After Empire: Dark Ages or Innovation Explosion?

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I promise I won’t post this whole darn book to the Blog but I have to share one more bit from Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.

In contemplating the eventual collapse of the U.S. Empire even those who are against the Empire dread the aftermath. Won’t America, at the very least, plunge into a Dark Ages? After all, isn’t that what happened after Rome fell? Stark says no. Could his description of the end of the Roman Empire be our future history?

…when the breakup of the Roman Empire ‘released the tax-paying millions… from a paralysing oppression,’ many new technologies began to appear, and were rapidly and widely adopted, with the result that ordinary people were able to live far better, and after centuries of decline under Rome, the population began to grow again. No longer were the productive classes bled to sustain the astonishing excesses of the Roman elite, or to erect massive monuments to imperial egos, or to support vast armies to hold Rome’s many colonies in thrall. Instead, human effort and ingenuity turned to better ways to farm, to sail, to transport goods, to build churches, to make war, to educate, and even to play music. But because, so many centuries later, examples of classical Greek and Roman public grandeur still stand as remarkable ruins, many intellectuals have been prompted to mourn the loss of these “great civilizations.” (36)

In many respects, the fall of Rome involved the collapse of a city, not of a civilization. …Although urban populations declined in some other parts of Europe also, in Italy the losses were moderate in most cities and were soon made up… It is, of course, true that, along with the decline of the city of Rome, the empire broke into many pieces. But that was tragic only if one admires profligate rulers, literary Latin, and the pursuits of the idle rich. (36)

…That invention flourished in the aftermath of the fall of Rome demonstrates the principle that despotic states discourage and even prevent progress. (37)

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Dark Ages was the creation of the first economies that depended primarily on nonhuman power.
The Romans understood water power but could see no reason to exploit it, because there was no shortage of slaves to do needed tasks. (38)

So the end of the U.S. Empire could very well mean not some kind of post-Apocalyptic nightmare but simply the end of all those artificial aspects of America that are propped up by the State: Washington, DC, military bases all over the world, defense contractors, the overly large and centralized United States, etc. This is the most hopeful thing I’ve read in years. I’ll have to write this up for the front page.

12:09 pm on May 19, 2006