Louvre, Paris, photo by Guillaume Blanchard
Osiris, Isis and Horus. Louvre, Paris. Photo by Guillaume Blanchard

I didn’t want to talk about politics too much in this blog, desiring rather to deal with our Western (Mediterranean, Roman) roots, with ancient habits still surviving today, with Rome past and present, philosophy, history, arts etc.

Three recent discussions though brought me into global politics again:

  1. One occurred in the Canadian Commentator’s blog, also indicated by Theresa from Arkansas in her blog and dealing with the possible decline of the American Empire.
  2. Another discussion took place here in my blog and dealt with a tighter European unification (which I see as a good way of fighting against Europe’s decline): a really LONG discussion among Alex and Andy (two nice Englishmen living in Milan, Italy) and Man of Roma.
  3. Finally, a third discussion among Rob and MoR (in his and in MoR’s blog, 1 & 2) and Indian Ashish and Falcon. It dealt with this void here in the West which we perceive as far as morals and values, plus a lot of other stuff.

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Ok. What these three discussion had in common? Well, such minutia as the possible decline of the West, also vis-à-vis new emerging countries. I was also being asked by both Theresa and the Commentator to try a comparison between the Roman Empire and the Empire of the United States.

Ok, I’ll try, but:

  1. Allow me to expand it to the entire West (America + Europe) instead of dealing with US decline only and …
  2. allow me to restrict it to the possible effects such Western decline is having on culture, ideas and beliefs of the people involved.

Will this mean I’ll get back to my blog’s track? I do not know, really, but here we are, here is global politics again (though my own way) 😉

Spiritual Désarroi

The heat is getting so appalling in here that thoughts become weird and erratic. I’m typing with sticky fingers, ants invading my human space in search of cooler air. Wondering if all this can be an extra motive why I accepted this topic again and why I feel like musing on ideas of decline…

Well, actually what we see here in Europe and America are all these people turning towards oriental religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, or doctrines like Scientology, or even Neo-pagan movements growing in Anglo-Saxon countries and probably originating from a disappointment towards Christianity and its different varieties (above, an image of the Neopagan Goddess and the moon).

A woman, a friend of mine, is starting to adore some crazy coloured stones she always brings along wherever she goes. Amazing, no doubt. And what about this person very close to me who turned to Sathya SaiBaba, the Hindu saint, long ago? Or this relative of mine who, once relocated in France, embraced the Muslim religion? (my mother never got over it, I’ll confess).

Many Muslims, vis-à-vis such Western spiritual crisis (and relativism), react in different ways, from a total acceptance of consumer society values up to forms of moral rejection or even active reaction (which unfortunately also lead to terrorism). But that’s another story. Let’s stick to the point.

As the Roman Empire. An Analogy

Referring to Western contemporary societies, numerous commentators and artists have talked of a decline-of-the-Roman-Empire type of situation. It is an interesting analogy, since in those old days the official Roman religion wasn’t so attractive any more and innumerable oriental cults were spreading among the different classes of the Roman society.

Italian Archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani ( 1846 – 1929 ) for example unearthed the remains of the Temple of Isis in Rome, who was imported by the Romans from Egypt and set on the banks of the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. We have also mentioned in a previous post how Egyptian rites and culture fascinated the Romans at the times of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony (and in other times).


(Ants are now walking on my keyboard. I HAVE to make a pause and gently push them away….)

ψ

Since among all those foreign cults the final winner was the Christian sect, would it be totally absurd to wonder if once again there will be a winner? We mean – and it might be the heat – is it possible that again some faith (new or old) could profit from today’s Western void (which seems to affect Europe much more than America)? Italian Oriana Fallaci feared Islam would be the winning belief about to conquer Europe…. Well, we do hope that no Abrahamic religion (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) will prevail, for a number of reasons, some of which we can mention in the next post …

(ants and heat allowing… I need to buy AC, good also for mosquitoes, no doubt about it)

A fascinating depiction of Western void is offered by the acclaimed movies Le Déclin de l’empire américain (The Decline of the American Empire, 1986) and Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions, 2003) by the outstanding French-Canadian director Denys Arcand, both illustrating in an eloquent way this emptiness affecting at least two generations.

by Denys Arcand

(to be continued tomorrow; we will associate this topic with Buddhism, science and the Dalai Lama. See you tomorrow then.)

12 thoughts on “Decline of the American Roman Empire

  1. I’ll be interested to read the second part of this post.
    As for decline, well, the odd American or two seem to be saying, via comments left on my blog, that things are getting out of hand in the US – hence the hope that Obama can pull the US’s socks up.

    However, the UK does not appear to be much better – I was chatting with my parents yesterday, and they seem to think that political correctness has overtaken common sense in the UK, which is worrying.

    Religion, a sticky subject in this heat. Personally, I believe that traditional western religions are all but dead. The RC church just seems to go swanning around with its head in traditional crowds, ignoring reality. The great God for the masses is now money – money may not be able to buy you love, but it can keep you relatively free. The trouble is, monetary lust is not great for spirituality. Many know this, hence the spread of alternative faiths. Progress seems to be related to possession nowadays, which means nobody really bothers to work for the overall improvement of society. Most of us are guilty, including me.

    Now, Italy – it’s going downhill, but has not gone as far down as the US or the UK yet, even if things appear to be in decline here at times. Luckily, common sense is still nosing ahead of political correctness here in the Living Sauna (hot in Milan too). As for how long this situation will continue, especially now that one of the greatest money worshippers of all heads Italy.

    Eager to hear more,

    All the best from Milan,

    Alex

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  2. Hm. Much to digest. Gently push those ants away!

    Well, are we at the point we must group America and Europe under one umbrella when discussing such matters? Here’s what I think: we have to return to the individualist roots of North America. Theresa made a very important point: America’s strength lies in believing in itself. Populism and making the individual a servant of culture (to say nothing of political correctness as Alex points out) has served to eradicate our soul. I think the issue is bigger than Obama.

    The UK in greater decline than Italy?

    I’ve always been fascinated by the various forces and factors that define the EU. But that’s for another discussion. I will say this, the EU seems to define itself in terms of countering American power. To me this is a faulty game because if I understand MOR correctly, the problems we face are similar.

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  3. @the commentator

    But, since the USA is the new Roman Empire, most countries (or State entities such as the EU) try to counter the imperialist power, don’t they?

    @MoR

    Great post. Can’t wait for part 2.

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  4. @Alex
    things are getting out of hand in the US – hence the hope that Obama can pull the US’s socks up.
    Dear Alex, I also agree that Obama is a clear signal of crisis and that many people hope thru him to see a different America. No idea if they will be disappointed or not, plus I have some doubts that a black President can be accepted by ALL Americans.

    Now, Italy – it’s going downhill, but has not gone as far down as the US or the UK yet
    Wow, I wish I could agree that Italy is less declining than UK (or US) actually is, but I have a totally different perception … 😦

    Yes, now money is the new God. This is part of our decadence, both American and European.

    Political correctness has overtaken common sense (here in the UK)
    Something of this is penetrating in Italy too, but probably not so much. Hard for me to say, since I didn’t live in the UK that long

    Ciao e grazie

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  5. @ the Commentator
    are we at the point we must group America and Europe under one umbrella when discussing such matters?

    Yes, dear Canadian Commentator, I think we are at this point, being it fruitful to consider things from both a global and historically long-period angle (I know I am obsessed and obsessing). From 1500 AD on the European folks conquered the world. With Italy in the background like a sort of guru for all of them, Portugal, Spain, Holland, Belgium, France, Great Britain invaded the planet. Then the US, sprouted from Europe (not many doubts about it) took over. Don’t they all belong to the same West? Aren’t they perceived as a unity from the other peoples in the world? After all, they represent (represented?) the white people domination over the world. A domination soon to be over.

    The UK in greater decline than Italy?
    As I said, I share your doubts. Probably the contrary is true.

    the EU seems to define itself in terms of countering American power
    Well, it can be true, but I have the impression that also America is afraid of European power and that, together with the UK, is sort of playing a blocking-European-unity role. This was the sense of this previous post of mine: why don’t we Western people do ourselves the favour of sticking together tighter in order to better delay our possible decline? Am I an idealist to even think that a larger vision can prevail over petty (national-interest driven) politics? Probably …

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  6. @Andy
    since the USA is the new Roman Empire, most countries (or State entities such as the EU) try to counter the imperialist power, don’t they?

    Yes, in some way. As far as I am concerned, how can we blame the USA for being a superpower (with all it implies of realpolitick etc.)? Only, I am wondering, is this ‘two sides of the West not sticking together’ still corresponding to American and European interests?

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  7. Will Wilsonian principles ever conquer America?

    Yes, Americans are aware of European power but I fear the EU uses its power to simply counter the U.S. at all cost.

    Interesting you mention Italy as a guru. Studying this period, it becomes clear Italian know-how and money was key. They were behind the scenes so to speak. Makes you wonder what the world would be like had they been united earlier than 1871.

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  8. @the Commentator
    Do not know much about these principles. As far as I can tell (very little) they might be too idealistic to prevail. I tend to be idealistic but at the same time a bit cynic as far as the Big Game (among big powers) goes.

    I fear the EU uses its power to simply counter the U.S. at all cost.
    Well, it is true that especially France and Germany have countered the US a lot. The position of Italy, Spain etc. has been a bit different.

    Yes, Italy mostly contributed to create, before and during the Renaissance, that so called New Learning that was economical, technological, military, not to mention the arts, philosophy etc. This New Learning, writes Preserved Smith in the 1956 edition of the Britannica, provoked ‘an intellectual force of stupendous magnitude and incalculable explosive power …’ which helped the Europeans to conquer the world (and conquer Italy as well lol).

    So the gurus were left out and declined… it is fun to ‘imagine if’ …. though history cannot be changed.

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  9. @MoR

    As far as I am concerned, how can we blame the USA for being a superpower (with all it implies of realpolitick etc.)? Only, I am wondering, is this ‘two sides of the West not sticking together’ still corresponding to American and European interests?

    No we can’t blame the US at all but I’m afraid it is the price they will (must) pay for being one.

    To stick together one must have common purpose. The ‘Cold War’ was a common purpose. There was a definite ‘enemy’ that could be seen, pinpointed and guarded against. Now we have ‘terrorists’ but where exactly are they? All around us, of course and therefore not so easy to define.

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  10. @Andy
    To stick together one must have common purpose…
    I (sadly) agree with you. Maybe we do not have a common purpose, and ‘the terrorists’ do not seem to me a valid one neither.

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  11. Yes, Wilson was idealistic and was laughed off by the Europeans. He was the essence of the League of Nations.

    Yes, Italy and Spain (I supposed prior to the present government) are/were a little more pragmatic in their approach to American power. Italians harbour no delusions I would imagine. Eastern Europe seems to be a strong ally of the U.S.

    I agree. They HAVE to work together towards a common goal. No doubt it.

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