The Age of Empires

stages of empire

The Fate of Empires written in 1978 by Sir John Glubb (1897-1986) is an illuminating essay on the life cycle of empires, which turn out to be very much the same for different empires around the world and through the centuries.

You can read the essay for yourself here, and I highly recommend that you do. But in this article I will try to give you a brief overview of what Glubb writes.

First, Glubb argues that the life span of empires tend to be the same: about 250 years, or ten generations (if a generation is considered to be 25 years)….

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Each empire seems to progress through four main stages: 1) The Age of Outburst/Pioneering/Conquest; 2) The Age of Affluence; 3) The Age of Intellect; 4) The Age of Decadence.*

First, in the Age of Outburst, often a group of hard working, aggressive people, who are not in any strong position of power already, rise up and take control. Perhaps they move in and take the power over from an older empire which is far along into its decadence stage, or perhaps they move in on a less developed culture and dominate it. This age is characterized by exploring men with fearless initiative and military conquest of older orders.

Second, there is commercial expansion ushering in the Age of Affluence. With one power controlling many sections of land comes ease of travel, common currency, common language, law and order — all of which allow people to trade extensively. If the empire is large, it will cover several different cultures in different climates making available many various goods to consumers all over the empire. Great wealth grows during this age.

Third is the Age of Intellect. With affluence comes a decline in “courage, enterprise, and a sense of duty … [and] the first direction in which wealth injures the nation is a moral one.” (Glubb) The general outlook of the citizens of the empire move from one of service to one of selfishness. While the Age of Intellect creates advances in science and technology, and while it also creates a culture of reason, debate, and argument, it also leads to division in the empire as the common good obvious in the previous ages becomes muddied in the endless chatter of the intellectuals. While the problems created by the selfish culture can only be solved by renewed selfless service, the intellectuals believe they can solve the problems with their new ideas. It doesn’t work and the culture weakens and loses self-esteem.

When the system holding the empire begins to degrade, the empire enters its final stage: Decadence. The people have lost sight of why the empire should even exist and have little to no desire to preserve it. Glubb gives some signs which show an empire has entered this last stage: civil dissension, an influx of foreigners (who do not conform to the host culture), frivolity, a decline in religious belief and morals, and a welfare state. The heroes of the first ages of the empire, warriors and leaders, are replaced by pop-stars and celebrity chefs. Glubb also points out that in the age of decline more and more women want to enter into positions of power previously only held by men. He doesn’t go into why, but it is interesting to point out. (A confusion of gender seems to be a factor in the Decadence stage.)

Glubb asks the important question: Can we learn from history? His answer is yes, if we actually study it — if we actually study world history instead of only our own empire’s history. Only when we learn to prevent the Age of Decadence by not becoming selfish and lazy in the Age of Affluence can we hope to break through the continuing fate of empires.

Further reading…

First Things: Camille Paglia’s Teaching

The Case Against Western Civilization by James B. Jordan

You can also watch a fairly lengthy video on the fall of the Roman Empire by Stefan Molyneux here.

I also highly recommend James B. Jordan’s book Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future

*Glubb divides the life span of the empire into six stages: 1) Pioneers; 2) Conquest; 3) Commerce; 4) Affluence; 5) Intellect; 6) Decadence. I’ve compressed it to four for the sake of simplicity.

Jesus and Godel’s Theorem by Richard Bledsoe (Re-blog)

babel

Here is a thought provoking article written by Richard Bledsoe on Theopolis Institute….

Jesus and Godel’s Theorem

“Religion” is an attempt to create or build a tower with a top, or to build a temple that is self-contained. The story of The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is the story of mankind’s attempt to create a world that is self-contained and does not need God. All ancient pagan temples were renewed attempts to complete the Tower of Babel. These were termed “ziggurats,” and were viewed as connecting points, or umbilical cords between heaven and earth. Heaven and earth were in the ancient pagan cosmology, part of one eternal entity.

The Temple in Israel was purposely built with a similarity to the ancient ziggurat, and as an answer to the ziggurat. It was built on the top of a mountain, and was a “connecting” place to the God of Israel. But the God of Israel was not encompassed or contained within it, nor was His liberty compromised by it, as were pagan gods by their temples. Never-the-less, Israel was constantly tempted to believe that their temple was like the temples of the nations. The destruction of Shiloh, the capture of the Ark in Samuel’s time (1 Samuel 4), and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 36:15-21) contradicted Israel’s constant temptation to “religion”. The theology of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark is quite accurate. The Nazis, like Israel at Shiloh, believed that possession of the Ark entailed possession and control of Jehovah. In this they were wrong.

Arend Theodoor van Leeuwen says that the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D. was in principle the destruction of all temples. The last 20 centuries of Christian history have progressively undone one temple after another. But, Christians themselves are tempted to new temples. Byzantine was an attempt to recreate on a Christian basis, at least a partial “ontocratic” or self-contained church/state, to use van Leeuwen’s terminology. The Roman Catholic Church has constantly been tempted in this way, and Protestant sectarianism is guilty in these ways as well.

Hopefully, it is increasingly clear that there is no top to the towers of this world, as we saw demonstrated in the 20th century when we saw all of the great ideologies fall. This opens the door to nihilisms, but also makes more clear than ever that it is only the Sovereign Triune God who is the I Am that I Am, and I Will Be that I Will Be. Only He is self-contained.

The modern city, and indeed, the modern world as a “global village,” is a “tower without a top.” Religion is done for. Bonhoeffer glimpsed this possibility in what he termed a “religionless Christianity. The story of The Tower of Babel sets the theme for all of God’s redemptive work in history. Fallen man’s idolatrous desire is to make for himself a self-contained world of complete adequacy.

When Carl Sagan says, “The Cosmos is all there is, or all there ever will,” he is stating the sentiments of the builders of the Tower of Babel. For them, the upper emporium was the realm of the gods, but it was by human effort and construction, a reachable realm, and that was itself a part of one cosmos. As one moved up the tower to the realm of the gods, one’s own being could also be “divinized”. Man’s being was potentially divine, given the right techniques and methods, amongst which “tower construction” was foremost. But God frustrated them and left them off with an incomplete tower, a tower without a top.

Click here for full article (2400 more words)

Tribes, Kingdoms, and Empires (Part One)

Tribal-MarkTribal Markers

Some ideas and beliefs we hold allow for some give and take. Other ideas, however, no matter how much our opponents logically refute them, we hold on to as though our whole self-identity depended on them. Which, they do. These are our tribal markers.

How do you know your tribal markers? If you’re in a debate about what you believe, and you are willing to cede some of your arguments to your opponent, then those particular beliefs are not foundational to your identity. But, if you and your opponent reach a point at which you have no other argument to offer than to say, “You just don’t understand. My people understand. We will just have to agree to disagree.” Then you have found your tribal marker.

For example, Charismatic “speaking in tongues” is one such tribal marker. Speaking in tongues is not essential to being a christian, but it is essential to being a Charismatic. If one stops doing it, one is no longer a Charismatic. It is essential to the identity. A Calvinist’s “predestination” beliefs are tribal markers as well.

The more radical the marker, the smaller the tribe, and the less one has to use logical thought to defend it. The more a group insists upon and refines a tribal marker, the more people will be excluded from the group.

Part Two