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Lessons from the Unraveling of the Roman Empire: Simplification, Localization

Lessons from the Unraveling of the Roman Empire: Simplification, Localization

The fragmentation, simplification and localization of the post-Imperial era offers us lessons we ignore at our peril.

There is an entire industry devoted to “why the Roman Empire collapsed,” but the post-collapse era may be offer us higher value lessons. The post-collapse era, long written off as The Dark Ages, is better understood as a period of adaptation to changing conditions, specifically, the relocalization and simplification of the economy and governance.

As historian Chris Wickham has explained in his books Medieval Europe and The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000the medieval era is best understood as a complex process of social, political and economic natural selection: while the Western Roman Empire unraveled, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) continued on for almost 1,000 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the social and political structures of the Western Roman Empire influenced Europe for hundreds of years.

In broad-brush, the Roman Empire was a highly centralized, tightly bound system that was remarkably adaptive despite its enormous size and the slow pace of transport and communication. Roman society was both highly hierarchical–the elites claimed superiority and worked hard to master the necessary tools of authority– slaves were integral to the building and maintenance of Rome’s vast infrastructure–and open to meritocracy, as the Roman Army and other classes were open to advancement by anyone in the sprawling empire: every free person became a Roman Citizen once their territory was absorbed into the Empire.

When the Empire fell apart, the model of centralized control/power continued on in the reigns of the so-called Barbarian kingdoms (Goths, Vandals, etc.) and Charlemagne (768-814), over 300 years after the fall of Rome. (When the Ottomans finally conquered Constantinople in 1453, they also adopted many of the bureaucratic structures of the Byzantine Empire.)

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When Nature Gazes Back

When Nature Gazes Back

It’s been a month since I last posted on the theme of disenchantment, and a lively month at that. The cracks in America’s global empire have become increasingly visible around the world.  Here at home the mentally challenged resident of the White House continues to blunder through a vague approximation of his constitutional duties while the coterie of neoconservative zealots that hand him his talking (or rather mumbling) points is busy trying to start more wars the United States no longer has the resources or the national unity to win. Donald Trump is basking in the success of his recent CNN town hall, Robert Kennedy Jr. is rising steadily in the polls as he campaigns to unseat Biden for the Democratic nomination—well, let’s just sum things up by saying that it’s a good time to go long on popcorn futures.

With all this and more happening, it may not seem timely to return to so apparently abstract a point as the historical alternation between eras of enchantment and disenchantment. Here as so often, however, appearances deceive.  What Max Weber called “the disenchantment of the world” is a massive political fact, but it’s by no means as cut and dried as Weber apparently thought—and it’s also not a one-way process. Grasp the way that the modern experience of disenchantment unfolded across historical time, and where it can be expected to lead next, and you understand much that is otherwise obscure about how we got into our present predicament and what we can expect in the years ahead.  This is the theme I plan on developing in this and a sequence of future posts.

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This Winter, Europe Plunges Into “The New Dark Ages”

This Winter, Europe Plunges Into “The New Dark Ages”

Could you imagine being sent to prison for three years if you dared to set your thermostat above 66 degrees Fahrenheit?  As you will see below, this is a proposed regulation that is actually being considered in a major European country right now.  If you have not been paying much attention to what is happening in Europe, you need to wake up.  Natural gas in Europe is seven times more expensive than it was early last year, and that is because of the war in Ukraine.  Over the past few decades, the Europeans foolishly allowed themselves to become extremely dependent on gas from Russia.   In fact, more than 55 percent of the natural gas that Germany uses normally comes from Russia.  But now the war has changed everything, and Europe is facing an extremely harsh winter of severe shortages, mandatory rationing and absolutely insane heating bills.

Things are going to get very cold and very dark all over Europe in the months ahead, and those Europeans that choose to rebel against the new restrictions that are being implemented could literally find themselves in prison

Switzerland is considering jailing anyone who heats their rooms above 19C for up to three years if the country is forced to ration gas due to the Ukraine war.

The country could also give fines to those who violate the proposed new regulations.

Speaking to Blick, Markus Sporndli, who is a spokesman for the Federal Department of Finance, explained that the rate for fines on a daily basis could start at 30 Swiss Francs (£26).

19 degrees Celsius is just 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you live in Europe, prepare to dress very warmly this winter.

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The Sixth Wave & 2032

The Sixth Wave & 2032 

QUESTION: Dear Mr. Armstrong

It was my great honour to meet you in Orlando in November. I couldn’t help hugging you! Thank you so much for all you are doing.

Two questions:


1. In terms of societal collapse, I have been looking at 2032 as the date of armegeddon , or the next major asteroid impact when life as I know it will completely cease (needless to say, kind of a downer), but in a recent blog post you mentioned the collapse of the West might stretch out for another 600 years (OMG, thank you!). Which is it? 

2. When you hand over the reigns of Socrates, please let this naive, gentle soul know how you will ensure its (super-) power will be used for good. You are incorruptible, but sadly, most are not.

God bless you always,

M in Ottawa

ANSWER: I do not believe that 2032 is the end of civilization. Even if we assume this Sixth Wave will be of equal importance as the one that picked the end of Rome in 175 AD. Roman society declined for the next 300 years, and then the Dark Age emerged for another 600 years. So from the actual peak in Roman society, the low was about 900 years later.

That time frame is probably correct for North America but it does not mean society comes to an end. The financial capital of the world will shift to China, which will be the dominant economy for the subsequent 309.6-year period. Then it will migrate to Russia and then to Europe. It will probably take 900 years before it reappears in North America.

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The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

Lisbon: the monument to the European sailors of the age of explorations, starting with the 15th century. What made Europeans so successful in this in this task? My interpretation is that it was the result of periodic “Seneca Collapses” of the European population which made it possible to accumulate resources that would then be available to propel the European expansion. It is an effect that can be called the “Seneca Rebound” that makes growth faster after a collapse.

The Middle Ages are sometimes referred to as the “Dark Ages” — this is mostly untrue, but it is not wrong to apply this term to the early Middle Ages. According to some estimates, in 650 AD the European population had shrunk to a historical minimum of some 18 million people, about half of what it had been during the high times of the Roman Empire. If you think that today the European population is estimated to be as more than 700 million people, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the Europe of the early Middle Ages: it was a minor appendage of the Eurasian continent, a poverty-stricken place, nearly empty of people, where nothing happened except for the squabbles of local warlords fighting each other.

Yet, a few centuries later, the descendants of the inhabitants of this backward peninsula of Eurasia embarked in the attempt of conquering the world and were successful at that. By the 19th century, practically all the world was under the direct or indirect control of European countries or of their American offspring, the United States. How could it happen?

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The Greek Dark Age & Climate Change

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; You mentioned that the environment was the primary cause of the Greek Dark age between the Heroic and Hellenistic periods. Can you elaborate on that at all?

Thank you. They do not seem to connect the dots as you say in school


ANSWER: What is most interesting is the fact that they do not connect the dots which are so glaring for that period of time. The Bronze Age Collapse was a Dark-Age in the Near East, Asia Minor, Aegean region, North Africa, Caucasus, Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. This encapsulated the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, which was violent, sudden, and a major setback for civilization as a whole. We seem to focus on the fall of Rome, but not the catastrophic collapse of the Bronze Age.

The political economy of city-states that dominated the Aegean region and Anatolia region (Modern Turkey), simply disintegrated much like Rome whereby people abandoned cities and formed small isolated village during the Greek Dark Age. This takes place about 51.6 years following the cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, of the Kassite dynasty of Babylonia, of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and the Levant, and of the Egyptian Empire. We also see the political-economic destruction of Ugarit and the Amorite states in the Levant. Over in the Luwian states of western Asia Minor, we also see a collapse in civilization. There was also a period of tremendous political-economic chaos in Canaan (Israel). This wholesale collapse of all of these city-states resulted in the collapse of trade routes as we saw with the collapse of Rome. This also manifests in the reduction of literacy in much of the known world.

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Australia Turning Really Authoritative? Is this How a Dark Age Begins?

The greed of governments in their pursuit of money is the single greatest threat to creating a Dark Age. With New Zealand imposing a $5,000 fine for just landing there and you refuse to hand over your pen and passwords to your phone for them to search, now we have Australia going really nuts to the point that they risk tech companies simply banning the sale of their products in the country. The Assistance and Access Bill 2018 in Australia will force Google, Apple, Facebook, and other technology groups to help Australian authorities decode certain forms of encrypted communications on their systems, or face fines of up to AU$10 million. The government says the legislation will help protect against terrorism, fraud and child abuse crimes, claiming it aims to ensure criminals “have no place to hide.”

The problem that arises that failure to pay taxes they also call criminal. Hence, the hunt for money is greatly aided by this type of legislation far more than any other pretend criminal activity. While the government has stopped short of demanding backdoor access to tech companies’ systems that would allow the government to tap into end-to-end encryption services such as WhatsApp, it doesdemand access to data at “points where it is not encrypted.”

Apple, FOR INSTANCE,  would not be made to create a backdoor for their iMessage where every user’s encryption key is different. But the government could request access to the single encryption key for its iCloud services. When you send a message to a friend, it’s encrypted as it travels between the two devices, and when it arrives, it’s decrypted for your friend to read, which is when the government should get to read it. The Australian government is cleverly demanding not a backdoor, but a “side door” to gain access to whatever people are sending.

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3D printing, AI and Robots v Dark Age

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Armstrong.

Let us say that the future turns out OK-ish (post crash and burn), that we avoid another dark age. 3D printing, AI and robots do a lot of the work for humanity. The amount of available mundane jobs are reduced and replaced by our inventions.

Have you had any thoughts about a society where technology makes most humans obsolete? I would not know if that would be a dystopian or utopian way of life. Probably neither.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge!


ANSWER: Let us hope that we do not go into a Dark Age.  I certain do not think we are going all the way to a Dark Age. The reason I warn about that is to hopefully make people aware that this is one of those times when such events take place. I do not believe that the cycles can be altered. What I do believe is we possess the power to understand and reduce the volatility.

What we face is rising tension and dysfunctional government. It is always government that causes the Dark Age. Their greed and obstinate desire to maintain power results in them turning against the people to retain control. If we understand what they WILL do, we can intelligently counteract those measures. The army will be a key component. If some divisions support the government and others the people, there is your civil war. Then we have the Marxists who are in a clear trend to retake government. So this is the battle we will have to confront.

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The Archdruid Report: Dark Age America: The Hoard of the Nibelungs

The Archdruid Report: Dark Age America: The Hoard of the Nibelungs.

Of all the differences that separate the feudal economy sketched out in last week’s post from the market economy most of us inhabit today, the one that tends to throw people for a loop most effectively is the near-total absence of money in everyday medieval life. Money is so central to current notions of economics that getting by without it is all but unthinkable these days.  The fact—and of course it is a fact—that the vast majority of human societies, complex civilizations among them, have gotten by just fine without money of any kind barely registers in our collective imagination.


One source of this curious blindness, I’ve come to think, is the way that the logic of money is presented to students in school. Those of my readers who sat through an Economics 101 class will no doubt recall the sort of narrative that inevitably pops up in textbooks when this point is raised. You have, let’s say, a pig farmer who has bad teeth, but the only dentist in the village is Jewish, so the pig farmer can’t simply swap pork chops and bacon for dental work. Barter might be an option, but according to the usual textbook narrative, that would end up requiring some sort of complicated multiparty deal whereby the pig farmer gives pork to the carpenter, who builds a garage for the auto repairman, who fixes the hairdresser’s car, and eventually things get back around to the dentist. Once money enters the picture, by contrast, the pig farmer sells bacon and pork chops to all and sundry, uses the proceeds to pay the dentist, and everyone’s happy. Right?
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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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