Dialogue on History of the Fall and the Decline of the Roman Empire

潘新 原创 | 2011-08-21 23:24 | 收藏 | 投票

DS:          斯明诚

SP:           潘新

BS:       沈先生 



SP:    I finally found the History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire, but only volume three


DS:   I thought you had it a couple of weeks ago.


SP:    I read the abridged English version, but very slowly


SP:    So what is your conclusion after reading the book?

DS:   Well, I agree with Gibbon's principal thesis that the rise of Christianity - which imposes a harsh orthodoxy on people and discourages independent thought - was an important factor in the fall of Rome.    Classical Rome tolerated many schools of thought: stoics, epicureans, sceptics etc. But after Theodosius adopted orthodox Christianity, freedom of thought died. With that dies innovation and progress.

A bit like China started its 500 year decline from the point where the opinions of 朱熹 became the orthodoxy and other opinions were not tolerated.  Gibbon, of course, lived before the era of the science of economics, so his analysis of Rome's decline completely lacks that dimension. Gibbon was a contemporary of the first economist, Adam Smith, so that type of knowledge was still very basic.


SP:    The viewpoint of the author of a global history is that the slavory prevented the Roman Empire from further technical development


DS:   hmm, I'm not sure. I understand the thesis - you don't have to invent technology if you have slaves to do the work - but "technology" as a marker of civilization's progress is a 20th century idea. It is the decline in philosophy, literature, culture and the arts that were the decline of ancient civilizations like Rome. Technology was always rudimentary.


 DS:   I guess that historian who said that Rome declined because of slavery was some kind of Marxist. I personally don't think slavery hindered Rome's development. All civilizations including today depend on slavery.


DS:   In today's world civilizations depend on the cheap factory labour of Indonesia, Vietnam etc - although we don't admit it, that is also slavery.


SP:    Rather than why it declined, historians question why the Roman Empire was in existence for so long


DS:   Yes it lasted much longer than most civilizations. In general I think freedom of thought is much more important than technical and economic conditions.


SP:    It is true. Just like the robbery of silver by the Spanish prevented them from the industrial revolution, which finally made Spain the second-tier country in Europe


DS:   That's interesting, I hadn't thought about that. However I still don't think these economic factors are so important. Freedom of thought is the most important. Spain was always one of the most conservative catholic countries. Free thought was ruthlessly surpressed there by the Spanish Inquisition. That is the most important reason why it declined, not the discovery of easy wealth through silver.


SP:    it's true that the depression of open thoughts narrows the economic development, and eventually causes the decline of the empire


That has echoed the key conclusion of Karl Popper's Open Society and Its Enemies


BS: Using case studies from history, perhaps through the interpretations of historians is a good stimulus to social economic dialogue.

I am not an expert on Roman history but I agree from the extracted opinions that:

1.    Religion is a form of thought oppression or structured guidance depends on whether you see it as half glass full or empty. However, in my opinion, the essence of Christianity has evolved a long way to become more about free-will in comparison to other religious denominations, including Catholicism, which is still arguably different from Christianity, in the form of Protestantism.

2.    Progression is the past centuries and also recent decades has relied on slave labor to build and plough. Yes, it is packaged in another form today – cheaper labor! Even taking into example the migration of Filipino maids to developed cities to be house-bound 6 to 7 days week to be nannies and housecleaners…employer’s conscience is somewhat cleaned when a paper contract is given and some cash is exchanged. Like it or not, the stronger and wealthier always wants someone to do their dirty work…the exchange of cash for doing the job quietly…feudal system perhaps…encourages only the rich to get richer and the poor remain poorer.


3.   It circles back to sustainability and timing – how many generations will benefit before the rot sets in or a rebellion of angry under-class? The example before us today shows that the tool that allows more freedom of expression (facebook, youtube) has quickly given confidence to the brewing anger and resentment of the under-class and underprivileged.  The pressure has always been there but the tools of expression are just simply a can-opener.


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