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We’re Still Making Diocletian’s Mistakes

We’re Still Making Diocletian’s Mistakes

Some of the most telling moments in history are when we look back and see people in a vastly different world behaving exactly as people do today. From 286 to 305 Diocletian, one of Rome’s most powerful and consequential emperors, tried to fix the political and economic systems which he inherited and were teetering on the brink of collapse. In doing so, he made mistakes remarkably similar to those made by people in government today.

The world Diocletian inherited was staggering out of the Crisis of the Third Century, a 50-year period that saw 26 claimants to the imperial robes, most of whom seemed guided by nothing more than personal greed and ambition. Relatively speaking, Diocletian brought stability and good intentions to the Roman state and helped it persist for another 150 years.

But virtually all of Diocletian’s individual reforms sought a stronger imperial state that exploded in both bureaucracy and godlike pageantry in an attempt to engineer prosperity from the top down. The astonishing part is that after more than 1,700 years, after the development of economics as a field of study, and under the auspices of liberal democracy, governments today proceed with largely the same instincts.

Is Four Greater Than One?

The man who would become known as Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus Augustus was born in present-day Croatia in the year 244. He first came to power as many emperors did, with an army under his command proclaiming him as such, and ultimately defeating other military rivals.

Diocletian realized that his vast empire was too large and complex to be ruled by a single man. This insight about the limits of top-down control may have been forward-thinking, but his solution shows how deeply important the elites of his time viewed a strong centralized state. By 293, Diocletian had fully formed the tetrarchy, where two junior and two senior emperors bound by a set of marriages would each rule a quarter of the empire.

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What can we Learn From the Middle Ages About Collapse? The Great Challenge of the Seneca Bottleneck

What can we Learn From the Middle Ages About Collapse? The Great Challenge of the Seneca Bottleneck

The idea that a collapse is awaiting our civilization seems to be gaining ground, although it has not reached the mainstream debate. But no civilization before ours escaped collapse, so it makes sense to think that the entity we call “The West” is going to crash down, badly, in the future. Then, just as it happened to the Romans long ago, we are going to enter a new world. What will it be? Will it look like the Middle Ages? Maybe, but what were exactly the Middle Ages? It may well be that it was far from being the age of barbarism that the name of “dark ages” seems to imply. The Middle Ages were more a period of intelligent adaptation to scarce resources. So, can we learn from our Medieval ancestors how to manage the coming decline? 

Aa some moment during the 2nd century AD, the Roman mines of Northern  Spain ceased to produce gold and silver, depleted after some three centuries of exploitation. The Roman Empire lost its main asset: its currency, the money used to pay for the troops, the bureaucracy, the court, the nobles, and everything else. Without money, there was nothing that could keep the Empire together and, following the great financial crash of the 3rd century AD, the Western Roman Empire faded away into a galaxy of statelets and kingdoms. By the 5th century, Europe was officially in the period we call the Middle Ages and that would last for about a millennium.

Today, we tend to regard the Middle Ages as a period of Barbarism and superstition, truly a dark age of witch hunts and religious wars. But are we sure that it was so? Actually, the Middle Ages were a period of intelligent adaptation to the lack of resources, a society that may anticipate our future.

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What’s Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

What’s Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

Donald Trump seems to be doing what Roman Emperors like Diocletian, Constantine, and Theodosius did long ago: splitting the empire into two halves. Trump may not have consciously decided to do that, but an Empire can only be as large as it can afford to be, and the American Empire can’t afford anymore to dominate the whole world. 

Flavius Theodosius Augustus “The Great” (347- 395 CE) was the last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire. His success was probably due in large part to his habit of plundering Pagan temples for the gold he needed to pay his troops. But Pagan temples were a limited resource and Theodosius himself seemed to understand that when, shortly before his death, he partitioned the Empire between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. Afterward, the empire would never be whole again.

The Roman Empire had been a strong centralized power during its heydays, but it never was very interested in creating an ethnical and linguistic unity among its subjects. The Roman authorities understood very well that it was less expensive to tolerate diversity than to force uniformity — a typical policy of most empires. So, the Empire remained split into two main linguistic halves: the Latin-speaking Pars Occidentis and the Greek-speaking Pars Orientis. Theoretically, Latin was the official language of the Empire but, in practice, it remained a bilingual entity and, during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Roman elite would rather speak Greek — considered more refined and classy.

The split of the two sides of the Empire was not just linguistic, it was economic as well. The Pars Occidentis remained based on mineral wealth which, in turn, fueled the Empire’s military power.

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Italy, the EU, and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Italy, the EU, and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Italy, the EU, and the Fall of the Roman Empire

The EU leadership is trying to contain a crisis that is emerging at increasing speed: this challenge comprises the rise of contumacious states (i.e. the UK, Poland, Hungary and Italy), or of defiant, historic ‘cultural blocs’ (i.e. Catalonia) – all of whom are explicitly disenchanted with the notion of some coerced convergence towards a uniform EU-administered ‘order’, with its austere monetary ‘disciplines’. They even dismiss the EU’s claim to be, somehow, a part of a greater civilizational order of moral values.

If, in the post-war era, the EU represented an attempt to escape the Anglo-American hegemony, these new defiant blocks of ‘cultural resurgence’ which seek to situate themselves as interdependent, sovereign ‘spaces’ are, in their turn, an attempt to escape another type of hegemony: that of an EU administrative ‘uniformity’.

To exit this particular European order (which it originally was hoped, would differ from the Anglo-Americanimperii), the EU nevertheless was forced to lean on the latter’s archetypal construct of ‘liberty’ as empire’s justification (now metamorphosed into the EU’s ‘four freedoms’) on which the EU strict ‘uniformities’ (the ‘level-playing-field’, regulation in all aspects of life, tax and economic harmonization) have been hung. The European ‘project’ has become seen, as it were, as something that hollows out distinct and ancient ‘ways-of-being’.

Indeed, the very fact of their being attempted, at different levels, and in distinct geographical cultural regions, these assays indicate that that EU hegemony has already weakened to the point that it may not be able fully to hinder the emergence of this new wave. What is at stake precisely for the EU, is whether it can succeed to slow down, and curb in every way, the emergence of this process of cultural re-sovereigntisation, which of course, threatens to fragment the EU’s vaunted ‘solidarity’, and to fragment its matrix of a perfectly regulated customs union and common trade area.

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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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Europe & Risk of Revolution

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr Armstrong, for your lifetime work. mindblowing as always.
I picture Europe now as Greece during the Roman Republic (before its conquest). isolated, corrupted to the core. And the US as the new Roman Republic. Will it become an empire after 2032?
Marius was the man of the people and in the end, he was defeated by Sylla (Senate if I m correct). But Marius’ idea was carried on by Cesar. Was he a socialist before the hour?
as a European, which side is the safest to pick when we will be dragged in the conflict???
thanks again!

best regards from France

ANSWER: Ironically, people may think history is just the past. The next time you watch Star Wars, look closer. It is about this very struggle of the people versus the Empire. Instead of swords, they fight with laser swords. If you look at the royal guard, they had cloaks and helmets much as the Romans were dressed. This is actually a saga that is repeated time and again throughout history. Pericles in Athens was charged and put on trial as they are trying to do with Trump. Today, we call it the Deep States. In Roman times, Caesar fought against the corrupt Senate who was the political party known as the Optimates.

You are correct, Marius lost. His coins refected the anti-establishment. You can see the female head of Italia, for which he was fighting. Caesar’s reputation has been distorted by the corrupt Optimates such as Cato and Cicero. Caesar was a man of the people, not a socialist, just an anti-establishment from the perspective of corruption. He too had to flee Rome under the dictatorship of Sulla who would have killed him much as Stalin killed anyone who might oppose him.

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Does Society Turn More Violent During its End Times?

QUESTION: Is MMA the new Roman Colosseum? I’m a layman in history but didn’t blood sports rise in popularity during Rome’s decline? Now everyone and their mother is talking about MMA, and random celebrities e.g. Logan Paul or now Trump Jr. are jumping in the octagon or being challenged.

JR
ANSWER: Yes. For some reason, society begins to turn more violent toward its end times. Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport that allows striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from other combat sports and martial arts. It is an interesting pattern. The Christian Persecutions really came into full swing only as the Empire was collapsing during the 3rd century.

As the fracking protesters show, a people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown

It is hard to believe today, but the prevailing ethos among the educated elite was once public service. As the historian Tony Judt documented in Ill Fares the Land, the foremost ambition among graduates in the 1950s and 60s was, through government or the liberal professions, to serve their country. Their approach might have been patrician and often blinkered, but their intentions were mostly public and civic, not private and pecuniary.

Today, the notion of public service seems as quaint as a local post office. We expect those who govern us to grab what they can, permitting predatory banks and corporations to fleece the public realm, then collect their reward in the form of lucrative directorships. As the Edelman Corporation’s Trust Barometer survey reveals, trust worldwide has collapsed in all major institutions, and government is less trusted than any other.

As for the economic elite, as the consequences of their own greed and self-interest emerge, they seek, like the Roman oligarchs fleeing the collapse of the western empire, only to secure their survival against the indignant mob. An essay by the visionary author Douglas Rushkoff this summer, documenting his discussion with some of the world’s richest people, reveals that their most pressing concern is to find a refuge from climate breakdown, and economic and societal collapse. Should they move to New Zealand or Alaska? How will they pay their security guards once money is worthless? Could they upload their minds on to supercomputers? Survival Condo, the company turning former missile silos in Kansas into fortified bunkers, has so far sold every completed unit.

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Beware of the Real Debt Crisis on the Horizon – not the BS on TV

We have to come to the reality that from 2019 onward, we are headed into a Pension Crisis that will be serious. Many are starting to yell about the debt crisis. They lump on private debt and yell its a bubble. What they miss entirely is the fact that we face more than a decade of crises that would have been avoidable, had governments been actually managers and central bank had not tried to keep using Keynesian Demand Side Economics that even Paul Volcker warned back in 1978 had failed.

This is by no means prophecies of doom and gloom. Unfortunately, they are prophecies not even of a pessimist, but only facts that are comprehensible simply using a pocket calculator and not even a computer. The Pension Crisis is the end of Socialism. Promises that were made which were never sustainable but were a scheme to win votes. Then the money needed to pay the pension required 8% interest annually. Then the central banks enter the game and mess everything up even more. Instead of DIRECTLY aiding the economy, they lower rates and HOPE that the banks will pass it along. They never did. The banks parked the money at the Excess Reserve Window that the Fed has still not closed.

The cost of pensions is currently stifling Western society beyond belief. Europe itself is ahead of the curve and will crack before the United States. Europe already has between  30% to 40% of the population who have already retired or are about to leave the labor market. They have used the old Roman pension system of the army which was earning an average of 20 years service to qualify for a pension. It was the pensions which contributed to the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

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The Return of the Inquisition: Do you confess?

The Return of the Inquisition: Do you confess?

In 279 BC, the vast army of King Pyrrhus of Epirus was met by Roman forces at the Battle of Asculum in southern Italy, in what would be one of the costliest military engagements of ancient history.

Pyrrhus fancied himself the second coming of Alexander the Great and believed that he was a descendant of Achilles.

Many of his peers and contemporaries believed Pyrrhus to be the greatest military commander of all time.

His exploits were legendary. And when he set sail for Italy in 280 BC, the Romans did not underestimate him.

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The Battle of Asculum was decisive. Pyrrhus actually won the battle; but in defeating the Romans, he lost so many of his men that his army was practically broken.

Pyrrhus purportedly said of his victory, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined. . .”

This gave rise to the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which refers to a win that’s incredibly costly.

Pyrrhus also tried his hand at diplomacy with Rome, sending one of his ablest statesmen to the capital to negotiate peace with the Roman Senate.

The emissary was not successful. But he reported back to Pyrrhus that Rome’s Senate was incredibly impressive– “an assembly of kings” comprised of its noblest citizens.

And he was right. In the early days when Rome was still a republic, its Senate was a highly revered institution that stood for wisdom, dignity, and virtue.

They were far from perfect. But the men who served in the Senate during the early republic were heavily responsible for building the most advanced civilization the world had ever seen up to that point.

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So, You Think Science Will Save the World? Are You Sure?

So, You Think Science Will Save the World? Are You Sure?

I understand that by publishing this post I may be giving ammunition to the anti-science crowd. But we can’t just hide in the ivory tower and tell people that science is perfect as it is. We need deep reforms in the way science is done.

In Italy, we have a term for those who engage in a task much too big and too difficult for them. We call them a “Brancaleone Army” (Armata Brancaleone), a term coming from the title of a wonderful 1966 Italian movie where an Italian self-styled knight tries to lead a ragtag army of incompetent fighters. The sad conditions of science nowadays sometimes look to me like the story of the Brancaleone army.

What is truth? These famous words come not from a scientist but from a politician, Pontius Pilate, governor of Palestine in Roman times. As a politician, Pilate knew very well how truth could be twisted, stretched, sliced, cooked, flavored, and rearranged in many ways in order to be sold to people. Things are not different, today. In politics, truth is what you perceive to be true. After all, isn’t it true that we can create our own reality? (a US government official is reported to have said that at the time of the invasion of Iraq, in 2003).

Eventually, the Roman Empire drowned in its own lies, it was an epistemological collapse. Something similar may happen to us: we cannot continue for long to ignore reality, believing that we can manufacture our own, and deceive everyone in the process.
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How Mises Explained the Fall of Rome

How Mises Explained the Fall of Rome

An excerpt from Mises’ classic work, ‘Human Action’.

Observations on the Causes of the Decline of Ancient Civilization

Knowledge of the effects of government interference with market prices makes us comprehend the economic causes of a momentous historical event, the decline of ancient civilization.

It may be left undecided whether or not it is correct to call the economic organization of the Roman Empire capitalism. At any rate it is certain that the Roman Empire in the second century, the age of the Antonines, the “good” emperors, had reached a high stage of the social division of labor and of interregional commerce. What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness.

Several metropolitan centers, a considerable number of middle-sized towns, and many small towns were the seats of a refined civilization. The inhabitants of these urban agglomerations were supplied with food and raw materials not only from the neighboring rural districts, but also from distant provinces. A part of these provisions flowed into the cities as revenue of their wealthy residents who owned landed property. But a considerable part was bought in exchange for the rural population’s purchases of the products of the city-dwellers’ processing activities. There was an extensive trade between the various regions of the vast empire. Not only in the processing industries, but also in agriculture there was a tendency toward further specialization. The various parts of the empire were no longer economically self-sufficient. They were mutually interdependent.

What brought about the decline of the empire and the decay of its civilization was the disintegration of this economic interconnectedness, not the barbarian invasions. The alien aggressors merely took advantage of an opportunity which the internal weakness of the empire offered to them.

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New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

Alaric Sack of Rome
The reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire have remained a mystery for modern historians, just as for the Romans themselves. Yet, recent data from the Greenland ice core provide us with new data on collapse of the Empire, showing how fast and brutal it was – a true “Seneca Collapse.” Could our civilization go the same way? (above: the sack of Rome by the Visigoths of King Alaric in 410 AD).
The Ancient Romans never understood what hit them. Nor did later historians: there exist literally hundreds of theories on what caused the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1984 Demandt listed 210 of them, ranging from moral decline to the diffusion of Christianity. Today, some historians still say that the fall is a “mystery” and some attribute it to the improbable piling up of several independent factors which, somehow, happened to gang up together. 
 
Why is it so difficult to understand something that was so massive as the fall of the Western Empire? There is more than one reason, but one is the lack of data. We have scant written material about the last centuries of the Empire and very little has arrived to us in terms of quantitative data. Things are changing, though. Modern archaeology is generating astonishing results telling us a lot about the mechanisms of the collapse of the ancient Empire. For instance, look at this graph: (from Sverdrup et al., 2013):    
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Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca was perhaps the first in history to identify and discuss collapse and to note that “the way to ruin is rapid.” From Seneca’s idea, Ugo Bardi coined the term “Seneca Effect” to describe all cases where things go bad fast and used the modern science of complex systems to understand why and how collapses occur. Above: the Egyptian pyramid of Meidum, perhaps the first large edifice in history to experience collapse. 

1. Collapse is rapid. Already some 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca noted that when things start going bad, they go bad fast. It takes a lot of time to put together a building, a company, a government, a whole society, a piece of machinery. And it takes very little time for the whole structure to unravel at the seam. Think of the collapse of a house of cards, or that of the twin towers after the 9/11 attacks, or even of apparently slow collapses such as that of the Roman Empire. Collapses are likely to take you by surprise.

2. Collapse is not a bug, it is a feature of the universe. Collapses occur all the time, in all fields, everywhere. Over your lifetime, you are likely to experience at least a few relatively large collapses: natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods – major financial collapses – such as the one that took place in 2008 – and you may also see wars and social violence. And you may well see small-scale personal disasters, such as losing your job or divorcing. Nobody at school taught you how to deal with collapses, but you’d better learn at least something of the “science of co,plex systems.”

3. No collapse is ever completely unexpected. The science of complex systems tells us that collapses can never be exactly predicted, but that’s not a justification for being caught by surprise.

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As the World Turns

As the World Turns

In the liberty movement, we often refer to the historical tactic of the Roman “bread and circuses” when describing the deliberate mass distraction of the public of today. In the era when Roman emperors supplanted the senate and dominated political and social life, it was deemed advantageous to create various forms of “entertainment,” often violent, in order to keep the citizenry preoccupied and thus less likely to physically act against the power structure as the empire suffered economic decline. The use of bread and circuses continues into our era, but the method has been refined and the manipulations have become in some ways more subtle.

For example, in ancient Rome the horrors of the Colosseum were meant to keep the public’s attention AWAY from the government. Today, the soap opera of government keeps people’s attention away from the true power brokers within global finance.

The White House itself has been molded into just another reality TV show, and mainstream media coverage has been relentless. With Donald Trump (no stranger to reality TV) at center stage, it is difficult for the citizenry to gauge what is politically legitimate and important. What we are bombarded with is an ever escalating drama between Trump, his staff, and the media, and instead of ignoring the theater many people are desperately seeking to interpret the meaning behind a show that is actually meaningless.

Every two weeks or so another episode develops in which Trump, playing the character of the brash and aggressive “populist,” fires one of his cabinet as if The Apprentice never ended, but was simply transferred to the Oval Office. Some people find this entertaining as it is Trump doing what he is most recently famous for doing. Those on the political left interpret this as reckless abandon and confirmation that their fears over Trump being ill suited to the presidency are justified. Still others in the liberty movement who originally supported Trump’s campaign are perhaps desperately looking for vindication. They wanted so badly to avoid the inevitable evils of a Clinton regime that they are now willing to give Trump a pass on almost anything, and they argue that the endless turnover in the Trump White House is Trump fulfilling his election promise of “draining the swamp.”

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