Thursday, 31 January 2019

“Their roads grew better as their statesmanship grew worse and central heating triumphed as civilisation fell”

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The passage below seems to have a lot of topical significance to me. 

But if the gradualness of this process misled the Romans there were other and equally potent reasons for their blindness. Most potent of all was the fact that they mistook entirely the very nature of civilisation itself. All of them were making the same mistake. People who thought that Rome could swallow barbarism and absorb it into her life without diluting her own civilization; the people who ran about busily saying that the barbarians were not such bad fellows after all, finding good points in their regime with which to castigate the Romans and crying that except ye become as little barbarians ye shall not attain salvation; the people who did not observe in 476 that one half of the Respublica Romanorum had ceased to exist and nourished themselves on the fiction that the barbarian kings were exercising a power delegated from the Emperor. All these people were deluded by the same error, the belief that Rome (the civilization of their age) was not a mere historical fact with a beginning and an end, but a condition of nature like the air they breathed and the earth they tread. Ave Roma immortalis, most magnificent most disastrous of creeds!

The fact is that the Romans were blinded to what was happening to them by the very perfection of the material culture which they had created. All around them was solidity and comfort, a material existence which was the very antithesis of barbarism. How could they foresee the day when the Norman chronicler would marvel over the broken hypocausts of Caerleon? How could they imagine that anything so solid might conceivably disappear? Their roads grew better as their statesmanship grew worse and central heating triumphed as civilization fell.

But still more responsible for their unawareness was the educational system in which they were reared. Ausonius and Sidonius and their friends were highly educated men and Gaul was famous for its schools and universities. The education which these gave consisted in the study of grammar and rhetoric, which was necessary alike for the civil service and for polite society; and it would be difficult to imagine an education more entirely out of touch with contemporary life, or less suited to inculcate the qualities which might have enabled men to deal with it. The fatal study of rhetoric, its links with reality long since severed, concentrated the whole attention of men of intellect on form rather than on matter. The things they learned in their schools had no relation to the things that were going on in the world outside and bred in them the fatal illusion that tomorrow would be as yesterday, that everything was the same, whereas everything was different.

This comes from Medieval People, published in 1924 by Eileen Power, who later became Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics. In 1924 she and her readers had lived through ten years in which civilisation seemed to have been in danger of coming to an end. In Russia it had. 

16 comments:

  1. Have always said mass immigration killed the roman Empire. A strong lesson well said.

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  2. Powerful stuff for yet another episode of the "History repeats itself' chronicles.

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  3. The fatal study of rhetoric, its links with reality long since severed, concentrated the whole attention of men of intellect on form rather than on matter. The things they learned in their schools had no relation to the things that were going on in the world outside and bred in them the fatal illusion that tomorrow would be as yesterday, that everything was the same, whereas everything was different.

    I think that neatly sums up every Eton/Harrow/Oxbridge educated member of Parliament as well as the author of this blog.

    Cecil

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    1. I think most people in responsible positions in England have no idea what is going on in the world. Eastern Europeans with their tragic recent history see much more clearly. I think that the modern equivalent of rhetoric is arts subjects as taught in the last thirty years, laced with Marxist critical theory and liberal assumptions.

      Paradoxically the study of Greek and Latin puts students' feet on the ground.

      Classics is more useful than PPE or mathematics. It is good to have a foothold in another time and culture with other assumptions. It surprises me that so many classicists like Mary Beard are annoyingly right-on and leftish.

      I also wish more MPs went to major public schools, though the new Foreign Secretary does not seem to me like a Marlborian.

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    2. In fact he is an Old Carthusian, as a reader pointed out.

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  4. "Classics is more useful than PPE or mathematics."

    Depends. Math?

    For an engineer, not so much. Need to be able to get to Calculus.

    With that said, an Engineer with a love of the Classics will make a better Engineer.

    I graduated BS in '83. My college required us to pick quite a few soft subjects. I was thrilled to be able to take classes in European History and English Literature.

    Heck, I would have gotten a degree in History but I needed to eat instead.

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  5. But still more responsible for their unawareness was the educational system in which they were reared. Ausonius and Sidonius and their friends were highly educated men and Gaul was famous for its schools and universities. The education which these gave consisted in the study of grammar and rhetoric, which was necessary alike for the civil service and for polite society; and it would be difficult to imagine an education more entirely out of touch with contemporary life, or less suited to inculcate the qualities which might have enabled men to deal with it.

    It's interesting that Corelli Barnett made the same observation about the British educational system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It produced statesmen who could quote Horace but knew nothing of science or modern history.

    I'm not sure that he was right but it is certainly a fact that the British ruling class at that time was staggeringly incompetent. And British industry was antiquated and horrifyingly inefficient. He gives the example of the Spitfire. The early versions of the Spitfire could never have flown without high-tech components imported from places like Germany! Britain lived in a dream world in which being good at games was more important than understanding the modern world. The British Empire was lost on the playing fields of Eton.

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  6. Jeremy Hunt went to Charterhouse not Marlborough

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    1. Oh yes indeed. Thank you for the correction.

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  7. "At what point did barbarism within become a wasting disease? Yet from the first skinclad German taken into a legion to the great barbarian patricians of Italy, making and unmaking emperors, the chain is unbroken. At what point in the assault from without did the attack become fatal? Was it the withdrawal from Dacia in 270--allowing the barbarians their sphere of influence in the east of Europe, fling them the last-won recruit to Romania and they will be satiated and leave the west alone? Was it the settlement of the Goths as foederati within the Empire in 382 and the beginning of that compromise between the Roman empire and the Germans which, as Bury says, masked the transition from the rule of one to the rule of the other, from federate states within the Empire to independent states replacing it? Was this policy of appeasement the fatal error? Was it the removal of the legions from Britain, a distant people (as a Roman senator might have said) of whom we know nothing? Or was it that fatal combination of Spain and Africa, when the Vandals ensconced themselves in both provinces by 428 and the Vandal fleet (with Majorca and the islands for its bases) cut off Rome from her corn supplies and broke the backbone of ancient civilization, which was the Mediterranean sea? Not once alone in the history of Europe has the triumph of a hostile rule in Africa and Spain spelt disaster to our civilization."

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  8. True, but requires qualification. Rome started as a city and ended up an empire, including various factions and tribes, some very different than the Latin ones. As is spread towards the East, it included civilizations it admired or feared, some, at a point, far more developed than Rome: Carthage, Macedonia, Greece, Pontus, Egypt. The Roman project succeeded because the new ones were able to recognize and enjoy the advantages provided by Rome. And later on, they were happy enough to integrate, acquire citizenship and call themselves Roman. Those who rejected or tried to fight it off were wiped out and dispersed: Carthaginians, Jews, Dacians. More or less, the people of the Empire either embraced or were of a similar culture with the Romans. Destruction and disaster came when the new comers rejected and dispised Roman values, culture, religion and tried to impose their own by fear, by violence, by terror. Internal migration never caused the Roman Empire any trouble, only the external one. Applied to Brexit, one should see that it was not the Easterners that threatened to change the British way of life. Culturally, they belong to Europe and regard themselves so. They tried to adapt and fit. The ”Barbarians” do not.

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  9. ...19th-century Europeans managed to project power, exert influence and claim territory as a consequence of mushrooming domestic populations whose excess these countries could afford to send all over the globe. If Great Britain, as the historian Timothy Snyder claims, ‘made the world’, it did so... ‘by exporting people’. Ergo, people to spare made the British Empire possible.

    ...If Europe’s sending its extra population abroad projected power, exerted influence and claimed territory, isn’t mass migration from developing nations to the West not currently doing the same thing? After all, democratic countries confer real political power on their inhabitants... One plausible explanation for the rise of identity politics and the ever-increasing role that race plays in issues of the day is simply mass immigration. Numbers translate directly into voice and clout.

    Britain... spread its language and culture to English-speaking countries that remain — just — ‘the richest and most economically powerful people on earth’. Nevertheless, these same nations are not only ‘now in retreat in many fields on the world stage; they have significantly retreated as an ethnic group within their own states’. White Britons are expected to become a minority in Britain circa 2060 or so. Starting in 1980, white Europeans in California fell from 70 percent to 40 percent in a mere 30 years.

    Until very recently, England and Wales have absorbed a tiny, demographically incidental handful of Huguenots and Jews. The rise of the population that does not consider itself white British from 2 percent in the 1960s to nearly 20 percent in 2011 is ‘historically unprecedented’.

    Demography has become the biggest story on the planet
    Spectator USA by Lionel Shriver

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  10. And by sacrificing Mars bars their bosoms swelled with sovereignty.

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  11. Historian/philosopher Will Durant wrote that one of the reasons Rome fell was that it lost its "virility". Romans had stopped believing in themselves.
    Victor

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    1. Neagu Djuvara said to me that this is what has happened to Europe in our day which is why he was certain that Europe would become Muslim.

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  12. Already in the writings of Tacitus there is a note of despair, centuries before these events. Living under a disguised dictatorship where no man's property was safe from the whims of the ruler.

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