesting sequence. The proposal was immediately vetoed by the director of programmes with the remark, “What earthly interest could the history of medieval Arabs have for the general public today?” Yet, in fact, the history of the Arab imperial age—from conquest through commercialism, to affluence, intellectualism, science and decadence—is an exact precursor of British imperial history and lasted almost exactly the same time. If British historians, a century ago, had devoted serious study to the Arab Empire, they could have foreseen almost everything that has happened in Britain down to 1976.
XXXIV A variety of falls It has been shown that, normally, the rise and fall of great nations are due to internal reasons alone. Ten generations of human beings suffice to transform the hardy and enterprising pioneer into the captious citizen of the welfare state. But whereas the life histories of great nations show an unexpected uniformity, the nature of their falls depends largely on outside circumstances and thus shows a high degree of diversity. The Roman Republic, as we have seen, was followed by the empire, which became a super-state, in which all the natives of the Mediterranean basin, regardless of race, possessed equal rights. The name of Rome, originally a city-state, passed from it to an equalitarian international empire. This empire broke in half, the western half being overrun by northern barbarians, the eastern half forming the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. The vast Arab Empire broke up in the ninth century into many fragments, of which one former colony, Moslem Spain, ran its own 250-year course as an independent empire. The homelands of Syria and Iraq, however, were conquered by successive waves of Turks to whom they remained subject for 1,000 years. The Mameluke Empire of Egypt and Syria, on the other hand, was conquered in one campaign by the Ottomans, the native population merely suffering a change of masters. The Spanish Empire (1500-1750) endured for the conventional 250 years, terminated only by the loss of its colonies. The homeland of Spain fell, indeed, from its high estate of a super-power, but remained as an independent nation until today. Romanov Russia (1682-1916) ran the normal course, but was succeeded by the Soviet Union. It is unnecessary to labour the point, which we may attempt to summarise briefly. Any regime which attains great wealth and power seems with remarkable regularity to decay and fall apart in some ten generations. The ultimate fate of its component parts, however, does not depend on its internal nature, but on the other organisations which appear at the time of its collapse and succeed in devouring its heritage. Thus the lives of great powers are surprisingly uniform, but the results of their falls are completely diverse.
XXXV Inadequacy of our historical studies In fact, the modern nations of the West have derived only limited value from their historical studies, because they have never made them big enough. For history to have meaning, as we have already stated, it must be the history of the human race. Far from achieving such an ideal, our historical studies are largely limited to the history of our own country during the lifetime of the present nation. Thus the timefactor is too short to allow the longer rhythms of the rise and fall of nations even to be noticed. As the television director indicated, it never even crosses our minds that longer periods could be of any interest. When we read the history of our own nation, we find the actions of our ancestors described as glorious, while those of other peoples are depicted as mean, tyrannical or cowardly. Thus our history is (intentionally) not based on facts. We are emotionally unwilling to accept that our forbears might have been mean or cowardly. Alternatively, there are ‘political’ schools of history, slanted to discredit the actions of our past leaders, in order to support modern political movements. In all these cases, history is not an attempt to ascertain the truth, but a system of propaganda, devoted to the furtherance of modern projects, or the gratification of national vanity. Men can scarcely be blamed for not learning from the history they are taught. There is nothing to learn from it, because it is not true.
XXXVI Small nations The word ‘empires’ has been used in this essay to signify nations which achieve the status of great powers, or super-powers, in the jargon of today—nations which have dominated the international scene for two or three centuries. At any given time, however, there are also smaller states which are more or less self-contained. Do these live the same ‘lives’ as the great nations, and pass through the same phases? It seems impossible to generalise on this issue. In general, decadence is the outcome of too long a period of wealth and power. If the small country has not shared in the wealth and power, it will not share in the decadence.
XXXVII The emerging pattern In spite of the endless variety and the infinite complications of human life, a general pattern does seem to emerge from these considerations. It reveals many successive empires covering some 3,000 years, as having followed similar stages of development and decline, and as having, to a surprising degree, ‘lived’ lives of very similar length. The life-expectation of a great nation, it appears, commences with a violent, and usually unforeseen, outburst of energy, and ends in a lowering of moral standards, cynicism, pessimism and frivolity. If the present writer were a millionaire, he would try to establish in some university or other a department dedicated solely to the study of the rhythm of the rise and fall of powerful nations throughout the world. History goes back only some 3,000 years, because before that period writing was not sufficiently widespread to allow of the survival of detailed records. But within that period, the number of empires available for study is very great. At the commencement of this essay, the names of eleven such empires were listed, but these included only the Middle East and the modern nations of the West. India, China and Southern America were not included, because the writer knows nothing about them. A school founded to study the rise and fall of empires would probably find at least twenty-four great powers available for dissection and analysis. The task would not be an easy one, if indeed the net were cast so wide as to cover virtually all the world’s great nations in 3,000 years. The knowledge of language alone, to enable detailed investigations to be pursued, would present a formidable obstacle.
XXXVIII Would it help? It is pleasing to imagine that, from such studies, a regular life-pattern of nations would emerge, including an analysis of the various changes which ultimately lead to decline, decadence and collapse. It is tempting to assume that measures could be adopted to forestall the disastrous effects of excessive wealth and power, and thence of subsequent decadence. Perhaps some means could be devised to prevent the activist Age of Conquests and Commerce deteriorating into the Age of Intellect, producing endless talking but no action. It is tempting to think so. Perhaps if the pattern of the rise and fall of nations were regularly taught in schools, the general public would come to realise the truth, and would support policies to maintain the spirit of duty and self-sacrifice, and to forestall the accumulation of excessive wealth by one nation, leading to the demoralisation of that nation. Could not the sense of duty and the initiative needed to give rise to action be retained parallel with intellectual development and the discoveries of natural science? The answer is doubtful, though we could but try. The weaknesses of human nature, however, are so obvious, that we cannot be too confident of success. Men bursting with courage, energy and self-confidence cannot easily be restrained from subduing their neighbours, and men who see the prospect of wealth open to them will not readily be prevented from pursuing it. Perhaps it is not in the real interest of humanity that they should be so prevented, for it is in periods of wealth that art, architecture, music, science and literature make the greatest progress. Moreover, as we have seen where great empires are concerned, their establishment may give rise to wars and tragedies, but their periods of power often bring peace, security and prosperity to vast areas of territory. Our knowledge and our experience (perhaps our basic human intellects) are inadequate to pronounce whether or not the rise and fall of great nations is the best system for the best of all possible worlds. These doubts, however, need not prevent us from attempting to acquire more knowledge on the rise and fall of great powers, or from endeavouring, in the light of such knowledge, to improve the moral quality of human life. Perhaps, in fact, we may reach the conclusion that the successive rise and fall of great nations is inevitable and, indeed, a system divinely ordained. But even this would be an immense gain. For we should know where we stand in relation to our human brothers and sisters. In our present state of mental chaos on the subject, we divide ourselves into nations, parties or communities and fight, hate and vilify one another over developments which may perhaps be divinely ordained and which seem to us, if we take a broader view, completely uncontrollable and inevitable. If we could accept these great movements as beyond our control, there would be no excuse for our hating one another because of them. However varied, confusing and contradictory the religious history of the world may appear, the noblest and most spiritual of the devotees of all religions seem to reach the conclusion that love is the key to human life. Any expansion of our knowledge which may lead to a reduction in our unjustified hates is therefore surely well worth while.
XXXIX Summary As numerous points of interest have arisen in the course of this essay, I close with a brief summary, to refresh the reader’s mind. (a) We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced. (b) In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness. (c) This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations? (d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be: The Age of Pioneers (outburst) The Age of Conquests The Age of Commerce The Age of Affluence The Age of Intellect The Age of Decadence. (e) Decadence is marked by: Defensiveness Pessimism Materialism Frivolity An influx of foreigners The Welfare State A weakening of religion. (f) Decadence is due to: Too long a period of wealth and power Selfishness Love of money The loss of a sense of duty. (g) The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors. (h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes. (i) History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country.