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Ancient and modern

Ancient and Modern

A classicist draws on ancient wisdom to illuminate contemporary follies

5 July 2003

12:00 AM

5 July 2003

12:00 AM

Greeks and Romans loved lists, from Tables of Persons Eminent in Every Branch of Learning together with a List of Their Writings to Words Suspected of Not Having Been Used by the Ancients. In the same spirit, this column will over the next two weeks publish, from Professor Alexander Demandt’s Der Falls Rom (1984), a list of the 210 reasons for the fall of the Roman empire. As modern empires rise and fall in these troubled times, the lessons of history – or should that be historians? – may help us find our bearings:

‘Abolition of gods, abolition of rights, absence of character, absolutism, agrarian question, agrarian slavery, anarchy, anti-Germanism, apathy, aristocracy, asceticism, attacks by Germans, attacks by Huns, attacks by nomads on horseback. Backwardness in science, bankruptcy, barbarisation, bastardisation, blockage of land by large landholders, blood poisoning, bolshevisation, bread and circuses, bureaucracy, Byzantinism. Capitalism, change of capitals, caste system, celibacy, centralisation, childlessness, Christianity, citizenship (granting of), civil war, climatic deterioration, communism, complacency, concatenation of misfortunes, conservatism, corruption, cosmopolitanism, crisis of legitimacy, culinary excess, cultural neurosis. Decentralisation, decline of Nordic character, decline of the cities, decline of the Italic population, deforestation, degeneration, degeneration of intellect, demoralisation, depletion of mineral resources, despotism, destruction of environment, destruction of peasantry, destruction of political process, destruction of Roman influence, devastation, differences in wealth, disarmament, disillusion with state, division of empire, division of labour.

Earthquakes, egoism, egoism of the state, emancipation of slaves, enervation, epidemics, equal rights (granting of), eradication of the best, escapism, ethnic dissolution, excessive aging of population, excessive civilisation, excessive culture, excessive foreign infiltration, excessive freedom, excessive urbanisation, expansion, exploitation. Fear of life, female emancipation, feudalisation, fiscalism, gladiatorial system, gluttony, gout, hedonism, Hellenisation, heresy, homosexuality, hothouse culture, hubris, hyperthermia. Immoderate greatness, imperialism, impotence, impoverishment, imprudent policy toward buffer states, inadequate educational system, indifference, individualism, indoctrination, inertia, inflation, intellectualism, integration (weakness of), irrationality, Jewish influence.’ (To be continued next week.)


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