Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Tuesday, January 13, 2004  

The Fall of Rome

This article offers an excellent recap of what led to Rome's downfall.

A few snippets:

To the Romans, the German tribes were riffraff; to the Germans, the Roman side of the river was the place to be. The nearest we can come to understanding this divide may be the southern border of the United States. There the spit-and-polish troops are immigration police; the hordes, the Mexicans, Haitians, and other dispossessed peoples seeking illegal entry. The barbarian migration was not perceived as a threat by Romans, simply because it was a migration-a year-in, year-out, raggle-taggle migration-and not an organized, armed assault. It had, in fact, been going on for centuries. The Gauls had been the first barbarian invaders, hundreds of years before, and now Gaul lay at peace. The verses of its poets and the products of its vineyards were twin fountains of Roman inspiration. The Gauls had become more Roman than the Romans themselves. Why could not the same thing happen to these Vandals, Alans, and Sueves, now working themselves to a fever pitch on the far side of the river?

From one perspective, at least, the Romans were overwhelmed by numbers-not just in this encounter but during centuries of migrations across the porous borders of the empire. Sometimes the barbarians came in waves, though seldom as big as this one. More often they came in trickles: as craftsmen who sought honest employment, as warriors who enlisted with the Roman legions, as tribal chieftains who paid for land, as marauders who burned and looted and sometimes raped and murdered.

But the peace of all the world-all the world worth thinking about, that is-came at a stiff price: the constant, and increasingly unequal, exactions of the emperor's tax men.

The tax man, or curialis, was born that way: Can you imagine the dawning horror on realizing that you were born into a class of worms who were expected to spend their entire adult life spans collecting taxes from their immediate neighbors -and that there was no way out?

By the fifth century, in the years before the complete collapse of Roman government, the imperial approach to taxation had produced a caste as hopeless as any in history. Their rapacious exactions, taken wherever and whenever they could, were the direct result of their desperation about their own increasingly unpayable tax bills. As these nerved-up outcasts commenced to prey on whoever was weaker than they, the rich became even richer. The great landowners ate up the little ones, the tax base shrank still further, and the middle classes, never encouraged by the Roman state, began to disappear from the face of the earth.

The emperor's worst headache was the army itself. Starved for taxes, he was unable to maintain a force that could withstand the ever-strengthening barbarian onslaughts.

With the moral decay of republican resolve, the army became more and more a reserve of non-Romans, half-Romanized barbarian mercenaries and servants sent in the stead of freemen who couldn't be bothered. . .Military levies, sent to the great estates, met such resistance that influential landowners were allowed to send money, instead of men, to the army.

There are, no doubt, lessons here for the contemporary reader. The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes its overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of its service by established families, while its offices present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were; the increasing concentrations of the populace into richer and poorer by way of a corrupt tax system, and the desperation that inevitably follows; the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature; ineffectual legislation promulgated with great show; the moral vocation of the man at the top to maintain order at all costs, while growing blind to the cruel dilemmas of ordinary life-these are all themes with which our world is familiar, nor are they the God-given property of any party or political point of view, even though we often act as if they were. At least, the emperor could not heap his economic burdens on posterity by creating long-term public debt, for floating capital had not yet been conceptualized. The only kinds of wealth worth speaking of were the fruits of the earth.

Though it is easy for us to perceive the wild instability of the Roman Imperium in its final days, it was not easy for the Romans. Rome, the Eternal City, had been untouchable since the Celts of Gaul had sacked it by surprise in 390 B.C. In the ensuing eight centuries Rome built itself into the world's only superpower, unassailable save for the occasional war on a distant border. The Gauls had long since become civilized Romans, and Rome offered the same Romanization to anyone who wanted it-sometimes, as with the Jews, whether they wanted it or not. Normally, though, everyone was dying to be Roman. As Theodoric, the homely king of the Ostrogoths, was fond of saying: "An able Goth wants to be like a Roman; only a poor Roman would want to be like a Goth."

We are clearly being invaded. In California we have a 20-40 billion dollar deficit in the State buget. This is due almost entirely to illegal immigration and the devastation is wreaks upon us from crime, schools, hospitals, housing, and all else.

Our Democrat Assembly prefers to tax us to make up the difference, to drive us to bankruptcy and despair. They actually believe they can get the rich to pay their "fair share" by ruining businesses and incentive.

Eventually, all those who can afford to, will leave the state (or the country, as the Romans left for the East - Constantinople). For a little while, because of the recall, we had hope. But with Bush's immigration amnesty proposal, we are doomed.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 11:55 AM |