Source: Chet Richards
We were having tea under sparkling Southern California stars, just the two of us. Seated with me, the distinguished lady was the director of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. She had just given a lecture on Dark Age Britain after the withdrawal of the Roman legions in the early 400s. The army had gone south to deal with imperial politics. I ventured the idea that maybe this period was not quite so dark. After all, we know from Scandinavian stave temples that they could build extraordinary structures in perishable wood. And we know about the intricate metalwork from this period. Then, too, Saxon Britain did have a sophisticated poetic oral tradition.
She changed my mind. All those things may be true, but Britain lacked one essential: they had no coins. Without money, the economy lapsed back into barter. Long-distance trade, with its information networks, collapsed. People became isolated in their farms and villages. The world beyond became a mystery. Literacy disappeared. For more than a century, until the arrival of Christian missionaries, and with the literacy and coinage, the age was dark.
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True, there were some candles in the dark. Tintagel on the Cornish coast was one, giving rise to the legends of King Arthur. And oral histories give us some glimpses into the events of that era of Saxon settlement, but for most people, the land had returned to a pre-civilization state.
It wasn’t the fault of the British. It was the consequence of political mismanagement in the larger world of the Roman Empire. The Problem of Succession had troubled the empire from its beginning. They never did establish a constitutional mechanism for picking an emperor. Often it was the strongest general who captured the imperium. For term limits, the empire relied on the assassination. The civil war was endemic in the third century and became a problem again in the fifth.
Still, the empire could hold its own. After all, it was the world’s first stable global civilization. It had endured and prospered through many challenges for five hundred years. But there was one challenge that brought down the western half of the empire: climate change. The world entered into a Little Ice Age. The Rhine and Danube rivers now froze each winter, thereby giving yearly access for marauding Germanic invaders. The legions were stressed almost to the breaking point.
The Huns, fleeing west from even colder Central Asia, drove the Christian Goths ahead of them. The Goths were granted sanctuary within the Roman Empire. Nothing new there — the Romans had been integrating newcomers for centuries. But then tragic mistakes were made. Roman officials so badly abused the Goths that the latter revolted and annihilated the Roman army at Adrianople. The Goths were now major players in Roman politics.
Over the next generation, the Goths, and other migrating Germans, became pretty well integrated into the Roman Empire, with Stilicho and Alaric now the commanding generals. The old-timers in the western Roman court were resentful of these new people, however. Their office politics induced the incompetent western emperor, Honorius, to execute his protector, Stilicho, and then demote Alaric. The Roman army, loyal to Stilicho and his deputy Alaric, revolted, and Alaric sacked Rome in 410.
Obviously, what happened was much more complicated than that! But one consequence was the withdrawal of Roman forces from Britain and the beginning of a new Dark Age in the West. The eastern Roman empire, much better managed, continued for another thousand years.
The message is that great nations really can collapse. And political mismanagement in times of environmental stress can cause it.
We live in another age of environmental stress: the years of COVID. Unfortunately, our liberal establishment has politicized and totally mismanaged the COVID pandemic. The consequences for America are potentially revolutionary. In this age of instantaneous communication, things can happen much faster than they did in the century-long collapse of the western Roman Empire. Mismanagement of the COVID Crises is likely to produce a permanent change in this nation’s political environment — a change for the better, I would hope.
We got here through a century-old political fashion: Progressive Technocracy. According to this seductive idea, centralized experts, with their vast accumulation of information, would be much better equipped to manage society than individuals at the local level. Adopting this idea, our liberal forebears established the necessary agencies for technocratic management. These agencies gradually gathered power to the extent that our economy is now greatly overmanaged, has become fossilized, and is showing symptoms of collapse. Supply chain crises, inflation, lockdowns, mandates, homeless, riots, anyone?
Technocracy is an interesting idea and maybe suitable if society is simple, but ours is not. Any systems engineer will tell you that the greater the complexity, the more important it is for control to reside in the periphery. Central control is useful only for the most basic decisions. In our vastly complex modern technological society, the amount of critical information flowing is far greater than any central agency can possibly receive, digest, and decide about. Only a free enterprise society, with local decision-making using local information, can be stable. Witness the fall of the technocratic Soviet Union and the current internal problems of centralized China. Witness the disaster of COVID management.
COVID has shown us how rigid a technocracy can be, even in a supposedly democratic society. Consider the one-size-fits-all policy of President Biden, strongly supported by his leftist cult of maskers. You must get multiple vaccinations, or else! There is no science here, only totalitarian compulsion. The problem with Biden’s prescription is that not only does it not work medically, but it also has caused grave damage to our economy. It is going to take many years to fully recover. The policy has damaged our faith in the wisdom, ethics, and efficacy of the government. This is Dark Age stuff. It must not take permanent hold or American civilization, too, will collapse.
As a consequence of the COVID policy, HHS, NIH, CDC, OSHA, the FDA, and other associated agencies are now held in disrepute by much of the population. This bodes ill, as well, for the reputation of several other federal agencies, such as those involved with the environment. Technocracy has been severely damaged. It may be that its era is drawing to a close.
Scuttlebutt says that this year, Congress will pass entirely into the hands of the Republicans. If so, expect major inquiries into the malfeasance of these agencies. The probability is also high that Donald Trump, or possibly Ron DeSantis, will be the next president. If so, all hell will break loose with his investigations, and reform, of the Executive Branch of government. We are likely to be at the beginning of a truly new age in our political history.
Most people go about their daily lives without paying much attention to politics. It is only when things start to go bad that they turn their attention to public affairs. Then, they react strongly, and, in the American tradition, almost always correctly, to fix the problem. It is much like house-breaking a puppy. A common technique is to put his nose in his mess, then lead him to the door. With the advent of President Biden, the mess that the Progressives have made over the decades has now become apparent to all. The noses of even the most die-hard true liberals are now in it. The reaction will be appropriate. We will soon be out the door and making our escape from Progressivism. We will then be free to pursue real progress.
Progressives: Be prepared for permanent exile into the political wilderness. Better yet, prepare to fade away completely.
With the loss of the American colonies, England was in a panic. Adam Smith calmed England down by noting: “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” Indeed, the glory days of Great Britain were still ahead. Despite our current travails, our future is likely equally bright.