“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”
There are two ways that we learn, from observing our own mistakes or from observing other people’s.
There is a common mistake that every generation of humanity keeps making, despite the fact this lesson has been taught to us countless times. What is more shocking however, is this particular mistake keeps ending societies.
You see the mistake is that we believing the end of our society will be dramatic. We imagine war, or disaster, or nuclear holocaust bringing a very theatrical end to our world.
But History is looking up from its newspaper right now, peering over its glasses and condescendingly shaking its head at us.
Because it knows that the most likely cause of collapse for our society will be something as mundane and banal as corruption, caused by the stratification of our economy.
Or as we like to call it today, wealth inequality.
This is the cause of death for so many states throughout history, yet it is one of the most under reported points you will find in any recognised national story.
There is a very clear pattern to how corruption and economy stratification partner up to ruin and devastate societies, a pattern that for some reason, we still refuse to learn, despite it happening again and again and again.
From antiquity to as recently as the 2000’s we have seen corruption collapse governments, with an uncanny sense of deja vu.
And it is such a simple formula to remember:
Corruption + Economy Stratification = Fucked Society
So why don’t we learn the lesson? Why don’t we follow the evidence? Why does every successive society think they are somehow immune to this?
One thing is clear, it doesn’t seem to matter which one comes first, because they inevitably lead to each other. A stratified economy will lead to corruption, and equally, unchecked corruption will lead to a stratified economy.
Let’s look at some examples.
There are signs of this dynamic appearing toward the collapse for the Persian Empire in 480 BCE but the first time you can definitively point to it, is the collapse of the Roman Republic. The Roman civil war that would usher in the age of the Roman Empire and the eventual decline of Roman power, happened in 146 BCE at the conclusion of the Punic Wars, specifically the razing of Carthage and the very lucrative campaigns against the Macedonian, and the Seleucid Empire.
Rome was drowning in captured wealth and slaves, and on the surface this seemed like a win for Rome. But in reality all this wealth went overwhelmingly into the hands of the Patrician families which lead the Roman economy to become severely top heavy in a very short period of time.
But most significantly all those slaves started taking over the jobs of Roman freeman and citizens. Because the now eye-wateringly rich patrician class could afford to bribe and corrupt the senate to change labour laws to favour their extremely lucrative slave economy.
The result of this was the stratification of the economy, and the senate was corrupted to the point that it became the fashion-accessory lapdog of the Patricians rather than the fierce wolf defending the Republic. All of the economic and social power went into the hands of less and less people, this eventuated in the rise of the popularii leaders like the Gracchi brothers and eventually Julius Caesar who used the discontent of the people to build momentum for a war that eventually ended the Republic all together.
It was the combination of the stratified economy and the corruption that destabilised Roman society to the point of collapse.
Another example (and probably the most famous one) is the collapse of Bourbon dynasty France. Once again we saw a society that had an endlessly stratifying economy that no one was able to fix because corruption of political systems by the hyper-wealthy prevented it from happening. Guillotines would eventually resolve this issue.
Or what about the American Civil War, why did slavery persist in America for so long that it took a fucking war to end such a corrupt (not to mention absolutely horrifying) system? Because their stratified economy made the corruption so embedded in the US governmental system that nothing short of the government’s collapse was able to resolve it.
The Confederate States broke away from the country because the stratified elite choose to protect corrupt systems they benefited from, rather than reform the economy in a practical way. The corruption part is very important here, because it was the corruption that created the propaganda that justified the war.
The average Southern State citizen had no reason whatsoever to go to war with the Northern States, but the corruption from those that held all the economic power (because they were the slave owners that held the overwhelming amount of wealth) willed it to happen for entirely self-serving reasons.
Tsarist Russia and Communist Russia had the same cause of death. Both had crippling corruption problems at the highest levels of their government as a direct result of a stratified economy. But what’s interesting here is that the start of the collapses had opposite causes. Tsarist Russia was corrupt and that’s how its economy became stratified, but Communist Russia had a stratified economy that lead to corruption. The end result however was the same. The economy failed to serve the country and corruption prevented reform, and this impasse went on until the whole system collapsed.
And then there is the most recent example. After the Iraq war, United States companies like Haliburton were charged with rebuilding the country, but almost immediately the new fledgling Iraqi government was corrupted to the point of total inefficiency, as the corporations drained the wealth of the nation and stratified the economy. This led to massive instability that brought about the arrival of ISIS and now as I write this in 2020 Iraq is on the verge of civil war.
So why do we refuse to learn this lesson? Why do we continue to believe that OUR stratified economy and OUR corrupt governmental system is somehow exceptional?
Perhaps it is because the fall always seems to come immediately after the highest point of perceived success. How can one believe collapse is imminent when all they see around them is success?
This point is interesting because it highlights an added danger in our society that was not present in the previous eras, and that is advertising and marketing.
One of the core pillars of capitalism is the glamorisation of those that live at the wealthiest levels, to showcase and justify the stratification of the economy.
Think about the endless wealth-centric Instagram accounts, TV shows, movies, and events that are the basis of our culture, that serve to associate wealth with the notion of success in our society. The same society, by the way, that congratulates hyper-wealthy people for small acts of charity to the poverty stricken, while simultaneously vilifying any notion that society might benefit from a more equal distribution of its wealth.
It is very hard for anyone who grows up in that society to equate immense wealth with the idea of societal collapse. How could they? The stratified economy they are at the top of is the basis of our very culture, it is the aspiration we are taught to aim for, how could that possibly destroy us?
But it can. And it will. As it has done innumerable times before. Because a stratified economy will eventually make that economy fail its core purpose of serving society, as it begins serving only a handful of people, and the corruption that it enables and empowers will forever protect the hyper-wealthy who always fail to realise their self-serving motives are ultimately self-defeating.
In the end it is not the structure of a government that brings about collapse, the Roman Empire, the American Republic, the French Monarchy, Communist Russia and dictatorial Iraq all shared the same fate. It was not their ideologies, races, toughness or any other vague label that collapsed their society. It was simply corruption enabling an economy to stop serving society long enough for the whole thing to collapse.
And for us living today in modern society the signs are everywhere that we are in the midst of making the same mistake as all those that came before us.
And we will make that mistake.
Unless we finally learn the lesson all of history has been trying to teach us.
Max Black 2020