New Rome, Meet the New VisigothsI’m generally skeptical of grand historical theories, but Brink Lindsey presents a pretty persuasive one here. The basic notion is that through much of history, great civilizations have been threatened by primitive nomadic ones, and they have been vulnerable to the threat precisely because of their virtues: division of labor, use of agriculture, relatively fixed location, etc. Although the advent of guns ushered in a long hiatus in this general pattern (which Lindsey explains with plenty of historical detail), the pattern reemerged with a vengeance on September 11. As he puts it, the barbarians are at the gates once more.
Lindsey is on record as something of a war hawk (check out the archives of his blog if you doubt me), so it would not surprise me if the sequels to this article (two are promised) involve justifications for war. So it’s probably worthwhile to mention the anti-war implications of the historical parallels offered in the present article. The Roman Empire, the greatest civilization of its time, fell in large part because of the depredations of marauders and barbarians. And the barbarians were motivated to attack, in part, because of the things that made Rome great, such as its amazing wealth. But was not imperial overstretch also a large part of the problem? The Roman army was constantly on the march, conquering new territories and enforcing its rules on foreign cultures. Yes, the culture of Roman civilization was arguably superior in many respects to the cultures dominated (I’m not arguing the cultural relativist position here), but that’s not the point. The citizens of Rome were threatened by the Roman government’s willingness to incite the ire and violence of other societies.
I wonder if Rome might have survived longer if instead of sending armies into the barbarian hinterlands, it had instead focused its resources on defending its citizens against the barbarians at the gates.
UPDATE, added 2/12/07: A lot of people are finding this old post because of Glenn Reynolds's link to the one below. I should note that I posted a correction to this post here.