Western Civilization

Decline and Empire in Ancient Rome and the Modern West: A Review of David Engels’ Le Déclin, Part 1

David Engels, Le Déclin: La crise de l’Union européenne et la chute de la République romaine—quelques analogies historiques
Paris: Éditions du Toucan, 2016, 3rd ed.

David Engels is a professor of classics at the French-speaking Free University of Brussels (ULB). While most academics and their works languish in relative obscurity, the 38-year-old Engels has already made a name for himself as a conservative cultural critic, known for his op-eds and interviews in the mainstream media, as well as for his best-seller comparing the decadence of ancient Rome and modern Europe: Decline: The Crisis of the European Union and the Fall of the Roman Republic—A Few Historical Analogies.[1]

Hailing from Belgium’s small German-speaking community, Engels writes about Europe from a refreshingly multinational perspective, drawing from English-language, French, and especially German sources, as well as, of course, the vast body of surviving Greek and Roman literature. With over 600 endnotes and numerous graphs and statistics, Engels’ book has been written with Teutonic scrupulousness.

Engels’ thesis is simple and compelling: there are many parallels between the late Roman Republic (the period roughly from the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. to Augustus’ founding of the Principate in 27 B.C.) and today’s European Union: There is above all a general ethno-cultural decline, which makes a shift towards autocratic politics inevitable. Engels frames his provocative thesis in just such a way as to still be considered respectable enough by academia and the media, and thus be treated as a responsible but critical interlocutor.

The parallel between the late Roman Republic and today’s European Union is somewhat forced in places, but really serves as a useful framing device for comparing and discussing the social trends in these two very different societies. Specifically, Engels structures the work by comparing European public opinion on various topics (identity, family, democracy…) as expressed in Eurobarometer polls with Roman developments as expressed in the surviving sources. This somewhat strange structure nonetheless works, and I would say Le Déclin is a fine introduction to late Roman republican history. Engels furthermore recognizes that many of Europe’s symptoms of decadence are also evident across the West in general (255).

Engels’ observations on contemporary EU politics—the hollowing out of democratic processes and civil rights, economic reductionism, a growing chasm between the elite and the people, rising ideological intolerance, and so on—are all on point, and have since almost become received opinion. I will then focus especially on Engels’ analysis of Roman decadence. As will become quite apparent, the Roman experience, one of the truly epic achievements of Western political history, offers many lessons for us today. Read more

Ancient Athens: A Spirited and Nativist Democracy

 

Pericles, Athenian leader at the city’s zenith

The Persian Empire was driven by a certain logic, certain feedback loops pertaining to domestic conditions and foreign relations, which led to that great state’s steady expansion.[1] The waves of this expansion were finally dashed on the rocks of Greek freedom, embodied in the city-states of Athens and Sparta. Athens and Sparta themselves were each driven by their own logic, their own virtuous circles of power, which defeated the Persian logic in Europe. If Persian power was that of a multinational military monarchy, a culture of empire, Greek power was that of patriotic, fractious little republics, defined by civic freedom.

The particular form of civic freedom and the virtuous circle of power at Sparta were very different however than those at Athens. At Sparta, a rigorous communitarian discipline was maintained by the demands of lordship, the need for the society to be constantly militarily organized to guard against the threat of rebellion by the enslaved Helots. The result was centuries of stability and regional power. At Athens, the virtuous circle of international trade and naval power led to rapid and constant demographic and imperial expansion, resulting in a short-lived empire which almost achieved hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean. Athens also underwent a stunningly creative artistic and philosophical flourishing with few rivals in all human history.

Athens and Sparta seem to embody a recurring dialectic in Western history: between sea-power, commerce, democracy, individualism, and technology on the one hand, and land-power, autarky, hierarchy, community, and discipline on the other.

The verdict of the philosophers and men of the Right has generally been Read more

Faustian Rome: The Indo-European Nature of the Roman Republic, Part 2

Mosaic depicting Roman slaves

Go to Part 1.

The Racial Decline of the Roman People

In more exacting terms, the long-term consequences of Republican Rome’s exposure to the Hellenistic East, and later to exclusively non-Indo-European populations in North Africa, was the beginning of a process of racial decline which would unfurl gradually, reaching its apex in the later Imperial period, and finally end with the collapse of a united Rome Empire in 476 A.D.. The seeds of demographic decline begin in earnest during the Republican period, blossomed to fruition during the Principate, culminating in a cataclysmically irreversible crescendo during the despotism of the tumultuous Dominate period. More specifically, it was during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (r. 41–54AD) in which the first non-Roman, non-Italic citizens, was granted the freedom to hold political office within the city of Rome itself. [11] Claudius himself was born in Lugdunum (modern-day Lyons, France) and his extending of the political enfranchisement to non-Romans was quite revolutionary at the time. As elaborated upon previously, Rome was a relatively open society, and when non-Romano-Italic peoples, specifically interrelated, racially accordant Indo-European peoples, like the Gauls, Germans or European Greeks were incorporated into the proverbial Roman fold, civilizational stability occurred; similar racio-cultural populations more easily assimilated to Roman racio-cultural norms. However, when non-Indo-European people, such as the largely Semitic population of ancient Judea were incorporated into the Empire, civilizational chaos was the result, as assimilation proved impossible, and as such more coercive forms of tyrannical government became the norm.

Furthermore, beginning during the period of Civil War and as first practiced by Marius and Sulla, and then by Augustus, and all future emperors, Roman military colonies were established throughout the entirety of the Roman world. During the early Imperial period, a majority of the military colonies were placed in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and would over the years drastically, and negatively influence the Indo-Roman racial hegemony of the original Romans. As the Roman, and the Romanized Indo-European racio-cultural core population groups came into sustained contact with non-Indo-European peoples, racial miscegenation inevitably followed. As a result of sustained contact, via the processes of Imperial incorporation, the Roman Empire became less Indo-Roman, and incrementally transformed into something that was both generically “Imperial” and consequently deracinated, which  in turn resulted in a demographic decline of the Empires vital European population core.  Read more

Faustian Rome: The Indo-European Nature of the Roman Republic, Part 1

In his monumental tome, The History of Rome, the historian Titus Livius wrote, “There is nothing man will not attempt when great enterprises hold out the promise of great rewards,” and in the annuals of human history nowhere is this aphorism truer than when one examines the nature of Faustian Europe and its rich diversity of constituent peoples.[1] In more specific terms, and as articulated quite definitively by Prof. Ricardo Duchesne, the uniqueness of Faustian Europe lays not with its institutions, but with the primordial drive of Faustian Man to overcome all that constrains him in the eternal quest for immortal fame. [2] Returning to Titus Livy, in his history of Rome the historian was exploring not only the meteoric rise of ancient Rome, but rather attempting to ascertain the exact reasoning behind the nature of Roman hegemony. Livy’s Rome was one of transition, the historian himself being born in 64 B.C. and dying 17 A.D., and as such had lived through the tumult of the Late Republic and bore witness to Rome’s imperial rebirth under Augustus Caesar. [3] Moreover, the nature of the age that Livy had lived through was a period of “transition” not only of governmental forms, from republic to empire, but more importantly was the beginning of Roman deviation from the racio-cultural values which underpinned the Faustian nature of Europe. When European man is truest to himself, it is when he and his civilization exist in harmony with his Indo-European, Faustian nature. When deviation from this historical, dare I say cosmic reality occurs, it is a prerequisite for civilizational chaos. In the historical context of Republican Rome, it was the transition from republic to empire, and the accompanying degenerative racio-cultural changes, which deviated from the Indo-European nature of the Faustian soul of Europe, which laid the foundation for Rome’s future collapse.

Evolutionary speaking, White-European success has its origin in the prehistory of the “Last Interglacial Maximum,” and it was through the successful surmounting of the trials and tribulations of such hardship that the Faustian soul of European man was forged. Irrespective of age or context, the success of European civilization stems from its evolutionary backgrounds as made manifest by the Faustian spirit of its earliest peoples, the Proto-Indo-Europeans and their successors, the Indo-Europeans. Early Rome, both of the monarchial and republican variety, was a continuation of the Faustian soul of Indo-Europe. Moreover, it is from within the racio-cultural values of early Rome that much of the Faustian soul of Indo-European Europe was transmitted to later societal and civilizations externalizations of the European soul. Returning back to Republican Rome, my proposition is that the success of early Rome was in large part predicted upon its adherence to the racio-cultural values of its Indo-European patrimony. While conversely, the fall of Rome coincides with its abandonment of its Faustian Indo-European patrimony, as evidenced by the demographic shift, immorality, and overall degeneration of the martial spirit of Indo-Europe, as evidenced by the Roman Empire, most notably in its later historical incarnation after the second century A.D.

The Indo-European, proto-Roman Latini people most likely migrated to central Italy, i.e., “Old Latium,” during the European Bronze Age, and from early on in their prehistory made their presence felt. [8] In continuation their Indo-European forbears, the racio-cultural world of both Monarchial and later Republican Rome was extremely competitive, with aristocratic individuals vying for power and prestige. This penchant for competition in both the IE and IE successor cultures more often than not found expression in a highly militarized racio-cultural milieu, From 509 B.C. to 27 B.C., in a series of gradual and militaristically stunning conquests, first of Italy, and eventually culminating with the conquest of entirety of the Mediterranean Basin, the Roman Republic reigned supreme. In continuation of the Faustian soul of Europe, the Republican era of ancient Rome was an epoch or martial glory and by extension, militaristic expansion, and one could argue by even the most objective metrics, the apogee of Roman civilization. Rome’s geopolitical expansion and eventual hegemonic lordship over huge swathes of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia is unprecedented in European history in terms of its sheer scale, scope and tempo, and as such is an important period of study for ethnonationalists. Furthermore, the Republican values held so dear by Livy and many of his fellow Roman contemporaries, that is martial valor, honor and what the later twentieth-century Danish scholar Georg Brandes would term “radical aristocratism” when describing the political orientation of Friedrich Nietzsche, are the hallmarks of European civilizational success. Ancient Republican Rome existed for nearly 500 years, and a great deal of this civilizational longevity was achieved by the Republic’s adherence to Faustian spirit of our Indo-European forefathers, particularly their warrior ethos. Read more

An Epigenetic Explanation for the Decline of the West

Jim Penman, Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 2015, $5.92.

In 2009 I wrote an article outlining the emerging field of biohistory.[1] So when I came across a book written by Jim Penman entitled Biohistory: Decline of the West my interest was immediately piqued. Published in 2015, I wondered how the book had escaped my notice for two years. One reason might be that, although he holds a Ph.D. in history, Penman is an Australian businessman rather than an academic. This could explain why the book has not been reviewed by the customary American media.

My TOQ article was primarily a survey of some relevant historiography. I noted how various historians had incorporated human biology, and ecological influences such as climate, geography, diet, and disease, into their research while generally eschewing the significance of race. Penman also denies the importance of race, but he takes biohistory in a different direction with the use of epigenetics.

Epigenetics is a “new science which looks at the way on which genes are switched on or off by the environment” (9). It appears that “environmental influence turn up or down the activity of certain genes while not altering the DNA” (25). It is particularly significant that: “Epigenetic regulation seems to operate in an almost Lamarckian fashion . . . [and] can produce effects in gene expression that may echo over many generations.” [2]

Epigenetics has been described as evolution without Darwinism. It appears particularly important in determining temperament. Two significant epigenetic environmental factors are diet and stress. To greatly simplify things we can say that gluttony and ease produce weak men, who produce weak sons leading to decadence, and societal decline. This theory is not new, but epigenetics suggests that these changes are physiological and heritable, not just cultural. And it provides some scientific evidence to support this paradigm.

Penman’s thesis is engaging and epigenetics is gaining wide acceptance, but at times his presentation is overstated and reductionist. For example, historians and economists have been studying the Great Depression for decades. They disagree on the causes, but generally believe that, as with almost all major historical events, it was precipitated by a confluence of factors. In this case the lingering effects of World War I, policies pursued by major economies, as well as the mistaken beliefs of millions of economic actors. In contrast, Penman believes “the explanation of recession involves a change in the temperament of the general population” (141), and “that governments have little or no power to halt the underlying forces of economic and political change, because these forces are driven by changes in temperament” which are in turn shaped by epigenetics (153).  Certainly there is a psychological component within economic downturns as the terms “depression” and “panic” imply. But it is difficult to believe that epigenetic changes alone account for economic cycles.

Rather than being the key to understanding history epigenetics could prove to be another useful tool for analyzing human societies past and present. As mentioned above, the author’s goal is to develop a biological explanation of history sans race. He “takes particular issue with the idea that [cultural development] might be about race or genetic differences” (5). His interpretation of “biohistory takes issue with the idea that differences between peoples can be explained by genetics such as the idea that Europeans and East Asians are more intelligent” (8). Read more

Culture and Nationhood in the World of Herodotus: An Evolutionary Analysis, Part 4

Maladaptive Culture: Herodotus on Luxury, Effeminacy, and Decadence

The ancients considered the maintaining of martial virtue and hardiness to be a supreme imperative—not surprising given that if any frailty led to defeat, one’s people could not only lose their self-government, but their very existence. Like Homer and Plato, Herodotus has much to say on the perils of luxury, effeminacy, and decadence. Herodotus is acutely aware of the fragility of nations and civilizations. He says at the beginning of the Histories:

I will cover minor and major human settlements equally, because most of those which were important in the past have diminished in significance by now, and those which were great in my own time were small in times past. I will mention both equally because I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place. (1.5)

Herodotus suggests a cycle of rise and fall of civilizations: as one becomes wealthy and powerful, one tends to lose over the generations the manly virtue which made this possible, becoming at once effeminate and arrogant. This cycle of decadence, which was later famously analyzed by the Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun, is a common feature of human history. Moderns are apt to forget that until quite recently primitive and nomadic virile barbarians periodically conquered more culturally advanced but decadent sedentary civilizations. One need only mention the ancient Germans, Huns, Vikings, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols.

Herodotus’ characters repeatedly comment on the debilitating effects of luxury and effeminacy, in a word, of being over-civilized. The Persians’ rise to power in the century prior to Herodotus’ writing is explained by their initial Spartan-like ruggedness and simplicity, while their decline is due to their indulgence in comfort and wealth since the passing of Cyrus the Great in 530 BC. Overly rich and arrogant empires seeking ever-more land repeatedly come to grief by attacking impoverished but still-manly free peoples.[1] Read more

Culture and Nationhood in the World of Herodotus: An Evolutionary Analysis, Part 3

Persian Virtue: A Persian Group Evolutionary Strategy?

The people described in most detail by Herodotus are in fact not the Greeks, but their enemies the Persians, a fellow Aryan people. Herodotus speaks a great deal about Persian culture, often very positively. (For instance: “the Persians are normally the last people in the world, to my knowledge, to treat men who fight bravely with disrespect” [7.238]). The historian is far more critical of individual arrogant Persian rulers, such as Cambyses and Xerxes, than he is of Persia as such.

Herodotus claims that the Persian Empire—which in his day stretched from Greek Asia Minor in the west to India in the east, and from Egypt in the south to the edges of Scythia in the north—had grown through “customs” of monarchic power and conquest. These led every Persian king to expand the empire, at least until this led to unnatural excess and to their downfall.

Persian culture, as described by Herodotus, is in many respects highly adaptive. He says that among the Persians:

After bravery in battle, manliness is proved above all by producing plenty of sons, and every year the king rewards the person producing the most; they think that quantity constitutes strength. . . . they study only three things: horsemanship, archery, and honesty. (1.136)

Read more