Sir John Glubb wrote an essay regarding the rise and fall of empires and the corellaries between them. The essay, titled Fate of Empires, has a lot to digest so I won’t be able to cover all of it here. I highly recommend you read it and draw your own conclusions with what is happening in the world today.
Glubb speaks on certain defining eras, deemed ‘ages’, that are common to all empires:
- Age of Pioneers
- Age of Conquest
- Age of Commerce
- Age of Affluence
- Age of Intellect
- Age of Decadence
I’d like to begin in the Age of Intellect:
The dawning of this age gives rise to the thinking (wo)man, who believes problems can be solved through intellectual horsepower alone. This stage involves the influx of capital into universities and research institutions, accompanied by a boom in scientific and intellectual discovery. Philosophical and democratic debate ensues, as in ancient Athens with Plato and Socrates.
However, Glubb argues, “Amid a Babel of talk, the ship drifts on to the rocks.” Thus gives rise to the anti-intellectual “school of thought”.
In the 2016 US Election, the populous elected a man of action rather than words.
The 45th President, Donald Trump, has made no secret of his disdain for learning and specialized knowledge, sneering at a campaign rally in 2016, “You know, I’ve always wanted to say this—I’ve never said this before with all the talking we all do, all of these experts, ‘Oh we need an expert’—the experts are terrible!” (2)
The notion of anti-intellectualism perhaps will change the trajectory of the United States empire. The citizens may find that the brainpower of the intellectuals cannot solve the problems created by inaction, frivolity and greed. The intellectuals may wake up to the desire for action over words; creating a new type of leader, both dynamic and capable, which will meet the demands of the populous. People want a nation they can believe in, one that stands for the ideals they strive to emulate.
I’m not saying intellectualism is inherently “bad”, just that argument often leads to more disagreement until hubris is cast aside (and there is no lack of hubris in Washington at the moment). If action does not replace words, patriotism continues to decline, and internal political rivalries continue to deepen, I fear for the fate of the United States.
Religion as a solution:
… it was inevitable at such times that men should look back yearningly to the days of ‘religion’, when the spirit of self-sacrifice was still strong enough to make men ready to give and to serve, rather than to snatch. (Glubb, 18)
Born-again, fundamentalist Christians overwhelmingly voted for and approve of our current president. As a nation, we should be wary of the path this may take us. (7)
At the height of their intellectual era, the Arab empire (roughly 800-1100) was the richest nation on earth, with Baghdad as its capital. The intellectuals of the nation discovered the earth was a sphere a full five hundred years before Galileo. They also were on the brink of discovery of flight, nearly 1,000 years before the Wright Brothers. Experimental physics, algebra, cameras, astronomy, and chess were all products of this era (5).
Academics have long maintained that the great Islamic theologian, Abu Hamid Al Ghazali, who lived from 1055 to 1111, single-handedly steered Islamic culture away from independent scientific inquiry towards religious fundamentalism. In a remarkable intellectual shift, he concluded that falsafa (which literally means philosophy but included logic, mathematics and physics) was incompatible with Islam.
After writing his book, The Incoherence of Philosophers, Algazel as he was known in medieval Europe, is said to have “stabbed falsafa in such a manner that it could not rise again in the Muslim world”. Thanks to his unparalleled mastery of falsafa and Islamic law, he injected repugnance among Muslims for science that ultimately led to its decline and, in the process, the decline of Islamic civilization. (6)
In 1203, the largely uneducated and illiterate Mongol empire under Ghengis Khan was established as a major power in Asia. In 1258, Baghdad was sacked and pillaged by Ghengis Khan’s son, Hulagu Khan, definitively marking the end of the Golden Age of Arabic intellectualism.
I leave you with the following from Glubb:
[The] spirit of dedication was slowly eroded in the Age of Commerce by the action of money. People make money for themselves, not for their country. Thus periods of affluence gradually dissolved the spirit of service, which has caused the rise of the imperial races.
In due course, selfishness permeated the community, the coherence of which was weakened until disintegration was threatened. Then, as we have seen, came the period of pessimism with the accompanying spirit of frivolity and sensual indulgence, by-products of despair. It was inevitable at such times that men should look back yearningly to the days of ‘religion’, when the spirit of self-sacrifice was still strong enough to make men ready to give and to serve, rather than to snatch.
But while despair might permeate the greater part of the nation, others achieved a new realisation of the fact that only readiness for self-sacrifice could enable a community to survive. Some of the greatest saints in history lived in times of national decadence, raising the banner of duty and service against the flood of depravity and despair.
Thanks for reading,
What I’m Reading: Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe