Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith

Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith

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Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith

Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith

This book concentrates on everything that the author sees as a flaw in Napoleon's system of government, control of his army and performance in battle.

I'm not sure I agree with all of the author's arguments. Some of his examples of Napoleon's intervention in the details of the Continental System actually look significant enough to justify his attention, dealing with events in a major port, but in general his criticisms are sound.

The book has a varied structure, with some thematic chapters (the nature of his rule, economic errors, a look at his HQ) and some chronological chapters, looking at the main campaigns from 1809 onwards. I'd have liked to see a chapter on Napoleon's diplomatic failings, which played a major part in his downfall - his failure to establish last peace with any of his major enemies meant that at the end Napoleon faced a coalition of just about every other European power. This material is covered, but is a bit spread out.

The author paints a picture of a despotic tyrant, with plenty of examples of Napoleon ordering actions that we would consider major war crimes (including executing hostages and destroying villages). It would have been useful to see if any of these orders were obeyed, but Napoleon's armies did commit some very well documented atrocities (especially in Spain).

The author makes good use of Napoleon's own letters and orders, as well as the biographies and other works of his closest associates. This gives us a clear picture of Napoleon's working methods and his decision making process, and sometimes shows us the steps that led to some of his biggest mistakes.

This does sometimes come across as a bit of an anti-Napoleon rant, but it does a useful job of bringing together all of the flaws in Napoleon's systems and his campaigns in one place.

1 - The Steps to the Throne
2 - Military Blunders
3 - Economic Errors
4 - 1809: The Puppets Fall Short of Expectations
5 - Napoleon, Centre of the Universe
6 - Corruption
7 - 1812: Russia - the Great Blunder
8 - The Errors of 1813
9 - 1813: Leipzig, the Battle of the Nations
10 - 1814: Flashes of Genius, Thoughts of Suicide
11 - 1815: One Last Throw - The Hundred Days

Author: Digby Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2015

Товар с самой низкой ценой, который уже использовали или носили ранее. Товар может иметь признаки легкого износа, но находится в полном эксплуатационном состоянии и функционирует должным образом. Это может быть выставочный образец или товар, бывший в употреблении и возвращенный в магазин. См. подробные характеристики товара с описанием его недостатков.

Это цена (за исключением сборов на обработку и доставку заказа), по которой такой же или почти идентичный товар выставляется на продажу в данный момент или выставлялся на продажу в недавно. Эту цену мог установить тот же продавец в другом месте или другой продавец. Сумма скидки и процентное отношение представляют собой подсчитанную разницу между ценами, указанными продавцом на eBay и в другом месте. Если у вас появятся вопросы относительно установления цен и/или скидки, предлагаемой в определенном объявлении, свяжитесь с продавцом, разместившим данное объявление.

The Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire: How the Emperor Self-destructed Hardcover – 15 May 2005

It seems apparent from the outset that Smith just does not like Napoleon, period. This is not necessarily bad, but he bashes him at every turn and in my opinion sometimes unfairly. What irriated me was not that someone critizes Napoleon for his mistakes and arrogance, but rather the way in which Smith handled his particular criticisms (and they are many). It seemed neither objective or rational at some points. Every adjective was derogartory to the extreme. As a reader, I quickly began to question every negative point Smith made by asking myself "What is Smith not telling me?" This book seemed to be to be akin to reading a republican or democrat's scathing review of the opposite party's actions. totally one sided and biased.

I kept asking myself why Smith didn't take a more objective route in his criticism. Napoleon did make mistakes. He was arrogant and driven and yes, he was also on occasion lucky. However, his shortcomings and the mistakes that ultimately cost him his empire could have been handled so much better if only the writing had at the very least seemed to be objective.

I agree with another reviewer in that the cover tells the whole story of the author's approach. You can't even "see" Napoleon in this book. You only see one author's total bashing of nearly every single thing that Napoleon did both domestically and militarily.

This is more of what we have seen from the author in his earlier books, only it is in concentrated form here. One look at the cover and title of this book will confirm this assertion.

One cannot help but wonder why he spends so much energy in his attempts to denigrate at every opportunity someone who died nearly 200 years ago. It is such a kneejerk reaction for him that it is truly sad.

If you are looking for a good Napoleonic author, I would highly recommend others such as Petre, Lachouque, Elting, Bowden, Asprey, Hofschroer, Gates, Duffy, Uffindel, Brett-James, Britten-Austin, Nofi, Kiley, Nosworthy, Blond, Johnson, Gill, Nafziger, Chandler, Epstein, von Wartenburg, Quimby, Boycott-Brown, Ludwig, Durant, Horne, Hamilton-Williams, Herold, Rothenberg, Jomini, and even Clauswitz before I would recommend Mr. Smith.

With so many other authors out there, you cannot go wrong by going somewhere else.

I have read the previous two reviews that painted a pretty awful view of this book. I have read many hundreds of napoleonic titles and I certainly did not get the same impression of the book as the previous reviewers. The author does use some colorful language when describing some of Napoleons errors or shortcomings and I can see how these could be construed as coming from a "Napoleon hater".

The fact remains though that the author highlights some very valid points about some of the errors that Napoleon made during his reign and I found it refreshing to have some of them brought together in this one volume.

I am not a scholar so I didn't go through the facts with a fine tooth comb, however I saw nothing factually incorrect. What I did see was an author that is sometimes overly passionate about his point but this made it a good read from my perspective. I was happy to see the "other side of the coin" that the author presented. This book claims to be nothing more that a book outlining the mistakes that Napoleon made and I believe it achieves what it sets out to do.

I heartily recommend this book to anybody who is interested in seeing things from a different perspective. You may not agree with some of the conclusions, but it gives good food for thought and balances out some of the overly "rose colored" views.

Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire: How the Emperor Self-Destructed

It is 1864, and Captain Thomas Musgrave’s schooner, the Grafton, has just wrecked on Auckland Island, a forbidding piece of land 285 miles south of New Zealand. Battered by year-round freezing rain and constant winds, it is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death.

Incredibly, at the same time on the opposite end of the island, another ship runs aground during a storm. Separated by only twenty miles and the island’s treacherous, impassable cliffs, the crews of the Grafton and the Invercauld face the same fate. And yet where the Invercauld’s crew turns inward on itself, fighting, starving, and even turning to cannibalism, Musgrave’s crew bands together to build a cabin and a forge—and eventually, to find a way to escape.

Not all pioneers went west.

In The Greater Journey, David McCullough tells the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work. What they achieved would profoundly alter American history.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, whose encounters with black students at the Sorbonne inspired him to become the most powerful voice for abolition in the US Senate. Friends James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Morse not only painting what would be his masterpiece, but also bringing home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to Paris to escape the controversy generated by her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three of the greatest American artists ever—sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent—flourished in Paris, inspired by French masters.

Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris, and the nightmare of the Commune. His vivid diary account of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris is published here for the first time.

The first battle erupted in 1455, but the roots of the conflict reached back to the dawn of the fifteenth century, when the corrupt, hedonistic Richard II was sadistically murdered, and Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king, seized England's throne. Both Henry IV and his son, the cold warrior Henry V, ruled England ably, if not always wisely--but Henry VI proved a disaster, both for his dynasty and his kingdom. Only nine months old when his father's sudden death made him king, Henry VI became a tormented and pathetic figure, weak, sexually inept, and prey to fits of insanity. The factional fighting that plagued his reign escalated into bloody war when Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, laid claim to the throne that was rightfully his--and backed up his claim with armed might.

Alison Weir brings brilliantly to life both the war itself and the historic figures who fought it on the great stage of England. Here are the queens who changed history through their actions--the chic, unconventional Katherine of Valois, Henry V's queen the ruthless, social-climbing Elizabeth Wydville and, most crucially, Margaret of Anjou, a far tougher and more powerful character than her husband,, Henry VI, and a central figure in the Wars of the Roses.

Here, too, are the nobles who carried the conflict down through the generations--the Beauforts, the bastard descendants of John of Gaunt, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known to his contemporaries as "the Kingmaker" and the Yorkist King, Edward IV, a ruthless charmer who pledged his life to cause the downfall of the House of Lancaster.

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Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire: How the Emperor Self-Destructed

IN 1802 (YEAR X) NAPOLEON was elected Consul for life, with the right to nominate his own successor, apparently by a massive majority of over three million ayes to a few thousand nayes. But was the decision so clear-cut? At that point about five million French citizens were entitled to vote. In actual fact, it would appear that Napoleon’s younger brother, Lucien Bonaparte (then head of the Ministry of the Interior which ran the election) fudged the figures. There were only 1.5 million ayes Lucien’s willing minions added half a million for the men of the army and navy and a further nine hundred thousand for good measure. On top of this, the number of abstentions (sure indicators of electoral apathy) was also high. As Jean Tulard said: ‘There was more antipathy for the fallen government than sympathy for the new one.’

Perhaps Napoleon’s first major error was committed on 2 December 1804, when he crowned himself ‘Emperor of the French Republic’. Prior to this event, he had declared:

The name of king is outworn. It carries with it a trail of obsolete ideas and would make me nothing more than the heir to dead men’s glories. I do not wish to be dependent upon any predecessor. The title of emperor is greater than that of king. Its significance is not wholly explicable, and therefore it stimulates the imagination.

Again, as in 1802, the five million voters were asked for their opinion as to whether the fate of France should be placed in the hands of Napoleon, this time as hereditary emperor: 3,572,329 said yes 2,569 said no. We assume that some 1.4 million abstained, and thus roughly this number of people were not positively in favour of giving Napoleon the throne. Carnot was not alone in his opposition to Napoleon becoming emperor.

On 2 December 1805 Napoleon had provoked, fought – and very convincingly won – the ‘Battle of the Three Emperors’ at Austerlitz. At one stroke, thanks to the magnificent performances of the commanders, men and the systems of the Grande Armée, his most powerful opponents in mainland continental Europe – Austria and Russia – were humbled before him. Their armies wrecked, they were anxious to be allowed to sign disadvantageous peace treaties with him which would permit them to continue to exist without losing too much face, territory and money, and to retain power bases for possible future action.

The ailing edifice of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations was given its final deadly blow with this victory. Kaiser Franz of Austria had been elected Emperor Franz II of this ramshackle house of cards in 1792 in early 1806 he renounced this title and became Kaiser Franz I of Austria, leaving the now leaderless sheep of the defunct empire to mill aimlessly about in an area roughly occupied by that of modern Germany, with the Kingdom of Prussia to the north-east. These sheep came in several different breeds: some were electorates, some duchies, some counties and other minor principalities, some independent imperial city states. The map of the Holy Roman Empire’s German nations resembled nothing so much as a patchwork quilt that had been stitched together by several witless geriatrics, with many states owning tiny parcels of territories acquired by marriage over the centuries, scattered over the length and breadth of the place, all divided by foreign soil.

The member states were all absolute monarchies, with more or less benignly inclined rulers, firmly embedded in the feudalistic age. Many strove to emulate the Prussian example, particularly in the military sphere. Customs barriers between all these mini-states inhibited trade and drove up consumer prices. Many of the tiny entities were on or below the verge of national viability. Literacy was very limited and the press frequently subject to censorship -although this latter feature had also become an established practice in Napoleon’s supposedly enlightened and exemplary republic. Early in the Revolutionary period, there had been flourishing republican political movements in many of the western German states, but these had withered on the vine as the excesses of the Terror flared out of control in 1793 and 1794.

Despite this, the ‘orphaned’ states of the Holy Roman Empire presented Napoleon and his increasingly grandiose political ambitions with a spectrum of possibilities. He was Emperor of the French. He had crushed her enemies and destroyed their institutions. Why not salvage all that was left of these old liabilities and convert them, at one masterful stroke, into assets for himself -and for France? There was no effective, coherent opposition to his plans: Austria was too preoccupied with trying to live on reduced means to bother Russia was in disarray Prussia was dithering, and England, although very concerned to recover the Electorate of Hanover (the origin of her royal house) had no field army that could achieve the slightest successes against the French in mainland Europe.

On 12 July 1806, sixteen princes in southern Germany joined with France to form the Confederation of the Rhine by the terms of the Treaty of Paris they would later be joined by others from the north of Germany. Napoleon’s fertile mind had been working frantically towards this conclusion for months, analysing the political entities which lay at his feet, moulding and shaping them like plasticine into new forms which would more ideally suit his aims: a ‘United States of Europe’, with one common system of weights and measures, one common legal code (the Code Civile or Code Napoléon), one common currency, one common customs organisation, one common military system, all formed to serve the interests of France. Two hundred years later, Europe is still in the controversial birth throes of this potential superstate.

Those old German (and Bourbon) rulers that had crossed Napoleon’s path, or did not fit his plans, were simply dispossessed and exiled. Their realms were then shuffled with other territories to form the new kingdoms, grand duchies and principalities, upon whose thrones Napoleon would place grateful, and hopefully reliable, new sovereigns, pliable to his imperial orders and whims at the expense of their own new realms.

Feudal rights were to be abolished in all these new states – a genuine step forward – and a liberal sprinkling of French secret agents was introduced to observe everything that went on in this cordon sanitaire and to report events back to Joseph Fouché (Napoleon’s Chief of Secret Police) on a frequent and regular basis. This included close monitoring of the local press and the closing-down of those newspapers and periodicals which did not toe his party line. Being the editor of a newspaper in France and the Confederation of the Rhine from now until 1814 was to be a high-risk career.

From 2 December 1804 Napoleon was an emperor. But he was the emperor of a republic, with none of the usual tiers of aristocracy below him in their place he had only republicans, some of them regicides. He recognised that any society needs a system of rewards and baubles with which to motivate and steer the aspirations of the upper classes. In a traditional absolute monarchy, such as almost all other European states of this time, the hereditary aristocracy automatically headed the class race. But France had bloodily rooted out her aristos. There was a vacuum in the state structure. In post-revolutionary Russia, Heroes of the Soviet Union were invented to fill the vacuum Napoleon was much less radical than Lenin.

In late 1806, to reward those who had served him outstandingly, he recreated a titled aristocracy for France. This system he extended to all those vassal states where his writ ran. An entire panoply of kings, princes, dukes, counts and barons, a sort of crowned cosa nostra, not perhaps so different from the traditional aristocracies, sprang up. And with it returned all the tortuous ritual and etiquette of the medieval courts as practised in those of the absolute monarchs whom he – and France – had despised. With the fervour of the convert, he embraced it all.

Some of these new aristos were created in reward for services rendered on the battlefield, some for diplomatic or commercial skills in his service. In most cases the system was a genuine meritocracy and the titles were for the lifespan of the recipient only. They often carried considerable financial bonuses and pensions, often drawn from states outside France, such as Westphalia.

The marshals were the leaders who had fought his victorious battles and campaigns: it was only right that they should benefit accordingly. The bestowed wealth and titles of some of them are shown below. What they looted from the lands they conquered, in cash and in kind, is over and above these sums. Many of them bought expensive houses in Paris:

Among those to benefit from this significant political move were all of Napoleon’s relatives. Nepotism occurred – and occurs – in most societies with his Corsican upbringing, Napoleon was just as liable to come under family pressure to share the spoils of his imperial crown as any other successful parvenu. But precisely this nepotism was to be a major factor in his downfall.

Although he was only too well aware of the personal and professional limitations of each of his relatives – now salivating expectantly in his shadow -and of their lack of suitable training for the hugely complex tasks of ruling states, he needed them to be sitting obediently on the thrones of those states which had to be allied to France. Napoleon needed not only the cordon sanitaire of the Confederation of the Rhine, whose states could well be ruled by Germans loyal to him, but also his relatives as allies up among the crowned heads of Europe. As far as his royal siblings were concerned, quality mattered little – their role was simply to extend the reach of his influence. Napoleon was supremely, and cynically, confident of being able to micro-manage each of his puppet kings into doing his will, by constant use of the string-pulling of which his Correspondance has left us so many revealing examples.

On being presented with – sometimes cajoled into accepting – a throne, each sibling would be given a motivational harangue, in which Napoleon clearly stressed that the lucky monarch’s first duty was to rule his state totally in the interests of Napoleon and as he directed. Each new monarch would be offered a French team of trusty ‘management consultants’, experts in civil, financial, legal and military affairs, who would accompany them to their new realms. The role of these consultants was twofold: to set up copycat French systems in the satellite state, and to spy on the monarch, sending frequent and regular information on how and what he was doing back to Napoleon.

Napoleon sent other spies covertly into these allied states to probe and snoop on various matters as he saw fit. The information sent back to him generated veritable floods of letters, orders, complaints, instructions and threats to each of his unfortunate relatives, who, it seems, could do nothing right.

Of course, in this cornucopia of nepotistic greed no kingdom or principality that he so distributed was absolutely equal in all respects to any other. Some were larger, richer, warmer, more or less beautiful than others. Thus, instead of creating a happy and contented bunch of new monarchs, eager and willing to serve him, Napoleon merely increased the backbiting and envy among most of his family circle.

His brother, Lucien, was the outstanding exception of the family. By now he had managed to make himself so rich that he had no need of help from Napoleon his greed was satisfied. Lucien refused to accept a crown in return for abandoning his mistress to marry into a dynasty of which his brother approved, and in 1810 he left Europe, intending to settle in America. His ship was taken by the Royal Navy and he settled in England for some years. He was to experience Napoleon’s displeasure.

Joseph, Napoleon’s elder brother, was also unwilling to mount a throne, but allowed himself to be talked into becoming King of Naples and then of Spain, where he acted as the Emperor’s utterly miserable whipping boy for years.


The rest of the pack hastened to grab the proffered thrones – and endured years of misery as, with merciless frequency, the missiles of Napoleon’s Correspondance bombarded them with cutting criticism.

Napoleon’s brother Louis accepted the throne of the Kingdom of Holland and threw himself into his new role with great gusto, trying to become more Dutch than the Dutch themselves. This brought him into immediate conflict with his imperial brother, who shortly made it very clear that Louis’s duties were to Napoleon first, France second and Holland only third.

In this series of appointments we see very clearly demonstrated one of the major causes of the Emperor’s ultimate downfall: his willingness to prop himself up knowingly with broken reeds. Because of Napoleon’s total inability to delegate authority, these flimsy characters required his constant attention, monitoring and intervention. These endless, repetitive rituals of familial espionage and chastisement must have robbed Napoleon of a large amount of his valuable time and energy.

When Napoleon became Consul, he declared that ‘the revolution is over’. Ending a period of turmoil was perhaps necessary reintroducing the pomp and circumstance of the hated aristos, many of whom had been murdered in the years up to 1795, was a monumental error, truly stamping on the graves of all the patriots who had fought and died to overthrow the Bourbon dynasty.

This error was compounded by the fact that, only a few weeks before, he had ridiculed his brother, Louis, for instituting his own system of orders of chivalry in Holland. These were the Orde van de Unie and the Koninklijke Orde van Verdienste. Poor Louis probably thought that by aping the creation of the Legion of Honour he was finally doing something of which his imperial brother might approve.

Napoleon abolished these Dutch orders on 18 October 1811.

The Totalitarian Dictator

Napoleon’s interest in what went on in his empire knew no bounds he sniffed around the darkest and most remote corners of the state, squandering his energies and time he even went so far as to meddle in the content of church services. In this respect, he was totalitarian.

As under the Constitution only the Emperor was empowered to introduce new legislation, and as there was no opposition, he was a dictator. Below are some examples of the trivial matters which he allowed to distract him:


Let me know why the Archbishop of Aix has ordered a Novena because of the illness of Queen Louisa, † and why the clergy ask the people’s prayers for any person, without leave from the government.


Rambouillet, 14 March 1809.

… Arrest the Vicar of Noyon, who has ventured to make improper allusions to the conscription in one of his sermons. You will have him brought to Paris, and examined by one of the Councillors of State. You will make a report of the enquiry to me.

The press enjoyed Napoleon’s special scrutiny in his eyes it should exist purely as an instrument of his propaganda, yet another of his tools for leading the nation (and later the whole of Europe) along the path he had chosen for it. By means of articles which he wrote, and which appeared anonymously in Le Moniteur, he fed the ‘right’ responses to the public’s concerns on lack of political freedoms.

By 1811, he had not only forbidden all newspapers not to print articles on a whole range of topical (political and military) themes and installed a resident censor within each editorial office, but he had reduced the number of newspapers to four in Paris and one in each Department. He personally maintained an eagle eye on every activity of these survivors. His powers extended well beyond the borders of France, as may be seen here:


There is a Courier d’Espagne, published in French, by a set of intriguers, which appears at Madrid, and which cannot fail to do great harm. Write to Marshal Jourdan that there is to be no French newspaper in Spain, and that this one is to be suppressed. I do not intend to allow any French newspaper wherever my troops are, except such as are published by my order. Besides, do not the French receive Gazettes from France? And as for the Spaniards, they must be spoken to in their own language. Your letter on this subject must be a positive order.

Not only sermons and newspapers fell under Napoleon’s censorship books and plays were also included:


There is a work on Suwaroff, many of the notes to which are very objectionable. This book is said to have been written by an Abbé. You must put the seals on that Abbé’s papers, you must have all the notes cancelled, and you must even stop the publication of the work, which is anti-national.

His meddling in affairs of the Church, the press and the theatre must have absorbed hours of his valuable time every day.

Whenever any sections of the population of his empire showed signs of trying to throw off his yoke – either inside or outside France – Napoleon was swiftly informed, either by the commanders in the affected regions or by his ubiquitous spies, who infested his realm like lice. His reactions were universally fierce and aggressive.

In the 1809 campaign, the Tyroleans, whose province had been ceded by Austria to Bavaria after the 1805 war, rose in revolt against the Bavarians and their French allies. They were an embarrassing thorn in Napoleon’s side for months his repressive measures were extremely severe:


I have this moment received your letter, dated 5 a.m., of the 28th. I see the Communes of Tauffers‡ have submitted. I am sorry that you have not punished them. My intention is that on receiving this present letter, you shall demand 150 hostages, taken from all the Tyrolese Cantons that you shall cause at least six large villages, all through the Tyrol, and the ringleaders’ houses to be sacked and burned, and that you shall let it be known that I will put the whole country to fire and sword, if all the muskets -eighteen thousand at the very least – are not given up to me, with as many brace of pistols, which I know to be in existence. You will have the 150 hostages taken, under good and safe escort, to the Citadel of Strasbourg. When I made my armistice, I did it principally to reduce the Tyrol.

After what has happened at Tauffers, I fear you may allow yourself to be fooled by that rabble, which will be worse than ever, the moment your back is turned. Frenchmen and Bavarians have been massacred in the Tyrol. Vengeance must be taken and severe examples made there. As for the Austrians, I have already made my intentions known to you. They must be aware of the armistice. They are a most egregiously false set. They are in far too close relations with the Austrian headquarters. No parleying! If they do not evacuate the country promptly, have them arrested. They are mere ruffians they gave authority for the massacres. Give orders, then, that 150 hostages are to be made over to you that all the worst characters are to be given up, and all the guns, at all events until the number reaches eighteen thousand. Make a law that any house in which a gun is found shall be razed to the ground, and that every Tyrolese found with a musket shall be put to death. Mercy and clemency are out of season with these ruffians. You have the power in your hands. Strike terror! And act so that a part of your troops may be withdrawn from the Tyrol, without any fear of its breaking out afresh. Six large villages must be sacked and burned, so that not a vestige of them remains, and that they may be a monument of the vengeance wreaked on the mountaineers. My orderly officer, L’Espinay, has taken you my orders. I long to hear that you have not allowed yourself to be caught, and that you have not rendered my armistice useless for the chief benefit I desired to draw from it was to take advantage of the six weeks it gave me, to reduce the Tyrol. Send columns to Brixen.

For all this, the Tyroleans were not finally crushed until November of that year.

Trouble had also broken out in other Austrian provinces, although not on the same scale as in the Tyrol:


Write to General Beaumont that I conclude him to have entered the Vorarlberg that he is not to busy himself with issuing absurd proclamations, but to take measures for insuring tranquillity that the most urgent of these is complete disarmament – not only as regards guns, pistols and swords, but also as regards gunpowder and war material. That country must give up at least twelve thousand weapons. Two hundred hostages, also, must be taken, and sent to a French citadel, and ten or twelve houses, belonging to the ringleaders, must be burned and sacked by the troops, and all the property of these ringleaders must be sequestered, and declared confiscated.

The Emperor had to have his ears and eyes everywhere if he relaxed for a second, something was sure to go wrong. In 1809 his much-maligned naval squadron in the Scheldt was the recipient of a further burst of wrath:


… If my idiots of sailors have had the sense to run into Antwerp, my squadron is safe. The English expedition will come to nothing. They will all perish from inaction and fever.

His forecast of the fate of the British Walcheren expedition was spot on.

It is incredible to see how much of his precious time Napoleon diverted to trivial peripheral matters, which surely ought to have been delegated to a competent subordinate. His immense sense of his own importance emerges clearly in this letter:


Schönbrunn, 10 August 1809.

I send you the Bishop of Namur’s Charge, which seems to me written with an evil intention. Find out who drew it up.

I see by your report of the 3rd that the Commissary-General of Police at Lyons discloses the fact that, on being informed that the order for the Te Deum* on the 30th was not, according to the usual custom, to be preceded by my letter, he pointed out the omission. If this be so, you will have a conversation with Cardinal Fesch, and you will make him understand that unless he instantly withdraws the order he has given, and causes my letter to be reincorporated with his mandate, I shall consider him my enemy, and the enemy of the state.

Make him understand that there is nothing contrary to religion in my letter that I do not permit anyone, and him least of all, to fail in respect to the authority with which I am invested. Settle this matter with him, if you can, and let my letter appear in his mandate. You will send for M. Emery,

Decline and Fall of Napoleon's Empire - How the Emperor Self-Destructed, Digby Smith - History

In this wide-ranging study of the Napoleonic regime, Digby Smith tracks Napoleon&rsquos rise to power, his stewardship of France from 1804&ndash15, and his exile. He highlights his military mistakes, such as his unwillingness to appoint an effective overall supremo in the Iberian Peninsula, and the decision to invade Russia while the Spanish situation was spiraling out of control.

Smith also scrutinizes naval mistakes &ndash notably, Napoleon's inability to comprehend the intricacies of naval operations, his impatience with his admirals, and his failure to invest in ships and men. Smith also tracks diplomatic and political errors, highlighting his inability to conclude lasting peace and to compromise.

Smith finally addresses domestic and economic blunders, such as the establishing and maintenance of the Continental System across Europe, the imposition of a ban on direct trade with Russia (which led to France paying higher prices for naval stores of Russian origin after they passed through the hands of German middlemen), and the cost of creating various kingdoms and principalities and deposing incumbent rulers to place his relatives on their thrones.

About The Author

Digby Smith has been writing books on European military history since 1973, concentrating mainly on the armies of continental Europe and in particular the many German states. His main areas of expertise are the Seven Years` War and the Napoleonic period.


In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte was confronted by Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès—one of five Directors constituting the executive branch of the French government—who sought his support for a coup d'état to overthrow the Constitution of the Year III. The plot included Bonaparte's brother Lucien, then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire VIII under the French Republican Calendar) and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control. [ clarification needed ] They dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a rump legislature to name Bonaparte, Sieyès and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, the Consulate, he was outmaneuvered by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul. He thus became the most powerful person in France, a power that was increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which made him First Consul for life.

The Battle of Marengo (14 June 1800) inaugurated the political idea that was to continue its development until Napoleon's Moscow campaign. Napoleon planned only to keep the Duchy of Milan for France, setting aside Austria, and was thought [ by whom? ] to prepare a new campaign in the East. The Peace of Amiens, which cost him control of Egypt, was a temporary truce. He gradually extended his authority in Italy by annexing the Piedmont and by acquiring Genoa, Parma, Tuscany and Naples, and added this Italian territory to his Cisalpine Republic. Then he laid siege to the Roman state and initiated the Concordat of 1801 to control the material claims of the pope. When he recognised his error of raising the authority of the pope from that of a figurehead, Napoleon produced the Articles Organiques (1802) with the goal of becoming the legal protector of the papacy, like Charlemagne. To conceal his plans before their actual execution, he aroused French colonial aspirations against Britain and the memory of the 1763 Treaty of Paris, exacerbating British envy of France, whose borders now extended to the Rhine and beyond, to Hanover, Hamburg and Cuxhaven. Napoleon would have ruling elites from a fusion of the new bourgeoisie and the old aristocracy. [13]

On 12 May 1802, the French Tribunat voted unanimously, with the exception of Carnot, in favour of the Life Consulship for the leader of France. [14] [15] This action was confirmed by the Corps Législatif. A general plebiscite followed thereafter resulting in 3,653,600 votes aye and 8,272 votes nay. [16] On 2 August 1802 (14 Thermidor, An X), Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Consul for life.

Pro-revolutionary sentiment swept through Germany aided by the "Recess of 1803", which brought Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden to France's side. William Pitt the Younger, back in power over Britain, appealed once more for an Anglo-Austro-Russian coalition against Napoleon to stop the ideals of revolutionary France from spreading.

On 18 May 1804, Napoleon was given the title of "Emperor of the French" by the Senate finally, on 2 December 1804, he was solemnly crowned, after receiving the Iron Crown of the Lombard kings, and was consecrated by Pope Pius VII in Notre-Dame de Paris. [c]

In four campaigns, the Emperor transformed his "Carolingian" feudal republican and federal empire into one modelled on the Roman Empire. The memories of imperial Rome were for a third time, after Julius Caesar and Charlemagne, used to modify the historical evolution of France. Though the vague plan for an invasion of Great Britain was never executed, the Battle of Ulm and the Battle of Austerlitz overshadowed the defeat of Trafalgar, and the camp at Boulogne put at Napoleon's disposal the best military resources he had commanded, in the form of La Grande Armée.

In the War of the Third Coalition, Napoleon swept away the remnants of the old Holy Roman Empire and created in southern Germany the vassal states of Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Saxony, which were reorganized into the Confederation of the Rhine. The Treaty of Pressburg, signed on 26 December 1805, extracted extensive territorial concessions from Austria, on top of a large financial indemnity. Napoleon's creation of the Kingdom of Italy, the occupation of Ancona, and his annexation of Venetia and its former Adriatic territories marked a new stage in the French Empire's progress.

To create satellite states, Napoleon installed his relatives as rulers of many European states. The Bonapartes began to marry into old European monarchies, gaining sovereignty over many nations. Older brother Joseph Bonaparte replaced the dispossessed Bourbons in Naples younger brother Louis Bonaparte was installed on the throne of the Kingdom of Holland, formed from the Batavian Republic brother-in-law Joachim Murat became Grand-Duke of Berg youngest brother Jérôme Bonaparte was made son-in-law to the King of Württemberg and King of Westphalia, adopted son Eugène de Beauharnais was appointed Viceroy of Italy and adopted daughter and second cousin Stéphanie de Beauharnais married Karl (Charles), the son of the Grand Duke of Baden. In addition to the vassal titles, Napoleon's closest relatives were also granted the title of French Prince and formed the Imperial House of France.

Met with opposition, Napoleon would not tolerate any neutral power. On 6 August 1806 the Habsburgs abdicated their title of Holy Roman Emperor in order to prevent Napoleon from becoming the next Emperor, ending a political power which had endured for over a thousand years. Prussia had been offered the territory of Hanover to stay out of the Third Coalition. With the diplomatic situation changing, Napoleon offered Great Britain the province as part of a peace proposal. To this, combined with growing tensions in Germany over French hegemony, Prussia responded by forming an alliance with Russia and sending troops into Bavaria on 1 October 1806. During the War of the Fourth Coalition, Napoleon destroyed the Prussian armies at Jena and Auerstedt. Successive victories at Eylau and Friedland against the Russians finally ruined Frederick the Great's formerly mighty kingdom, obliging Russia and Prussia to make peace with France at Tilsit.

The Treaties of Tilsit ended the war between Russia and France and began an alliance between the two empires that held as much power as the rest of Europe. The two empires secretly agreed to aid each other in disputes. France pledged to aid Russia against the Ottoman Empire, while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against Britain. Napoleon also forced Alexander to enter the Anglo-Russian War and to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden in order to force Sweden to join the Continental System.

More specifically, Alexander agreed to evacuate Wallachia and Moldavia, which had been occupied by Russian forces as part of the Russo-Turkish War. The Ionian Islands and Cattaro, which had been captured by Russian admirals Ushakov and Senyavin, were to be handed over to the French. In recompense, Napoleon guaranteed the sovereignty of the Duchy of Oldenburg and several other small states ruled by the Russian emperor's German relatives.

The treaty removed about half of Prussia's territory: Cottbus was given to Saxony, the left bank of the Elbe was awarded to the newly created Kingdom of Westphalia, Białystok was given to Russia, and the rest of the Polish lands in Prussian possession were set up as the Duchy of Warsaw. Prussia was ordered to reduce its army to 40,000 men and to pay an indemnity of 100,000,000 francs. Observers in Prussia viewed the treaty as unfair and as a national humiliation.

Talleyrand had advised Napoleon to pursue milder terms the treaties marked an important stage in his estrangement from the emperor. After Tilsit, instead of trying to reconcile Europe, as Talleyrand had advised, Napoleon wanted to defeat Britain and complete his Italian dominion. To the coalition of the northern powers, he added the league of the Baltic and Mediterranean ports, and to the bombardment of Copenhagen by the Royal Navy he responded with a second decree of blockade, dated from Milan on 17 December 1807.

The application of the Concordat and the taking of Naples led to Napoleon's first struggles with the Pope, centered around Pius VII renewing the theocratic affirmations of Pope Gregory VII. The emperor's Roman ambition was made more visible by the occupation of the Kingdom of Naples and of the Marches, and by the entry of Miollis into Rome while General Junot invaded Portugal, Marshal Murat took control of formerly Roman Spain as Regent. Soon after, Napoleon had his brother, Joseph, crowned King of Spain and sent him there to take control.

Napoleon tried to succeed in the Iberian Peninsula as he had done in Italy, in the Netherlands, and in Hesse. However, the exile of the Spanish Royal Family to Bayonne, together with the enthroning of Joseph Bonaparte, turned the Spanish against Napoleon. After the Dos de Mayo riots and subsequent reprisals, the Spanish government began an effective guerrilla campaign, under the oversight of local Juntas. The Iberian Peninsula became a war zone from the Pyrenees to the Straits of Gibraltar and saw the Grande Armée facing the remnants of the Spanish Army, as well as British and Portuguese forces. General Dupont capitulated at Bailén to General Castaños, and Junot at Cintra, Portugal to General Wellesley.

Spain used up the soldiers needed for Napoleon's other fields of battle, and they had to be replaced by conscripts. Spanish resistance affected Austria, and indicated the potential of national resistance. The provocations of Talleyrand and Britain strengthened the idea that the Austrians could emulate the Spanish. On 10 April 1809, Austria invaded France's ally, Bavaria. The campaign of 1809, however, would not be nearly as long and troublesome for France as the one in Spain and Portugal. Following a short and decisive action in Bavaria, Napoleon opened up the road to the Austrian capital of Vienna for a second time. At Aspern, Napoleon suffered his first serious tactical defeat, along with the death of Jean Lannes, an able Marshal and dear friend of the emperor. The victory at Wagram, however, forced Austria to sue for peace. The Treaty of Schönbrunn, signed on 14 December 1809, resulted in the annexation of the Illyrian Provinces and recognized past French conquests.

The Pope was forcibly deported to Savona, and his domains were incorporated into the French Empire. The Senate's decision on 17 February 1810 created the title "King of Rome", and made Rome the capital of Italy. Between 1810 and 1812 Napoleon's divorce of Joséphine, and his marriage with Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, followed by the birth of his son, shed light upon his future policy. He gradually withdrew power from his siblings and concentrated his affection and ambition on his son, the guarantee of the continuance of his dynasty, marking the high point of the Empire.

Undermining forces, however, had already begun to impinge on the faults inherent in Napoleon's achievements. Britain, protected by the English Channel and its navy, was persistently active, and rebellion of both the governing and of the governed broke out everywhere. Napoleon, though he underrated it, soon felt his failure in coping with the Peninsular War. Men like Baron von Stein, August von Hardenberg and Johann von Scharnhorst had begun secretly preparing Prussia's retaliation.

The alliance arranged at Tilsit was seriously shaken by the Austrian marriage, the threat of Polish restoration to Russia, and the Continental System. The very persons whom he had placed in power were counteracting his plans. With many of his siblings and relations performing unsuccessfully or even betraying him, Napoleon found himself obliged to revoke their power. Caroline Bonaparte conspired against her brother and against her husband Murat the hypochondriac Louis, now Dutch in his sympathies, found the supervision of the blockade taken from him, and also the defense of the Scheldt, which he had refused to ensure. Jérôme Bonaparte lost control of the blockade on the North Sea shores. The very nature of things was against the new dynasties, as it had been against the old.

After national insurrections and family recriminations came treachery from Napoleon's ministers. Talleyrand betrayed his designs to Metternich and suffered dismissal. Joseph Fouché, corresponding with Austria in 1809 and 1810, entered into an understanding with Louis and also with Britain, while Bourrienne was convicted of speculation. By consequence of the spirit of conquest Napoleon had aroused, many of his marshals and officials, having tasted victory, dreamed of sovereign power: Bernadotte, who had helped him to the Consulate, played Napoleon false to win the crown of Sweden. Soult, like Murat, coveted the Spanish throne after that of Portugal, thus anticipating the treason of 1812.

The country itself, though flattered by conquests, was tired of self-sacrifice. The unpopularity of conscription gradually turned many of Napoleon's subjects against him. Amidst profound silence from the press and the assemblies, a protest was raised against imperial power by the literary world, against the excommunicated sovereign by Catholicism, and against the author of the continental blockade by the discontented bourgeoisie, ruined by the crisis of 1811. Even as he lost his military principles, Napoleon maintained his gift for brilliance. His Six Days' Campaign, which took place at the very end of the War of the Sixth Coalition, is often regarded as his greatest display of leadership and military prowess. But by then it was the end (or "the finish"), and it was during the years before when the nations of Europe conspired against France. While Napoleon and his holdings idled and worsened, the rest of Europe agreed to avenge the revolutionary events of 1792.

Napoleon had hardly succeeded in putting down the revolt in Germany when the emperor of Russia himself headed a European insurrection against Napoleon. To put an end to this, to ensure his own access to the Mediterranean and exclude his chief rival, Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. Despite his victorious advance, the taking of Smolensk, the victory on the Moskva, and the entry into Moscow, he was defeated by the country and the climate, and by Alexander's refusal to make terms. After this came the terrible retreat in the harsh Russian winter, while all of Europe was turning against him. Pushed back, as he had been in Spain, from bastion to bastion, after the action on the Berezina, Napoleon had to fall back upon the frontiers of 1809, and then—having refused the peace offered to him by Austria at the Congress of Prague (4 June – 10 August 1813), from fear of losing Italy, where each of his victories had marked a stage in the accomplishment of his dream—on those of 1805, despite the victories at Lützen and Bautzen, and on those of 1802 after his disastrous defeat at Leipzig, when Bernadotte—now Crown Prince of Sweden—turned upon him, General Moreau also joined the Allies, and longstanding allied nations, such as Saxony and Bavaria, forsook him as well.

Following his retreat from Russia, Napoleon continued to retreat, this time from Germany. After the loss of Spain, reconquered by an Allied army led by Wellington, the uprising in the Netherlands preliminary to the invasion and the manifesto of Frankfurt (1 December 1813) [17] which proclaimed it, he was forced to fall back upon the frontiers of 1795 and was later driven further back upon those of 1792—despite the forceful campaign of 1814 against the invaders. Paris capitulated on 30 March 1814, and the Delenda Carthago, pronounced against Britain, was spoken of Napoleon. The Empire briefly fell with Napoleon's abdication at Fontainebleau on 11 April 1814.

After less than a year's exile on the island of Elba, Napoleon escaped to France with a thousand men and four cannons. King Louis XVIII sent Marshal Ney to arrest him. Upon meeting Ney's army, Napoleon dismounted and walked into firing range, saying "If one of you wishes to kill his emperor, here I am!" But instead of firing, the soldiers went to join Napoleon's side shouting "Vive l'Empereur!" Napoleon retook the throne temporarily in 1815, reviving the Empire in the "Hundred Days." However, he was defeated by the Seventh Coalition at the Battle of Waterloo. He surrendered himself to the British and was exiled to Saint Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic, where he remained until his death in 1821. After the Hundred Days, the Bourbon monarchy was restored, with Louis XVIII regaining the French throne, while the rest of Napoleon's conquests were disposed of in the Congress of Vienna.


Rome reached its peak of military power around the year 107, when Trajan completed the conquest of Dacia (the territory of modern Romania). With Dacia, the empire peaked in size, but I’d argue it was already past its peak by almost every other measure.

The U.S. reached its peak relative to the world, and in some ways its absolute peak, as early as the 1950s. In 1950 this country produced 50% of the world’s GNP and 80% of its vehicles. Now it’s about 21% of world GNP and 5% of its vehicles. It owned two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves now it holds one-fourth. It was, by a huge margin, the world’s biggest creditor, whereas now it’s the biggest debtor by a huge margin. The income of the average American was by far the highest in the world today it ranks about eighth, and it’s slipping.

But it’s not just the U.S.—it’s Western civilization that’s in decline. In 1910 Europe controlled almost the whole world—politically, financially, and militarily. Now it’s becoming a Disneyland with real buildings and a petting zoo for the Chinese. It’s even further down the slippery slope than the U.S.

Like America, Rome was founded by refugees—from Troy, at least in myth. Like America, it was ruled by kings in its early history. Later, Romans became self-governing, with several Assemblies and a Senate. Later still, power devolved to the executive, which was likely not an accident.

U.S. founders modeled the country on Rome, all the way down to the architecture of government buildings, the use of the eagle as the national bird, the use of Latin mottos, and the unfortunate use of the fasces—the axe surrounded by rods—as a symbol of state power. Publius, the pseudonymous author of The Federalist Papers, took his name from one of Rome’s first consuls. As it was in Rome, military prowess is at the center of the national identity of the U.S. When you adopt a model in earnest, you grow to resemble it.

A considerable cottage industry has developed comparing ancient and modern times since Edward Gibbon published The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776—the same year as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written. I’m a big fan of all three, but D&F is not only a great history, it’s very elegant and readable literature. And it’s actually a laugh riot Gibbon had a subtle wit.

There have been huge advances in our understanding of Rome since Gibbon’s time, driven by archeological discoveries. There were many things he just didn’t know, because he was as much a philologist as an historian, and he based his writing on what the ancients said about themselves.

There was no real science of archeology when Gibbon wrote little had been done even to correlate the surviving ancient texts with what was on the surviving monuments—even the well-known monuments—and on the coins. Not to mention scientists digging around in the provinces for what was left of Roman villas, battle sites, and that sort of thing. So Gibbon, like most historians, was to a degree a collector of hearsay.

And how could he know whom to believe among the ancient sources? It’s as though William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal, H. L. Mencken, Norman Mailer, and George Carlin all wrote about the same event, and you were left to figure out whose story was true. That would make it tough to tell what really happened just a few years ago… forget about ancient history. That’s why the study of history is so tendentious so much of it is “he said/she said.”

In any event, perhaps you don’t want a lecture on ancient history. You’d probably be more entertained by some guesses about what’s likely to happen to the U.S. I’ve got some.

Let me start by saying that I’m not sure the collapse of Rome wasn’t a good thing. There were many positive aspects to Rome—as there are to most civilizations. But there was much else to Rome of which I disapprove, such as its anti-commercialism, its militarism and, post-Caesar, its centralized and increasingly totalitarian government. In that light, it’s worth considering whether the collapse of the U.S. might not be a good thing.

So why did Rome fall? In 1985, a German named Demandt assembled 210 reasons. I find some of them silly—like racial degeneration, homosexuality, and excessive freedom. Most are redundant. Some are just common sense—like bankruptcy, loss of moral fiber, and corruption.

Gibbon’s list is much shorter. Although it’s pretty hard to summarize his six fat volumes in a single sentence, he attributed the fall of Rome to just two causes, one internal and one external: Christianity and barbarian invasions, respectively. I think Gibbon was essentially right about both. Because of the sensibilities of his era, however, he probed at early Christianity (i.e., from its founding to the mid-4th century) very gently I’ve decided to deal with it less delicately. Hopefully neither my analysis of religion nor of barbarian invasions (then and now) will disturb too many readers.

In any event, while accepting Gibbon’s basic ideas on Christians and barbarians, I decided to break down the reasons for Rome’s decline further, into 10 categories: political, legal, social, demographic, ecological, military, psychological, intellectual, religious, and economic—all of which I’ll touch on. And, as a bonus, toward the end of this article, I’ll give you another, completely unrelated, and extremely important reason for the collapse of both Rome and the U.S.

You don’t have to agree with my interpretation, but let’s see what lessons are on offer from the history of Rome, from its semi-mythical founding by Romulus and Remus in 753 BCE (a story that conflicts with Virgil’s tale of Aeneas and the refugee Trojans) to what’s conventionally designated as the end of the Western empire in 476 AD, when the child-emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Odoacer (a Germanic general who was in charge of what passed for the Roman army—which by then was staffed almost entirely with Germanic mercenaries who had no loyalty to the idea of Rome). It looks a lot like the American experience over the last couple of hundred years. First conquest and expansion, then global dominance, and then slippage into decline.


It’s somewhat misleading, however, to talk about a simple fall of Rome, and much more accurate to talk about its gradual transformation, with episodes of what paleontologists describe as “punctuated disequilibrium.” There were many falls.

Republican Rome fell in 31 BCE with the accession of Augustus and the start of what’s called the Principate. It almost disintegrated in the 50 years of the mid-3rd century, a time of constant civil war, the start of serious barbarian incursions, and the destruction of Rome’s silver currency, the denarius.

Rome as anything resembling a free society fell in the 290s and then changed radically again, with Diocletian and the Dominate period (more on this shortly). Maybe the end came in 378, when the Goths destroyed a Roman army at Adrianople and wholesale invasions began. Maybe we should call 410 the end, when Alaric—a Goth who was actually a Roman general—conducted the first sacking of Rome.

It might be said the civilization didn’t really collapse until the late 600s, when Islam conquered the Middle East and North Africa and cut off Mediterranean commerce. Maybe we should use 1453, when Constantinople and the Eastern Empire fell. Maybe the Empire is still alive today in the form of the Catholic Church—the Pope is the Pontifex Maximus wearing red slippers, as did Julius Caesar when he held that position.

One certain reflection in the distant mirror is that beginning with the Principate period, Rome underwent an accelerating trend toward absolutism, centralization, totalitarianism, and bureaucracy. I think we can argue America entered its Principate with the accession of Roosevelt in 1933 since then, the president has reigned supreme over the Congress, as Augustus did over the Senate. Pretenses fell off increasingly over time in Rome, just as they have in the U.S.

After the third century, with constant civil war and the destruction of the currency, the Principate (when the emperor, at least in theory, was just the first among equals) gave way to the Dominate period (from the word “dominus,” or lord, referring to a master of slaves), when the emperor became an absolute monarch. This happened with the ascension of Diocletian in 284 and then, after another civil war, Constantine in 306. From that point forward, the emperor no longer even pretended to be the first among equals and was treated as an oriental potentate. The same trend is in motion in the U.S, but we’re still a ways from reaching its endpoint—although it has to be noted that the president is now protected by hundreds, even thousands, of bodyguards. Harry Truman was the last president who actually dared to go out and informally stroll about DC, like a common citizen, while in office.

In any event, just as the Senate, the consuls, and the tribunes with their vetoes became impotent anachronisms, so have U.S. institutions. Early on, starting with the fourth emperor, Claudius, in 41 AD, the Praetorians (who had been set up by Augustus) showed they could designate the emperor. And today in the U.S., that’s probably true of its praetorians—the NSA, CIA, and FBI, among others—and of course the military. We’ll see how the next hanging-chad presidential election dispute gets settled.

My guess is that the booboisie (the Romans called them the capite censi, or head count) will demand a strong leader as the Greater Depression evolves, the dollar is destroyed, and a serious war gets underway. You have to remember that war has always been the health of the state. The Roman emperors were expected, not least by their soldiers, to always be engaged in war. And it’s no accident that the so-called greatest U.S. presidents were war presidents—Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR. We can humorously add the self-proclaimed war president Baby Bush. Military heroes—like Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower—are always easy to elect. My guess is that a general will run for office in the next election, when we’ll be in a genuine crisis. The public will want a general partly because the military is now by far the most trusted institution of U.S. society. His likely election will be a mistake for numerous reasons, not least that the military is really just a heavily armed variant of the postal service.

It’s wise to keep Gibbon’s words about the military in mind: “Any order of men accustomed to violence and slavery make for very poor guardians of a civil constitution.”

One additional political parallel with the U.S.: up to Trajan in 100 AD, all the emperors were culturally Roman from old, noble families. After that, few were.


Like the Romans, we’re supposedly ruled by laws, not by men. In Rome, the law started with the 12 Tablets in 451 BCE, with few dictates and simple enough to be inscribed on bronze for all to see. A separate body of common law developed from trials, held sometimes in the Forum, sometimes in the Senate.

When the law was short and simple, the saying “Ignorantia juris non excusat” (ignorance of the law is no excuse) made sense. But as the government and its legislation became more ponderous, the saying became increasingly ridiculous. Eventually, under Diocletian, law became completely arbitrary, with everything done by the emperor’s decrees—we call them Executive Orders today.

I’ve mentioned Diocletian several times already. It’s true that his draconian measures held the Empire together, but it was a matter of destroying Rome in order to save it. As in the U.S., in Rome statute and common law gradually devolved into a maze of bureaucratic rules.

The trend accelerated under Constantine, the first Christian emperor, because Christianity is a top-down religion, reflecting a hierarchy where rulers were seen as licensed by God. The old Roman religion never tried to capture men’s minds this way. Before Christianity, violating the emperor’s laws wasn’t seen as also violating God’s laws.

The devolution is similar in the U.S. You’ll recall that only three crimes are mentioned in the U.S. Constitution—treason, counterfeiting, and piracy. Now you can read Harvey Silverglate’s book, Three Felonies a Day, which argues that the average modern-day American, mostly unwittingly, is running his own personal crime wave—because federal law has criminalized over 5,000 different acts.

Rome became more and more corrupt as time went on, as has the U.S. Tacitus (56-117 AD) understood why: “The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the nation.”


Along with political and legal problems come social problems. The Roman government began offering useless mouths free bread, and later circuses, in the late Republic, after the three Punic Wars (264-146 BCE). Bread and circuses were mostly limited to the capital itself. They were extremely destructive, of course, but were provided strictly for a practical reason: to keep the mob under control.

And it was a big mob. At its peak, Rome had about a million inhabitants, and at least 30% were on the dole. It’s worth noting that the dole lasted over 500 years and became part of the fabric of Roman life—ending only when wheat shipments from Egypt and North Africa were cut off by the Vandals at the beginning of the 5th century.

In the U.S., there now are more recipients of state benefits than there are workers. Programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and numerous other welfare programs absorb over 50% of the U.S. budget, and they’re going to grow rapidly for a while longer, although I predict they’ll come to an end or be radically reformed within the next 20 years. I recognize that’s a daring prediction, given the longevity of the dole in Rome.


The Empire appears to have suffered a demographic collapse late in the 2nd century, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, at least in part because of a plague that killed on the order of 10% of the population. Ancient plagues are poorly documented, perhaps because they were viewed as normal happenings. But there may be other, subtler reasons for the drop in population. Perhaps people weren’t just dying, they also weren’t reproducing, which is much more serious. The rising Christian religion was puritanical and encouraged celibacy. Especially among the Gnostic strains of early Christianity, celibacy was part of the formula for perfection and knowledge of God. But of course, if Christianity had been effective in encouraging celibacy, it would have died out.

The same thing is now happening throughout the developed world—especially in Europe and Japan, but also in the U.S. and China. After WW II, American women averaged 3.7 children. Now it’s 1.8 in parts of Europe, it’s 1.3. Part of that is due to urbanization and part to an understanding of birth control, but a growing part is that they just can’t afford it it’s very expensive to have a kid today. And I believe another major element is a new religious movement, Greenism, which is analogous to early Christianity in many ways. It’s now considered antisocial to reproduce, since having kids raises your carbon footprint.


The essential anti-rationality of early Christianity poisoned the intellectual atmosphere of the classical world. This is true of not just religions in general, but the desert religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in particular—each more extreme than its predecessor.

In late antiquity, there was a battle between the faith of the Fathers of the Church and the reason of the philosophers. Christianity halted the progress of reason, which had been growing in the Greco-Roman world since the days of the Ionian rationalists Anaximander, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and others, right up to Aristotle, Archimedes, and Pliny. Knowledge of how the world worked was compounding, albeit slowly—then came to a stop with the triumph of superstition in the 4th century. And went into reverse during the Dark Ages, starting in the 6th century.

Christianity used to hold that anything that seems at odds with revealed truth or even with the extrapolations of revealed truth is anathema, the way much of Islam does today. The church drew generations of men away from intellectual and scientific pursuits and toward otherworldly pursuits—which didn’t help the Roman cause. It can be argued that, if not for Christianity, the ancient world might have made a leap to an industrial revolution. It’s impossible to make scientific progress if the reigning meme holds that if it’s not the word of a god, it’s not worth knowing.

For nearly 1,000 years, revealed beliefs displaced science and reason. This started to change only in the 13th century with Thomas Aquinas, an anomaly in that he cleverly integrated the rational thinking of the ancient philosophers—Aristotle in particular—into Catholicism. Aquinas was lucky he wasn’t condemned as a heretic instead of being turned into a saint. His thought had some unintended consequences, however, which led to the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and today’s world. At least until Aquinas, Christianity slowed the ascent of man and the rise of rationalism and science by centuries, in addition to its complicity in the fall of Rome.

As the importance of science has grown, however, religion—or superstition, as Gibbon referred to it—has taken a back seat. Over the last 100, even the last 50 years, Christianity has fallen to the status of a back story for Santa Claus and quaint, albeit poetic, folk wisdom tales.


Wars made Rome. Wars expanded the country’s borders and brought it wealth, but they also sowed the seeds of its destruction, especially the three big wars against Carthage, 264-146 BCE.

Rome began as a republic of yeoman farmers, each with his own plot of land. You had to be a landowner to join the Roman army it was a great honor, and it wouldn’t take the riffraff. When the Republic was threatened—and wars were constant and uninterrupted from the beginning—a legionary might be gone for five, ten, or more years. His wife and children back on the farm might have to borrow money to keep things going and then perhaps default, so soldiers’ farms would go back to bush or get taken over by creditors. And, if he survived the wars, an ex-legionary might be hard to keep down on the farm after years of looting, plundering, and enslaving the enemy. On top of that, tidal waves of slaves became available to work freshly confiscated properties. So, like America, Rome became more urban and less agrarian. Like America, there were fewer family farmers but more industrial-scale latifundia.

War turned the whole Mediterranean into a Roman lake. With the Punic wars, Spain and North Africa became provinces. Pompey the Great (106-48 BCE) conquered the Near East. Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) conquered Gaul 20 years later. Then Augustus took Egypt.

The interesting thing is that in the early days, war was actually quite profitable. You conquered a place and stole all the gold, cattle, and other movable property and enslaved the people. That was a lot of wealth you could bring home—and then you could milk the area for many years with taxes. But the wars helped destroy Rome’s social fabric by wiping out the country’s agrarian, republican roots and by corrupting everyone with a constant influx of cheap slave labor and free imported food. War created longer, faraway borders that then needed to be defended. And in the end, hostile contact with “barbarians” actually wound up drawing them in as invaders.

Rome’s wars radically changed society, just as America’s have. It’s estimated that at times 80-90% of the population of the city of Rome was foreign born. It sometimes seems that way in many U.S. cities. I always look at the bright side, however: after every foreign misadventure, the U.S. gets an influx of new restaurants with exotic cuisines.

The stream of new wealth to steal ended with the conquest of Dacia in 107. The advance in the east stopped with the Persians, a comparable military power. Across the Rhine and Danube, the Germans—living in swamps and forests with only tiny villages—were not worth conquering. To the south there was only the Sahara. At this point, there was nothing new to steal, but there were continuing costs of administration and border defense. It was inconvenient—and not perhaps just coincidental—that the barbarians started becoming really problematic just about when Christianity started becoming popular, in the 3rd century. Unlike today, in its early days Christianity encouraged pacifism… not the best thing when you’re faced with barbarian invasions.

Remember, the army started out as a militia of citizen soldiers who provided their own arms. It eventually would accept anyone and morphed into a completely mercenary force staffed and led largely by foreigners. This is pretty much how the U.S. armed forces have evolved. For all the “Support Our Troops” propaganda, the U.S. armed forces are now more representative of the barrios, ghettos, and trailer parks than of the country as a whole. And they’re isolated from it, a class unto themselves, like the late Roman army.

Even though the Roman army was at its greatest size and cost in the Dominate period, it was increasingly a paper tiger. After its rout at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the Western empire went into a death spiral. The U.S. armed forces may now be in an analogous posture, comparable to Soviet forces in the 1980s.

Although the U.S. has won many engagements and some sport wars, it hasn’t won a real war since 1945. The cost of its wars, however, has escalated hugely. My guess is that if it gets into another major war, it won’t win, even if the enemy’s body count is massive.

Recall Osama bin Laden’s plan to win by bankrupting the U.S. He was very astute. Most U.S. equipment is good only for fighting a replay of WW II—things like the $2 billion B-2 bomber, the $350 million F-22, and the $110 million V-22 Osprey are high-priced dinosaurs. The Army lost 5,000 helicopters in Vietnam. How many Blackhawks can the U.S. afford to lose in the next war at $25 million each? World War II cost the U.S. $288 billion, in 1940 dollars. The pointless adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are guesstimated at $4 trillion, a roughly comparable amount in real terms.

In the future—unless it completely changes its foreign and military policies—the U.S. will likely be confronting scores of independent, nonstate actors, rather than other nation-states. We won’t really know who they are, but they’ll be very effective at attacking hugely expensive infrastructure at near-zero cost, by hacking computers. They won’t need a B-2 when a stolen Pakistani nuke can be delivered by freighter. They can take out a $5 million M-1 tank with an essentially zero-cost improvised incendiary device. While the U.S. bankrupts itself with defense contractors whose weapons have 20-year development times, enemies will use open-source warfare, entrepreneurially developing low-cost, unconventional weapons with off-the-shelf components.

This is actually analogous to what Rome confronted with invading nomads. Let me relate an anecdote offered by Priscus, a Roman ambassador to the court of Atilla in about 450 AD. While there he met a Greek who had joined the barbarians. This will give you a flavor of the story he tells Priscus. I’ve put some words in bold because they’re especially relevant to other aspects of our story.

After war the Scythians live in inactivity, enjoying what they have gained, harassed very little or not at all. The Romans, on the other hand, are very liable to perish in war, as they have to rest their hopes of safety on others, and are not allowed, on account of their tyrants, to use arms. And those who use them are injured by the cowardice of their generals, who cannot support the conduct of war. But the condition of the subjects in time of peace is far more grievous than the evils of war, for the exaction of the taxes is very severe, and unprincipled men inflict injuries on others, because the laws are practically not valid against all classes.

Wars destroyed Rome, just as they’ll destroy the U.S.

But what about the barbarian invasions that Gibbon perhaps correctly pointed out were the direct cause of Rome’s downfall? Do we have a present-day analogue? The answer is at least a qualified “yes.” It’s true that the U.S. will bankrupt itself by fighting the ridiculous and chimerical “War on Terror,” maintaining hundreds of military bases and operations around the world and perhaps getting into a major war. But from a cultural point of view, it’s possible that the southern border will present an equally serious problem.

The U.S.-Mexican border is a classic borderland situation, no more stable and just as permeable as the Rhine-Danube dividing line was for the Romans. The problem now isn’t invading hordes, but a population that has no cultural allegiance to the idea of America. A surprising number of the Mexicans who cross over to the U.S. talk seriously about a Reconquista, in reference to the fact the Americans stole the land in question from people they presume to be their ancestors.

In many parts of the Southwest, the Mexicans form a majority and choose not to learn English—and they don’t need to, which is a new thing for immigrants to the U.S. Most are “illegal,” as you might say the Goths, the Vandals, and the Huns were in Rome’s final days. My guess is that in the near future, there will be a lot of young Hispanic males who actively resent paying half of what they make in income, Social Security, and Obamacare taxes in order to subsidize old white women in the Northeast. I wouldn’t be surprised to see parts of the Southwest turn into “no go” zones for many government agencies over the next several decades.

Could the U.S. break up the way the Roman Empire did? Absolutely the colors of the map on the wall aren’t part of the cosmic firmament. And it needn’t have anything to do with military conquest. Despite the presence of Walmarts, McDonald’s, and Chevrolet dealerships across a country whose roads are as impressive as the nearly 50,000 miles of highway laid down by the Romans, there’s evidence the country is disintegrating culturally. Although what is occurring in the Mexican borderland area is the most significant thing, there are growing cultural and political differences between the so-called “red” and “blue” states. Semi-serious secession movements are at work in northern Colorado, western Maryland, and western Kansas. This is a new phenomenon, at least since the War Between the States of 1861-65.


Now to gratify the Druids among you.

Soil exhaustion, deforestation, and pollution—which abetted plagues—were problems for Rome. As was lead poisoning, in that the metal was widely used for eating and drinking utensils and for cookware. None of these things could bring down the house, but neither did they improve the situation. They might be equated today with fast food, antibiotics in the food chain, and industrial pollutants. Is the U.S. agricultural base unstable because it relies on gigantic monocultures of bioengineered grains that in turn rely on heavy inputs of chemicals, pesticides, and mined fertilizers? It’s true that production per acre has gone up steeply because of these things, but that’s despite the general decrease in depth of topsoil, destruction of native worms and bacteria, and growing pesticide resistance of weeds.

Perhaps even more important, the aquifers needed for irrigation are being depleted. But these things have all been necessary to maintain the U.S. balance of trade, keep food prices down, and feed the expanding world population. It may turn out, however, to have been a bad trade-off.

I’m a technophile, but there are some reasons to believe we may have serious problems ahead. Global warming, incidentally, isn’t one of them. One of the reasons for the rise of Rome—and the contemporaneous Han in China—may be that the climate cyclically warmed considerably up to the 3rd century, then got much cooler. Which also correlates with the invasions by northern barbarians.


Economic issues were a major factor in the collapse of Rome, one that Gibbon hardly considered. It’s certainly a factor greatly underrated by historians generally, who usually have no understanding of economics at all. Inflation, taxation, and regulation made production increasingly difficult as the empire grew, just as in the U.S. Romans wanted to leave the country, much as many Americans do today.

I earlier gave you a quote from Priscus. Next is Salvian, circa 440:

But what else can these wretched people wish for, they who suffer the incessant and continuous destruction of public tax levies. To them there is always imminent a heavy and relentless proscription. They desert their homes, lest they be tortured in their very homes. They seek exile, lest they suffer torture. The enemy is more lenient to them than the tax collectors. This is proved by this very fact, that they flee to the enemy in order to avoid the full force of the heavy tax levy.

Therefore, in the districts taken over by the barbarians, there is one desire among all the Romans, that they should never again find it necessary to pass under Roman jurisdiction. In those regions, it is the one and general prayer of the Roman people that they be allowed to carry on the life they lead with the barbarians.

One of the most disturbing things about this statement is that it shows the tax collectors were most rapacious at a time when the Empire had almost ceased to exist. My belief is that economic factors were paramount in the decline of Rome, just as they are with the U.S. The state made production harder and more expensive, it limited economic mobility, and the state-engineered inflation made saving pointless.

This brings us to another obvious parallel: the currency. The similarities between the inflation in Rome versus the U.S. are striking and well known. In the U.S., the currency was basically quite stable from the country’s founding until 1913, with the creation of the Federal Reserve. Since then, the currency has lost over 95% of its value, and the trend is accelerating. In the case of Rome, the denarius was stable until the Principate. Thereafter it lost value at an accelerating rate until reaching essentially zero by the middle of the 3rd century, coincidental with the Empire’s near collapse.

What’s actually more interesting is to compare the images on the coinage of Rome and the U.S. Until the victory of Julius Caesar in 46 BCE (a turning point in Rome’s history), the likeness of a politician never appeared on the coinage. All earlier coins were graced with a representation of an honored concept, a god, an athletic image, or the like. After Caesar, a coin’s obverse always showed the head of the emperor.

It’s been the same in the U.S. The first coin with the image of a president was the Lincoln penny in 1909, which replaced the Indian Head penny the Jefferson nickel replaced the Buffalo nickel in 1938 the Roosevelt dime replaced the Mercury dime in 1946 the Washington quarter replaced the Liberty quarter in 1932 and the Franklin half-dollar replaced the Liberty half in 1948, which was in turn replaced by the Kennedy half in 1964. The deification of political figures is a disturbing trend the Romans would have recognized.


When Constantine installed Christianity as the state religion, conditions worsened for the economy, and not just because a class of priests now had to be supported from taxes. With its attitude of waiting for heaven and belief that this world is just a test, it encouraged Romans to hold material things in low regard and essentially despise money.

Today’s Christianity no longer does that, of course. But it’s being replaced by new secular religions that do.


Despite all our similarities with Rome, and even equipped with our understanding of why Rome collapsed, we can’t avoid Rome’s fate just by trying to avoid Rome’s mistakes. Yes, we have an analogue of early Christianity chewing away at our civilization’s foundations. And yes, we have a virtual barbarian invasion to contend with. But there’s another factor, I think, that worked against the Romans and is working against us… one Gibbon didn’t consider.

We can’t evade the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that entropy conquers everything and that over time all systems degrade and wind down. And that the more complex a system becomes, the more energy it takes to maintain it. The larger and more complex, interconnected, and interdependent it becomes, the more prone it is to breakdown and catastrophic failure. That includes countries and civilizations.

The Romans reached their physical limits within the confines of their scientific, engineering, economic, and other areas of knowledge. And the moral values of their civilization, their founding philosophies, were washed away by a new religion. We may reach our technological limits. And our founding values are certainly being washed away.

Our scientific knowledge is still compounding rapidly—because more scientists and engineers are alive today than have lived in the previous history of mankind put together. That statement has been true for at least the last 200 years—and it’s been a gigantic advantage we’ve had over the Romans. But it may stop being true in the next few generations as the population levels off and then declines, as is happening in Japan, Europe, China, and most of the developed world. It’s compounded by the fact that U.S. universities aren’t graduating Ph.D.s in engineering, mathematics, and physics so much as in gender studies, sociology, English, and J.D.s in law. As it degrades, the U.S. will not only draw in fewer enterprising foreigners, it will export its more competent natives.

My solution to America’s decline and fall? The solution for declining civilizations is less command and control, less centralization, and less legal and regulatory complexity. And more entrepreneurship, free minds, and radically free markets. Unfortunately, although a few might agree with that, it’s not going to happen. Not even if most people agree.

Why? Because there are immense governmental institutions that exist, with many millions of employees—at least 20 million in the U.S. And many tens of millions more in their families and throughout the private sector that depend on them. And many tens of millions more that rely directly on the state for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other direct payments. And millions more associated with quasi-state institutions like NGOs, think tanks, law firms, lobbying groups, and the like. The parasitic mechanism of the state has become key to their survival. Even if many in their ranks see the dysfunction now planted in America, they’re hardly going to break their own well-filled rice bowls.

Every institution, like every living thing from an amoeba on up, has one thing in common: they all obey a prime directive—survive! They will try to do so at any cost to society at large. They intuitively know that, as a corollary, you either grow or you die. So you’re not going to see any dysfunctional organization dissolve itself. It’ll keep trying to grow until it self-destructs or an outside force destroys it. Beyond a certain stage, any serious reform is impossible. In the case of the U.S., it’s now host to a completely inoperable cancer, as the government and its satellites grow faster than ever, while the productive economy contracts.

The second law of thermodynamics is a concept of physics, but it has applications in most areas of human action, including what’s been called “imperial overstretch”—the point where the resources gained from growing is less than the energy expended in the process. Rome ran up against imperial overstretch. So did Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler. The Spanish, French, British, and Soviet empires all did as well. It’s a natural thing with all living organisms, to try to grow until they can’t grow any further, until their energy expenditures exceed their inputs, and/or they’re too large and complex to be controllable, at which point they either rot from within or fall to external predators. It’s as though the Peter Principle applies to all of nature: everything rises to its level of incompetence, at which point it becomes vulnerable.

But does it really matter if the U.S. declines? It’s already morphed from America—which we all loved—into something else. And it’s morphing even more in the wrong direction, at an accelerating rate, as did Rome. The U.S. is declining in all the areas I’ve touched on. But it’s not unique it’s following the course of all states and all things.

Rome was arrogant and thought it was unique, the center of the world, and eternal. Just like the U.S. Or China, for that matter.

Rome was corrupt it departed from the values that made it great and so deserved to collapse. The U.S. is increasingly corrupt. That’s completely predictable, for exactly the reason Tacitus cited—a profusion of laws. In market-based systems, corruption is rare and occasional. But in large, complex, politically based systems, it’s not only commonplace, it’s salubrious, because it allows workarounds. Corruption becomes like an oxygen tank to an emphysema victim—awkward but needed. Rulers, however, never attempt to cure the underlying disease by simplifying the complex systems they’ve built. Instead they pass more laws, making the system ever more like a Rube Goldberg machine, with even more complexities and inefficiencies. That’s always counterproductive, since compounded complexity makes the eventual collapse even worse. And harder to recover from. And more nearly inevitable.

Stupidity, Evil and the Decline of the US

It used to be that America was a country of free thinkers.

“Say what you think, and think what you say.” That’s an expression you don’t hear much anymore.

It’s much more like the world of 1984 where everything is “double think.” You need to think twice before you say something in public. You think three times before you say something when you’re standing in an airport line.

Regrettably, the US is no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s become the land of whipped and whimpering dogs that roll over on their backs and wet themselves when confronted with authority.

Now, why are Americans this way? Let me give you two reasons—though there are many more.

First, there’s a simple absence of virtue. Let’s look at the word virtue. It comes from the Latin vir, which means manly, even heroic. To the Romans, virtues were things like fortitude, nobility and courage. Those virtues are true to the root of the word.

When people think of virtues today they think of faith, hope, charity—which are not related to the word’s root meaning. These may pass as virtues in a religious sense. But, outside a Sunday school, they’re actually actually vices. This deserves a discussion, because I know it will shock many. But I’ll save that for another time.

An absence of virtues and the presence of subtle vices is insinuated throughout society. Worse, overt vices like avarice and especially envy are encouraged. Envy, in particular will become a big vice in the years to come. It’s similar to jealousy, but worse. Jealousy says “You have something I want I’ll try to take it from you”. Envy says “You have something I want. If I can’t take it from you, I’ll destroy it, and hurt you if I can.” Jealousy and envy seem to motivate most Democratic Party presidential candidates. No wonder America is in rapid decline.

A second reason is unsound philosophy. The reigning philosophy in the US used to be based on individualism and personal freedom. It’s now statism and collectivism. But most people don’t think about philosophy—or even have a consistent worldview. More than ever, they do what seems like a good idea at the time.

The average American has problems. But his rulers are something else again. Most of the people running the US are either knaves or fools. How do we know if we are dealing with a knave or a fool? In other words, are you dealing with somebody who is evil or just stupid? To give a recent, but classic, example, are you dealing with a Dick Cheney or a George W. Bush? Do you prefer the knavish Obama, or the knavish Biden? The foolish Trump, or the foolish Pence. Not much of a real choice anywhere…

At this point, the US resembles the planet Mars, which is circled by two moons, Phobos and Deimos, fear and terror in Greek. The US is also being circled by two moons, Kakos and Chazos, evil and stupidity in Greek. It’s hard to imagine the Founding Fathers having seen that as a possibility.

One of the relatively few laws I believe in is Pareto’s Law. Most people are familiar with it as the 80-20 rule—20% of the people do 80% of the work, 20% commit 80% of the crime, and so forth. It also applies to character and ethics. Most people—80%—are basically decent. What about that other 20%?
Let’s call them potential trouble sources because they can go either way. But 20% of that 20%—4%—are the sociopaths they consistently have bad intentions. They’re usually hiding under rocks. But they like to emerge at election time.

In normal times when everything’s going along well, they can look normal. They’ll deliver the mail, or sell shoes or stocks. They’ll pet the dog, and play softball on weekends. But when circumstances in society get ugly, and reach a certain point, they start evidencing themselves. The rest of the 20% start swinging along with them. That’s the place where we are right now in the US. It’s Pareto’s Law in operation. You can see it in basically all the Democratic Party’s candidates—Bernie, Pocahontas, AOC, and two dozen others.

A lot of people believe in American Exceptionalism. A good argument can be made for America having been exceptional in the past. It’s factually correct that America is the only country founded on the principles of individualism and personal freedom. It was actually different. It was special, even unique. But I don’t think it’s true anymore.

Of course all the world’s countries like to believe they’re special or better than the rest. But they’re only different on the surface, in trivial ways. None—other than America—value individualism and personal freedom as founding virtues. Look at Russia throughout the 20th century. It was a phenomenal nightmarish disaster in Soviet times.

Look at Germany during the ‘30s and ‘40s. China, under Mao for 30 years, was the home of institutionalized, industrial scale mass murder. The same is true in lots of other countries… Cambodia, Rwanda, the Congo. There are dozens of other countries where bloody chaos reigned over the last century. But not the US. It was different.

But what if America has ceased to exist? What if it’s been transformed into just another nation state called the United States, with very different ideals and values? Why should it have a different fate than those other countries? I don’t see any reason why that would be the case.

But if 80% of Americans are basically decent, well-intentioned people, what is going wrong and why?

Let me give you three reasons… although there are many others.

Number one, as I indicated earlier, Americans no longer have any philosophical anchor. They no longer share a national mythos—individualism, personal freedom, free minds, and free markets are now mocked. They may have some nebulous ideas about ethics that they picked up from the Boy Scouts. But they think all political and economic systems—and certainly all cultures—are equally good. The reigning philosophy is a mixture of cultural Marxism, identity politics, anti-male feminism, and anti-white racism.

I suppose it was inevitable in a country where a large plurality of people are dumb enough to spend four years and several hundred thousand dollars to be indoctrinated with those values.

The second thing is fear. It’s a reigning emotion in this country among the diminishing middle class.

Desperation and apathy characterize the growing lower classes. No wonder they’re cemented to the bottom of society. It’s a rare person that rises from the lower class because of those attitudes.

How about the upper classes? Their dominant emotions are avarice and arrogance they think they’re superior because they have more money. In many cases they’re rich not because they produce anything. But because they’re cronies, benefiting from the flood of money coming from the Fed, or the avalanche of laws and regulations coming from the Congress and the President.

America is still basically a middle-class country, although becoming less and less that way almost daily. And fear is the dominant emotion of the middle class. Fear of losing everything they have. Fear of losing their jobs. Fear they won’t be able to meet the credit card payments, the car payments, the mortgage payment. Fear they can’t afford to send their kids to college—which is a mistake incidentally. But that’s another story.

The whole country is driven by fear… and it’s not a good thing. Deimos and Phobos, those two moons circling Mars are now circling the US, along with Kakos and Chazos.

The third, and perhaps most critical reason the US is going downhill—beyond a lack of a philosophical anchor and an atmosphere of fear—is a reflexive belief in government.

The United States used to be more like Switzerland, which is by far the most prosperous country in Europe. When you ask the Swiss, “Who’s the president of Switzerland?”, It’s rare that anyone can tell you. It’s academic. However, nobody cares. He doesn’t do anything. Politics aren’t a big part of their lives.

But today in the US, people have come to view the government as a cornucopia. People expect it to solve all their problems. And that’s a real problem. Government is a genuine growth industry, and it attracts the worst type of people. Government is inevitably where sociopaths—the 4% and the 20%—are drawn. Washington draws sociopaths like a pile of dog droppings draws flies.

It’s perfectly predictable. And why is that? Mao said it best, “The power of the state comes out the barrel of a gun.” Government is about some people controlling other people. That’s what attracts sociopaths, and that’s why they go to Washington.

But enough bad news… what is it that makes things better in the world? Well, there are two things.

One is technology. The good news is there are more scientists and engineers alive today than have lived in all of earth’s history previously combined. And they’re continually increasing our control of nature. For most people, life is no longer “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, as Hobbes said. Technology is advancing at the rate of Moore’s law. And that improves the standard of living.

The second thing is savings. Individuals, like squirrels, are genetically wired to produce more than they consume. The difference between production and consumption can be saved. That creates capital. And capital enables technology. That creation of wealth should continue, barring a world war. Or most of the world’s governments acting more like Venezuela or Zimbabwe…. Which is quite possible.

So, in conclusion, I have some good news, and some bad news.

In the looming Greater Depression, most of the real wealth in the world will still exist. It’s just going to change ownership.


So what’s your takeaway from all this, assuming you agree with my thinking? There are several possibilities to consider, based on what we know about Rome.

One is that you stay put as civilization declines around you and barbarians—of whatever kind—take over. That may be your only, or best, option—perhaps because of your age or financial circumstances or family obligations. If so, it nonetheless may be a mistake to stay in Detroit or Chicago, because there could be easy and much better alternatives. We have evidence that life in parts of the Roman Empire—parts of rural Portugal and Mauretania, for instance—actually improved even as things were collapsing in Italy, Britain, and Gaul, largely because the taxation and regulation infrastructures collapsed, but the roads, aqueducts, and cities stayed intact. So you might improve your own situation considerably just by moving down the road a bit.

A second possibility is that you consider what Priscus and Salvian said and get away from the storm’s epicenter by leaving the empire. Welcome to Cafayate, where I plan on spending an increasing amount of my time.

A third is more philosophical: you simply recognize that the rise and fall of societies has been going on since Day One. Don’t be too stressed by mega events. Life isn’t just full of problems: it is problems. We’re looking at a giant crisis, but a crisis is a combination of both danger and opportunity. Look at the bright side while you try to dodge the negative effects. See it as an adventure, an education, and even free entertainment.

I hope seeing America reflected in the distant mirror of Ancient Rome helps to put things in perspective.

Watch the video: Napoleons Downfall