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‘The Powers of The Machine’
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: Summation 5
© 2023 James LaFond
SEP/1/23
Gibbon waxes strongest in his description of how power works, that the actuating will of the tyrant, or the manipulator, is not real but imaginary and that only “the sword” actually rules, and that something like 10 to 16,000 soldiers are necessary to cow the multitude of most the populace imperial city, and that ten times that number are sufficient for terrorizing a nation of many millions. Of interest is the fact that the modern military division or corp of Gibbon’s own day was roughly the size of the ancient Roam Praetorian Guard, the actual police of the Imperial Roman capital, the army of occupation.
No nation before or since has subjected its population, even through the lies of Democracy, Republicanism, Fascism, Communism or even media manipulation, as efficiently as Rome, who ruled some tens of millions with a mere 150,000 soldiers, with a tenth of that part in the capital. Auxillary forces at times brought the total force to 300,000. But it was the roughly 150,000 man hammer of the various frontier legions, split during times of civil war, that amounted to the threat of state disapproval. [1]
For a tyrant to keep “above the hundredth part in arms and idleness,” of a population will bankrupt the most prosperous nation, declares Gibbon in his meditation on power. Gibbon demonstrates a command of the mass mind of the mob with the observation that “...distance only and mystery can preserve the illusion of an imaginary power…” pointing out that the politician rules only through manipulation of violet actors, and that such actors will in time evolve into a power brokering Deep State, certainly predicted the bald-faced fraud of 1919, of September 2001, and of November, 2020.
“On the throne of the world he found himself without a friend,” was the plight of the rich idiot who accepted the suggestion that he bid on the throne that the Praetorian Guard was auctioning to the highest bidder, the process assuring the demise of the high bidder.
This fool, on a paper throne, was beset by the governor of Syria, a degenerate sissy, and by Albinos, Governor of Britain, a man so pale that he was regarded as the only “white man” of his age, long before the birth of the racial noun that came to replace Christian in Gibbon’s time. However, the victor would be Septimus Severus, a professional soldier native to North Africa who commanded the dreaded Pannonian legions. The plight of the Praetorians facing frontier legions would be analogous to the NYPD trying to resist an American army returning from the Middle East.
“The anxious and precarious reign” of the moneyed usurper lasted only 50 days, the time between the murder of Pertinax to the ascension of Severus the Avenger being a total of 66 days.”
The Praetorian Guard was disbanded and exiled. Severus, “with his well-acted sorrow,” was a creature of pure power, not so much a great man among competent actors, but a competent actor among fools, the kind of man who might gather the threads of an unravelling system.
“The world, under the name of policy,” grants such a man without honor the prize that belongs to men of honor at the birth of a nation and devolves to mere political technicians such as Severus at the death of a nation.
“The eye of public compassion,” is a concept that Gibbon returns to at various phases of his history. Severus got as much done with intimidation and lies than in combat, excepting a terrible battle between the British and Pannonian legions in which both armies acquitted themselves well.
These “Romans combated only” over a choice of “masters,” fighting hard but in mercenary fashion without attention to principles.
One of the only cities within the empire capable of resisting an assault and requiring an extended siege was Byzantium. The three year siege was credited much to a defending engineer named Priscus, who was spared due to his great skill. Byzantium was ruined and rendered into a village incapable of defending the passage between the Black and Middle Seas, that Troy had once held in the Bronze Age. This three year siege, however, did predict the choice of Constantius in founding his new seat on the site. The storied Constantinople would stand to fall to Christian treachery 1204 and again in 1543 to Muslim power abetted by Christian treachery.
Rule by terror and slaughter over the leading families, who were butchered wholesale, was combined with a strong welfare state, reducing as many people to the status of dependent of the state as possible. This tyrant tended to appeal to the army, which was permitted to fall into sloth, and the mob which was appeased by appeals to its lesser nature. The parallels with Post Modern America are striking.
Severus restored the imperial guard as four times as numerous as the Praetorians, at 50,000 swords, and promoted men to this position, not from Rome, but from among barbarian soldiers from the frontier, a trend that any empire must pursue, such as the Persian employing Greeks. Severus even presided over the castration of 100 Roam men, citizens and fathers, reducing them to eunuchs, again predicting the transsexual dynamics of the fading American empire.
Severus squashed the remaining legislative shell of the senate, eroding the ancient opinion that lingered from the republican days and finally bringing Rome into the model of the “passive obedience” of the traditional forms of empire that Hellas and Rome had overthrown in classical antiquity.
Severus is acknowledged by Gibbon, in concord with an ancient author, as being, “the principal author of the decline of the Roman Empire,” being what today would be described as a ruthless technocrat.
Will there be a time when a military man, or perhaps the Joint Chiefs of staff, openly take control of Rome’s modern analogue? Or, has this already happened covertly with the formation of the Deep State?”
Notes
-1. It is possible that the Mongols controlled more people and certainly many times more territory than Rome with the same military numbers. However, they, like the Persians, operated from a higher tenor of terror, leaving civic administration to the conquered peoples, yet maintained their empire for a fraction of the time. Rome is the more sustainable model, with terror combined with spectacle. America follows according largely to the spectacle with many of the soldiers Rome would have employed replaced with newscasters, actors and experts. With a like technology, Severus would have certainly done the same as the American elite.
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