“The Plebians Are Coming!”
Vol: 95 Issue: 31 Monday, August 31, 2009
“Humpty-Dumpty sat on the wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall / All the King’s horses and all the King’s men / Couldn’t put Humpty together again”
Edward Gibbon is known in academic circles as the first modern historian of ancient Rome. Gibbon published his “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” in six volumes.
The first of the six volumes was published in England, coincidentally enough, in 1776.
At its zenith, the Roman Empire was the largest and most powerful political, military and economic power the world had ever seen — the only power even remotely comparable in history is the United States.
The children’s poem “Humpty-Dumpty” is about the fall of Rome and the succession of kings and emperors who dreamed of restoring its Imperial glory.
Gibbon blamed the collapse of the Roman Empire on the gradual erosion of civic virtue among its citizens. It succumbed to the barbarian invasions because it had grown fat, dumb and happy, outsourcing their defense to mercenaries and selling off their individual liberties in exchange for government handouts — the ‘bread and circuses’ scenario.
Politically, Gibbon blames three primary forces; popular complacency, the increasingly-expensive demands on the public purse, and the popular persecution of Christianity.
The Roman Republic was born out of revolution; Rome was a republic that emerged following the violent overthrow of a monarchy.
The Roman Republic was structured around a strong constitution. It was designed with a complex system of checks and balances so powerful that they served as a model for the US constitution 2300 years later.
The purpose was not to establish a simple democracy, but a representative form of government. That system operated under the principle of the rule of law and was therefore resistant to the whims of the majority.
But, as the society “advanced,” professional politicians began promising rewards in exchange for votes. Roman government was divided into the Senate and the Plebian Council.
The Senate consisted of members of the Roman aristocracy. The Plebian Council was open to those of important economic position, like farmers and artisans, but of lower social rank.
(Like the European systems of aristocracy and commoners. Or the Marxist system of bourgeoisie and proletariat. Or America’s ‘progressive’, rich vs poor.)
About 300 years into the Roman Republic, around 200 BC, Rome suffered a major economic crisis. The Plebians demanded a bailout — which the Senate refused. As city-dwelling Plebians fell further into debt, farmers could no longer sell their produce and unemployment continued to rise.
That sparked a Plebian Uprising in which the Plebians took over the Senate, promising to bring “change” to the system of government. People started voting for politicians who promised bailouts from the public treasury.
The final decades of the Roman Republic were marked by ever-increasing dependence by the average Roman citizen on the government, together with regular tax increases to pay for all the entitlement programs.
Eventually, the Republic was ‘reformed’ and ‘changed’ into pure democracy where the public could vote themselves benefits they had not earned. In 44 BC, a general whose greatness was measured by his generosity with the public purse was installed as perpetual dictator for life.
Julius Caesar came to power by promising change. His popularity was greatly enhanced when he introduced food subsidies to the general population and distributed free land to former soldiers on retirement.
He introduced the modern concept of ‘czars’ — unelected officials whose appointments could be by-passed by the legislature. Within a decade, the Roman Republic was history.
It would take another two thousand years for the world to see its equal.
Every single government in history, no matter how powerful, no matter how noble, has eventually succumbed to same fatal flaw as its predecessors have. The problem with government isn’t its ideals. It is the fact that it relies on people to advance them.
Historically, an empire-in-decline shares five major characteristics. They were evident in the four great world empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.
1. Moral Decline. Declining sexual morality, aversion to marriage in favor of cohabitation, increasing divorce rates were among the hallmarks of Roman decline.
Wrote Roman satirist Seneca about Roman women; “They divorce in order to remarry. They remarry in order to divorce.”
The historian W.H. McNeill has referred to the “biological suicide of the Roman upper classes” as one reason for Rome’s decline.
Aberrant sexual behavior becomes publicly acceptable and spreads, such as was common among the ancient Greeks before their conquest by Rome. Additionally birth rates declined and abortion rates increased as family size was deliberately limited.
2. The exploitation of women under the guise of ‘equality’. The Roman satirist Juvenal was horrified at the sight of female gladiators, athletes, etc. Every empire in history began its decline with the blurring of lines of gender, which has the effect of denigrating the bonds of family.
It is a popular myth that women can fulfill the traditional role of wife and mother on a part-time basis. But it is a myth. In the name of equal rights, women now have to pay for their own dinners, open their own doors, work full time, even serve in combat. The resulting generation of latch-key kids are the dubious ‘beneficiaries’ of this social ‘breakthrough.’
3. The invasion of foreign ‘workers’ within its borders. The Romans would hire foreigners (barbarians) as mercenaries to fight other barbarians. (You know, to do “those jobs that Romans wouldn’t take”.)
The result was eventually, the barbarians outnumbered the Romans. It is as obvious as it is inevitable.
4. The politics of low expectations. “All politicians lie!” is a good example. Another is the expectation that all politicians will get rich off the system.
People get tired of being disappointed and just give up expecting any better. They turn to mindless distractions, entertaining themselves and medicating themselves with drugs, alcohol, sex, and immersing themselves in decadence.
5. The embrace of entitlements. Ancient Rome had food subsidies, the coliseums, the theaters and the arenas, all courtesy of the government. Of course, the wealthy had to pay for all the distractions to placate the poor through ever increasing taxation.
Eventually, however, bleeding out the wealthy created more poor to be subsidized. Again, in hindsight it is as obvious as it is inevitable.
If I did this right, I shouldn’t have to point out any more historical parallels. I ought to be able to assume you already see them all as clearly as I do.
The point isn’t that history is repeating itself. It is painfully obvious that it on track to do just that, assuming there were enough time for the current scenario to play itself out to the end.
But according to Scripture, there isn’t.
History has repeated itself many times over as part of a pattern. The Lord has pretty much allowed man to prove to himself that human government is an illusion.
The Dispensation of Human Government began with Noah and has continued down through the ages to this present time without boasting much by way of improvement. The history of mankind has been marked by a period of more-or-less unceasing warfare.
I read somewhere that there were nineteen years of war for every year of peace in human history and that there hasn’t been a moment of genuine world peace since the end of the 19th century.
According to Bible prophecy, the Dispensation of Human Government runs through to the 2nd Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation Period.
Each effort by man to govern himself will have proved itself to be a total failure. Including the final and most ambitious effort, the global government now under construction.
“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” (Daniel 2:44)