The Course of An Empire
Whether you read Plato or the Vedas, whether you look at the romantic painting series entitled “The Course of Empire” by Thomas Cole or read into the ideas of someone like Corrado Gini who put forward the following Cycle theory of nations, what you can see is that a pattern is noticed in how human societies develop.
(Displayed above is an outline of Gini’s Cycle Theory of Nations)
Initially, a monocultural, homogeneous, tightly knit in-group, with a strong elite in possession of a broad time horizon or low time preference, will conquer any hostile out-groups, will brutally punish any traitors or subversives, and it will subordinate and assimilate the cultures and ethnic groups that it deems compatible enough to fit in with its strongly organized structure. Usually, the optimal strategy for family organization tends to follow a monogamous and heterosexual model, as it did in the West for the majority of the past millennium.
As this in-group gains more resources and more wealth, it can start to afford to be more lenient, it can let more people in, it can tolerate a wider range of behaviour, and elites have less of a permanent investment in it, preferring to operate from behind the scenes, playing off the shadows, and keeping those in the public light on puppet strings.
But just because an elite can afford to permit more doesn’t mean it should, and often when it does, that is a sign that it has forgotten the kind of disciplined and strategic approach of its ancestors. Eventually, a dynamic will emerge where different peoples start to conflict against one another, different behaviours start to clash against one another, and elites will competitively cycle between public exposure to take wealth and private solitude to hide wealth. Ultimately, this puts the hierarchical and collective model of monocultural homogeneity and heterosexual monogamy at risk.
The Greeks were once very aware of the phenomenon known as Anacyclosis, and it closely corresponded with the Hindu idea of the Yugas, the theology of the Islamic Golden Ages, and with Christian Eschatology. These ideas put forward the notion that different standards of living (often compared to the value of different metals: such as gold, silver, iron, bronze, copper) will emerge with different methods of organization becoming prevalent as the power of a given group expands, only to risk dispersion.
Many have analyzed the fall of Rome (in addition to many other great empires and civilizations) in these terms. The clash of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, and political factions has plagued every civilization throughout history. But for those who are skeptical of the kind of egalitarianism that comes with reducing every civilization down to the same cyclical, predictive model, they might find themselves raising the objection that the longevity of the prosperity of some civilizations lasts longer than others, and that average lifespans aren’t equally representative. And to those who pose this objection, I think a sound criticism is raised. The question is, what allows some civilizations to last longer than others?
In the famous, ancient text known as the Sirr al-asrār (or the Secretum Secretorum), it is said that:
“The world is a garden, hedged in by sovereignty
Sovereignty is lordship, preserved by law
Law is administration, governed by the king
The king is a shepherd, supported by the army
The army are soldiers, fed by money
Money is revenue, gathered by the people
The people are servants, subjected by justice
Justice is happiness, the well-being of the world.”
This theory, known as the circle of justice, has been reiterated by thinkers like Ibn Khaldun and it was mentioned in the Counsels of Alexander the Great, a text given to the Timurid prince Baysunghur from 1495-1497. It originates back to an Indo-Aryan, Sasanian King known as Khosrow I (also known as the “immortal soul”), who attributed it to Aristotle. It has also been summarized in the following terms:
“No power without troops,
No troops without money,
No money without prosperity,
No prosperity without justice and good administration.”
“Hard times breed strong men,
Strong men breed good times,
Good times breed weak men,
Weak men breed hard times.”
At face value, this theory seems to reiterate much of what has previously been said in this essay about the cyclical nature of history relating to the strength and power of a social group, however, implicit in this model, is a solution that outlines why this pattern doesn’t play out in the exact same way for all civilizations. The key is this: so long as men are strong, good times can be maintained.
In other words, so long as a hierarchical collective, with a strong in-group and low-time preference, stays disciplined, regimented, composed, and consolidated, then Golden Ages will last.
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