Decline & fall of the American empire?

Posted 3/22/24

One of the most widely read books of all time is “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

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Decline & fall of the American empire?


One of the most widely read books of all time is “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” It’s a historical work, written in 1788 by Edward Gibbon, an English historian and Member of Parliament. It covers the history of the Roman Empire, Europe and the Catholic Church from the second century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It sets forth five basic reasons why that great civilization withered and died. They were:

• The undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis for human society.

• Higher and higher taxes, the spending of public money for free bread and circuses for the populace.

• The mad craze for pleasure; sports becoming every year more exciting, more brutal, more immoral.

• The building of great armaments when the real enemy was within — the decay of individual responsibility.

• The decay of religion; faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, losing power to guide the people.

Gibbon calculates the average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. During such duration, these nations progressed through this sequence:

• From Bondage to Spiritual Faith

• From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage

• From Great Courage to Liberty

• From Liberty to Abundance

• From abundance to Selfishness

• From Selfishness to Complacency

• From Complacency to Apathy

• From Apathy to Dependence

• From Dependency Back Again to Bondage

What is the relevance of this to us, if any? Has America, as a “great nation”, passed the 200 year mark? Well, it would be nice (and comforting) to think so. But for any number of reasons, it’s probably a bit premature to count on it quite yet. America’s debut as a great nation probably commenced around the turn of the 20th century. This message regarding the histories of the great nations of the past merits both consideration and reserve. It’s tempting to see certain parallels applicable to us in it. Being made aware of it, if true, are we simply doomed to repeat it? Maybe.

Maybe, but world conditions have evolved — you might say progressed. The period covered by Gibbon’s masterful history was one generally described as Rome’s era, leading immediately to the Dark Ages (5th to 10th centuries); these were followed by several centuries of gradual improvement in cultural, economic and intellectual conditions which, generally, contributed to a stable status quo in Western Europe. Much of this was guided by the Church. The world’s dynamism experienced since the late 15th century, progressing through a scientific, industrial and even political revolution has, again generally, resulted in significant improvement in the overall human condition around most of the world. If it’s not a world of truly United Nations, certainly a world of continually interconnected and economically interdependent nations.

Does this signify that what Gibbons concluded regarding the rise and fall of great societies is no longer applicable? Not necessarily. While the environment within which dominant societies arise, mature and possibly decline may have evolved, there is little to indicate that basic “human natures” or personal attitudes have paralleled such evolution.

This being the case, the above basic reasons for decline and the sequence through which great nations passed on their journeys from their original Bondage to its return continue to merit consideration. As they say, if you don’t understand history, you may be doomed to repeat it.

That would be a down-right shame!

Hugh Foley, a resident of Scottsdale AZ, has published a number of books under the penname of Thomas Richard Harry, including “Boom! a Revolting Situation: The Failure of Ideological Politics and the Disappointment of Ideological Government”. Reader reactions are welcome at

roman empire, history, america