The last century (or so) of the Western Roman Empire.
I will consider two relevant books, building on previous discussion at this blog on the subject of the Fall of Rome.
The first book: Theodosius: The Empire at Bay, by Williams and Friell
This book begins with the battle of Adrianople and its outcome (disastrous for Rome, good for the Goths and, hence, for Der Movement), focuses its major sections on Theodosius and his reign and its implications, and then finishes with a brief epilogue of the post-Theodosius Roman world and the question as to the inevitability of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.
The historical background for the reign of Theodosius, and its influence on European history, which are covered in this book, are a matter of record, can be read (in summarized form) online, and we need not repeat all of that here.
Instead, we can address certain issues of interest to this blog.
This book makes some good points, which usually escape the obsessives and fetishists. The Fall of Rome, the Western Empire at any fate, can be effectively explained without resort to sweaty rambling about “racial degeneration through admixture.”
What about the Decline of Rome, as opposed to its Fall, if we agree that a “decline” took place?
That Rome changed is without a doubt, but what do you expect? The Theodosius book makes (what should be) the obvious point that the gigantic land empire of Rome could be maintained over time, and against the constant barrage of threats, only by co-opting and assimilating the subject peoples. This process invariably would erode the specifically Roman – as in the original Romans – nature of the state. By state I mean the empire as a whole, as well as the nature of its rulers, as emperors eventually came from non-Roman and then non-Italian origins. This does not imply a mass panmixia of the population. In other words, the Roman state, its citizenship, and its leadership, eventually came to include all the various ethnies found within it, so that any specific and exclusive character to the state was lost. That is not the same as postulating “racial degeneration through admixture” – cultural and political degeneration may be more accurate, if one holds the narrow character of the early Roman Republic as the ideal.. But again, these changes are the price of establishing an empire – an integrated land empire especially – through conquest.
Other obvious points made is that as peoples become more civilized, their willingness and effectiveness as warriors diminishes to some extent (genetic pacification, along with cultural and social changes), and so the need exists to expand the pool of prospective soldiers; for Rome, from Italy to Gaul and Spain to the Danubian provinces and then, ultimately to Germanic and Asiatic barbarians (the latter of which contributed to the Fall).
So, yes, we observe the inevitable changes in the nature of the Roman state, the elevation of Emperors of non-Roman (in the strictest sense) and non-Italian heritage, and the creation of a multiethnic civil service and military force.
None of this should come as a surprise – was it possible for Rome itself, alone or in conjunction with local Italian allies, to administer and defend this vast territory against constant threats (Germans, Persians, Huns, Alans, etc.) for century after century?
The choice was between a Roman Rome or a multiethnic Empire. A strictly ethnically Roman empire was an impossibility. Note that the European colonial empires of the last few centuries were for the most part overseas empires, local elites were co-opted even then, and these empires lasted not very long before collapsing and resulting in a backflow of colonized peoples into Europe itself. One could argue that the overseas colonial model ended up being a worse disaster than Rome’s.
Another point made is that conquest of the empire, which brought with it all the goodies initially extracted from the conquered lands, was economically, politically, and organizationally easier than maintenance of its vast holdings over the centuries.
It is true that there was a lot of political corruption in the Later Western Roman Empire, but that had nothing to do with racial degeneration, as the Theodosius book clearly demonstrates. The chapter “The Topheavy Empire” discusses in detail the causes, types of, and consequences of, the excessive levels of political corruption that grew over time in the Roman Empire, particularly in the West.
Indeed, corruption throughout the Classical period was a problem, and it is also important to distinguish political corruption from moral. Political corruption is always a problem for bureaucracies, and the larger the bureaucracy grows – as one would expect from a large, established empire over time – the more political corruption grows. Moral corruption has some overlap with political corruption, but the two are not the same. One could have political corruption without a large amount of moral corruption spread throughout society; on the other hand, political corruption is usually found whenever moral corruption is widespread. So, it does not follow that political corruption in the Late Western Roman Empire necessarily means that that moral corruption was growing; one can argue that the Christian Late Western Roman Empire was significantly less morally corrupt than the Rome of Sulla, Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, or Nero. Likewise, the America of Tammany Hall, the Grant administration, and the Harding administration, had enormous amounts of political corruption, but was far less morally corrupt than the America of today.
So, it is understandable that growing powers and established empires will have political corruption and such corruption is bad and it is destructive, but it is not the same as moral corruption, and there is no clear connection of corruption to “racial degeneration” as Der Movement typically asserts.
The racial degeneration theory raises the question as to why the more racially degenerate Eastern Roman Empire lasted a thousand years longer than the West. Perhaps because the Fall of the West was due in large part to military reasons and not racial degeneracy, and that the East had the wealth to “buy off threats.” This the West could not effectively do. Of course, Der Movement will assert that unlike the degenerate later empire, the noble, Aryan, Dolph Lundgren-like original Romans would never stoop to buy off their enemies. Yeah, sure.
Indeed, the Roman accommodation of the Goths under Theodosius, and their treatment as equals and settlement in Roman lands as an integrated unassimilated group – that would later prove disastrous – was done because of serious Roman manpower shortages and the realization of other threats over the horizon – Huns and Alans. Manpower shortages, coupled perhaps to Frost’s “genetic pacification” of the shrunken population, and, most importantly, the constant hammering from “barbarian” threats – Goth, Huns, Alans, etc. – were too much for the Empire to bear, especially when coupled to strategic idiocy and infighting from the leadership of the state.
Under those circumstances, one wonders how the Western Empire lasted as long as it did, not that it collapsed.
On another point, if the Romans had been in a better positon in the West, and had the Goths (and Vandals and other Germanics) been more reasonable and far-sighted, the initial steps of Roman and Germanic cooperation (e.g., Frankish generals and Gothic soldiers serving in the Western Roman military, as well as the cooperation at Chalons), could have led to the evolution to a more modern Europe without the interregnum of the Dark Ages.
As an amusing aside, as part of moral posturing on the part of the authors of this book about ‘racism and xenophobia,” they note the anti-barbarian sentiments of Synesius of Cerene who proposed that “Let all fair-haired men be banished from positions of power.” Cue fainting fits from Der Movement. (Jordanes’ Getica is more in Der Movement style).
The authors suggest that Synesius’ opinions were unrealistic, before telling us all about the disintegration of the Western Roman empire under the onslaught of the selfsame barbarians critiqued by Synesius, including “allies” of one emperor or another (or of their behind the scenes handlers). Does the name “Alaric” ring a bell? So, the authors need to do a better job of refuting Synesius than SJW hysteria about “racism and xenophobia.”
The other book: Patricians and Emperors: The Last Rulers of the Western Roman Empire, by Hughes.
This book is the mirror image of the Theodosius biography; it gives a brief summary of what went on before the main subject of this volume, including a brief history of the reign of Theodosius himself, and then concentrates on the last decades of the Western Roman Empire, including an analysis of what went wrong.
The Vandal conquest of Rome’s African province was devastating for the Western Empire, cutting off a significant source of revenue, leading to bankruptcy and the inability to maintain an effective independent military force. Grain shipments were disrupted, as was trade in the Mediterranean. The Roman aristocracy selfishly refused to contribute to the empire’s defense, with either men or money, and the provinces began losing loyalty to Rome (itself obsessed with palace intrigue and civil wars), with an increased emphasis on local loyalties and dissension due to religious conflicts. Superimposed on this was the constant barbarian threat, and the split of the empire between West and East, with the wealthier areas in the East – an East that increasingly thought of itself as a self-contained entity superior to the West. Therefore, the Western Empire spun increasingly out of control. “Racial degeneration through admixture” need not play a part in any of this.
The author points out that Romans, and then Italians in general, soured on the idea of military service quite early, and were content to let border provincials carry the brunt of the duty, leading to a situation that made the peoples of Italy increasingly unfit as effective soldiers (20th century Italian military disasters can be considered in this light, perhaps – a too-long period of genetic pacification?). This is more a function of genetic pacification, overcivilized softening with prosperity, and altered social mores, as it is any “racial degeneration through admixture.” The last “Conclusion” chapter of this book sums up the many inter-related problems faced by the Late Western Roman Empire and the (postulated by the author) “inevitability” of its collapse.
In any case, empires built through conquest (of one form or another) are inherently unstable, and this has nothing to do with “racial admixture.” The very maintenance of such an empire over time drains its vitality and resources, and degenerates the population (in ways not dependent upon “admixture” but of course admixture may in theory also occur). For example, would anyone seriously expect the Assyrian Empire to still exist today even if we assume the Assyrians maintained strict racial purity?
As regards the various leaders of the late Western Roman Empire, I am sure at least some of them had an at least an implicit understanding that they were just “playing out the string” – doing the best they could under circumstances in which a bad ending was more or less inevitable, doing their duty as long as they could, delaying that inevitable bad ending for as long as possible, going through the motions of empire even when a point was reached that the “Western Roman Empire” was reduced to mainland Italy and Sicily and really not much else.
There were opportunities to (temporarily, if we assume collapse was “inevitable”) reverse the degeneration before things reached that point; it was unlikely to have saved the empire on a permanent basis, but it could have lasted longer with better decisions, better luck, and less infighting. By the way, my judgment is that the division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern halves was the beginning of the end for the West; even though that grand strategy may have been useful as an expedient when initially devised, ultimately it led to a situation in which the richer and more secure Eastern Roman Empire viewed itself as an independent (and superior) entity, bent on its own preservation at the cost of the Fall of the West. An integrated empire would have been able to draw on its total strength for defense, and could have lasted longer to ensure a more gradual change to the sort of federated European union that could have been possible between the remnants of the Empire and the more “Romanized” of the “barbarians” – eventually integrating the West as a whole, and letting the more alien parts of the East go its own way.
Let’s consider Nietzsche as the coda here, contrasting his views to Der Movement dogma, emphasis added.
That which stood there aere perennis, the imperium Romanum, the most magnificent form of organization under difficult conditions that has ever been achieved, and compared to which everything before it and after it appears as patchwork, bungling, dilletantism those holy anarchists made it a matter of “piety” to destroy “the world,” which is to say, the imperium Romanum, so that in the end not a stone stood upon another and even Germans and other such louts were able to become its masters. The Christian and the anarchist: both are decadents; both are incapable of any act that is not disintegrating, poisonous, degenerating, blood sucking ; both have an instinct of mortal hatred of everything that stands up, and is great, and has durability, and promises life a future. Christianity was the vampire of the imperium Romanum, overnight it destroyed the vast achievement of the Romans: the conquest of the soil for a great culture that could await its time. Can it be that this fact is not yet understood? The imperium Romanum that we know, and that the history of the Roman provinces teaches us to know better and better, this most admirable of all works of art in the grand manner was merely the beginning, and the structure to follow was not to prove its worth for thousands of years. To this day, nothing on a like scale sub specie aeterni has been brought into being, or even dreamed of! This organization was strong enough to withstand bad emperors: the accident of personality has nothing to do with such things the first principle of all genuinely great architecture. But it was not strong enough to stand up against the corruptest of all forms of corruption against Christians. These stealthy worms, which under the cover of night, mist and duplicity, crept upon every individual, sucking him dry of all earnest interest in real things, of all instinct for reality this cowardly, effeminate and sugar coated gang gradually alienated all “souls,” step by step, from that colossal edifice, turning against it all the meritorious, manly and noble natures that had found in the cause of Rome their own cause, their own serious purpose, their own pride.
The whole labour of the ancient world gone for naught: I have no word to describe the feelings that such an enormity arouses in me. And, considering the fact that its labour was merely preparatory, that with adamantine self consciousness it laid only the foundations for a work to go on for thousands of years, the whole meaning of antiquity disappears! To what end the Greeks? To what end the Romans? All the prerequisites to a learned culture, all the methods of science, were already there; man had already perfected the great and incomparable art of reading profitably that first necessity to the tradition of culture, the unity of the sciences; the natural sciences, in alliance with mathematics and mechanics, were on the right road, the sense of fact, the last and more valuable of all the senses, had its schools, and its traditions were already centuries old! Is all this properly understood? Every essential to the beginning of the work was ready: and the most essential, it cannot be said too often, are methods, and also the most difficult to develop, and the longest opposed by habit and laziness. What we have today reconquered, with unspeakable self discipline, for ourselves for certain bad instincts, certain Christian instincts, still lurk in our bodies that is to say, the keen eye for reality, the cautious hand, patience and seriousness in the smallest things, the whole integrity of knowledge all these things were already there, and had been there for two thousand years! More, there was also a refined and excellent tact and taste! Not as mere brain drilling! Not as “German” culture, with its loutish manners! But as body, as bearing, as instinct in short, as reality. All gone for naught! Overnight it became merely a memory! The Greeks! The Romans! Instinctive nobility, taste, methodical inquiry, genius for organization and administration, faith in and the will to secure the future of man, a great yes to everything entering into the imperium Romanum and palpable to all the senses, a grand style that was beyond mere art, but had become reality, truth, life. All overwhelmed in a night, but not by a convulsion of nature! Not trampled to death by Teutons and others of heavy hoof! But brought to shame by crafty, sneaking, invisible, anaemic vampires! Not conquered, only sucked dry! Hidden vengefulness, petty envy, became master! Everything wretched, intrinsically ailing, and invaded by bad feelings, the whole ghetto world of the soul, was at once on top!