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Decline and Fall of our European Civilization?

Edward Gibbon

By Jan Čapek
I spent the first half
of my life under a totalitarian regime. After it collapsed in 1989, I had many hopes and expectations, and most of them have been fulfilled. I enjoyed a lot of this: many aspects of democracy, a variety of freedoms (free speech and freedom to travel), free elections, a genuine civil society, western values, the Schengen area, the common European currency, though the Czech Republic is still outside the euro-zone.

However, in recent years I can see many features that remind me of the Roman Empire and civilization of around 300 A.D., as described by the great British historian Edward Gibbon and his successors.

As Gibbon describes the period in his "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (1776-78), the traditional father’s role as provider for the family was cast into doubt, there were marriage break-ups and single mothers, literature and art lost their luster, to be replaced by entertainment at any price, so-called works of art were ugly and tasteless, but still were sold for disgusting sums, honorable military service for one’s country was rejected, cast into doubt, ridiculed and then abolished by law – the army only trained paid mercenaries, hard-working people were ridiculed and populists, dubious artists and so-called VIPs were seen as models to be imitated, the middle classes and the poor were taxed excessively and the state redistributed excessively large sums.

Many people in Rome did not have to work because the state looked after them. For example, in the 4th century 300.000 Romans received free vouchers for bread. The educational level fell, the national debt rose to an enormous extent, hardly anything was produced at home because it was too expensive, food and other products were imported from satellite countries, having and rearing children was perceived as a burden, fewer and fewer children were born, and everywhere you saw the triumph of cynicism, extravagance and ignorance about knowledge, skills and honest work.

Many foreigners came into the country. The politicians favored the mob which demanded entertainment and state support, (panem et circenses). The whole Empire suffered from the disunity of its individual parts and a lack of determination to face external dangers with energy. The Eastern Empire opposed the Western one, both cultures began to diverge, Rome stood against Constantinopel, peoples against peoples – arrogant (original) Romans were incapable of really assimilating the despised Germans who had settled in the lands of the Empire. Roman Catholics fought against Germanic Aryans, multicultural and ecumenical solutions proved a failure.

The last emperors were totally incapable and removed from the people. The richest managed not to pay any taxes and to divvy up subsidies among one another, so that the rich became ever richer and the poor ever poorer. The middle class was ruined, judges and bureaucracy were terribly corrupt and the citizens totally lost confidence in justice, many people dropped out of society and lived in solitude without any loyalty to their native land.

About 66-67 years before its collapse, the Western Roman Empire abandoned its rich province, Britain. On the island, this first meant a return to reactionary pre-Roman ways of life, and life in the Roman towns and villas that had still been quite prosperous around 350, took a big step backwards.

After the final withdrawal of the Roman troops and the completion of the ancient “Brexit”, probably in 410 A.D., the so-called “Dark Ages” began, characterized by chaos, the setting up of local rule by Roman and Celtic warlords, who were constantly attacked by Angles, Saxons and Friesians, who had previously been invited by Roman and British inhabitants as warriors to defend the northern frontier against the Picts and Scots.

After the loss of the province of Britain, the Western Roman Empire soon faced its final collapse.

If we have the same timeline as Rome, we have either around 170 or 66 years left to solve the crisis, but I am already afraid of another collapse.

This time I would no longer welcome it like in 1989.

So I have a big wish to the EU politicians: Make Europe united, great and resisting as well as competitive again, please!


PhDr. Jan Čapek, Ph.D. is a lecturer at the Foreign Languages Department, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, University of Pardubice, The Czech Republic

In 1776 Edward Gibbon wrote a masterly history of the end of the Roman Empire. Jan Capek has read it and finds many parallels to modern Europe's many crises - and even to Brexit. We may be only 66 years away from total collapse...