Submitted by Terence Blackett
The ‘Tranquil Apotheosis’: How Civilizations Decline, Decay & Collapse – Unpacking The Theoretical Perspectives of Gibbons, Toynbee & Zimmerman
“The sun never sets on the British Empire” ~ Christopher North (1785 – 1854)
In pre-European history, the barbarian hordes of the Huns, Saxons, Vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, Heruli et al have all contributed to this axis of historic bloody tessellation and rabid destruction – replacing empires with even worst ones (as the egregious story rumbles on).
Europe has been the amphitheatre of 2 major world wars at the inception of the 1900’s. This was a prophetic time unrivalled in all of human history as cited by the prophet Nahum, in chapters 2 & 3. With even a cursory glance into the twisted wreckage of the murky world of the Greco-Roman empires, can be found the historical witness of 2 millennia of nasty wars, poLIEtical & civil strife and a Mt. Stinkeroo of wanton bloodshed that rises like a pit of burning sulphur to the highest heavens.
Yet, the mood music in this Netflix Shakespearean drama we call postmodern life, has been frothed with nothing but births & deaths, plagues & wars, famines & genocides, touching every syncretic fibre of our human existence for over 4500 years of recorded human history and now in the 21st century, once again, the existential threat of complete systems, societal, planetary collapse and demise has become a clear and present danger. We once looked down the barrel of a musket – today we look down the silo of a nuke! Is it any wonder that the wise king Solomon’s contention with life is that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit and a chasing after the wind?”
Brilliant luminaries have endeavoured over time to do exhaustive academic and/or theoretical studies on the rise and fall of ancient, classical & now postmodern civilizations – using the logic of historic empirical philosophical hypotheses to show what underlie the forces that led to decline and collapse. Whether their logical parentheses were airtight or not is a battle for another day – as the war effort is about to touch every front of human civilization. What we are witnessing today is a rampant explosion in geopolitical subversion at micro & macro levels. The face of decadent, moral and spiritual decline is now a Trojan Horse in families, the church, schools, the workplace & society at large – an ominous phenomenon that does not forebode well. What this discourse aims to highlight is the fact that specific antecedents in the past were contributing factors to the collapse of earlier civilizations and we are seeing those same reverberations in the 21st century.
Thomas Mann, German intellectual and Nobel Laureate in Literature in his book Tristan which is a modern interpretation of the old Irish legend of Tristan & Iseult, set in a fictional Sanitarium opined in chapter 10, the following words: “It had been a moving, tranquil apotheosis, immersed in the transfiguring sunset glow of decline and decay and extinction. An old family, already grown too weary and too noble for life and action, had reached the end of its history, and its last utterances were sounds of music: a few violin notes, full of the sad insight which is ripeness for death.”
Mann’s sombre, yet insightful use of lexicographical apocalyptic language suggest that the wear and tear of earthly human life resembles a Lionel Ritchie musical score with all its ad libs, and its haunting, gut-wrenching lyrical harmonies – as we witness a world past its sell-by-date and as life’s orchestra plays out its epiloguous refrain in what was mentioned earlier as a absonant Shakespearean drama – the stifling symbology of a fake tranquillity befuddles even the most sceptical of minds, as our morbid existence screeches to a mind-blowingly haltering end.
We often quote Lord Byron, in his satirical 1823 poem: “Don Juan”, “truth is stranger than fiction”, however, those of us who can see through the mirage of smoke & mirrors know that the much lauded aspirational “Great Reset” is merely a rehashing of a diabolical “New World Order” built on nothing more than the “Old World Order” of bold-face lies, sinister subterfuge, mass indoctrination, malevolent disguise & ignominious sophistry.
Many social theorists try to equate the fall and collapse of Rome as some sudden phenomenon, when in actuality it was more of a ‘tranquil apotheosis’ that occurred over centuries, by “a slow and complex process of westward tribal migration with devastating incursions that began when the Huns, a nomadic people from Central Asia invaded from the north, conquering the Goths to live on the Volga in 370 AD. They made devastating raids on the Eastern Empire and invaded Gaul in 451. The Huns were followed by other Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, the Burgundians and the Gepidae, pushing other tribes onto the Roman border defences during the 4th century (from roughly 376 BC) of the Western Empire. The break-up of the Western Empire accelerated after the evacuation of Britannia by the Roman legion in 406 AD when the Anglo-Saxons began to settle in Britain from 450 AD.”
In the blog: “3 World Wars” – there is cited the following: “between 1776-1788, Edward Gibbons published a huge six volume work entitled The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Gibbons’ work was scholarly and monumental, as it thoroughly covered a period of history spanning approximately 1,200 years. His goal in producing this study was to precisely catalog the reasons for the rise of the Roman Empire and the factors leading to the decline and fall of the Empire. Gibbons was universally hailed as achieving his objective brilliantly.”
“But, Gibbons not only created a document which details how and why the Roman Empire rose and fell; he created a document which detailed precisely how a successful and powerful Empire could be subverted and destroyed.”
“Gibbons listed five basic reasons that the enormous Roman Empire was destroyed:
- The dramatic increase of divorce undermined the institution of the family.
- The imposition of higher taxes undermined the economic stability and vitality of the Empire. Taxes were raised to pay for deficit government spending, to pay for food for all in society and to pay for government-sponsored activities of diversion, such as circuses and sports. Interestingly, as the time of the final collapse drew closer, greater emphasis was placed on sports, to divert the attention of the public from the distressing news of massive trouble within the Empire.
- The drive for personal pleasure had become very intense, even to the point of obsession. Gibbons noted that, at the very end, sports had become more exciting and brutal.
- People lost their faith, both religiously and in their government. Paganism gave way to Christianity and the efficient Roman Government gave way to chaos and disintegration.
- Hidden conspirators were working within the government to secretly destroy it. They worked quietly, invisibly and deceitfully; during the entire time they were secretly dismantling the government of the Roman Empire, they publicly proclaimed their unswerving support of it.”
Gibbons further writes: “The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness…. The story of its ruin (downfall) is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long.”
Gibbons cited that the birth of Roman Catholic Christianity, the baptism of Constantine and Roman Catholicism as the state reLIEgion were the catalysts responsible for the collapse and demise of the Roman Empire – he opined – “As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear without surprise or scandal that the introduction, or at least the abuse, of Christianity had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister: a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers’ pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both sexes who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity. Faith, zeal, curiosity, and more earthly passions of malice and ambition kindled the flame of theological discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country.”
Though I disagree with some of Gibbon’s core theoretical tenets, merely based on hindsight, knowing that from 437 BC to 538 AD, the titanic morphology from Pagan Rome to ecclesiastical Rome was somewhat Germaine to the prophecies of Scripture, given Daniel chapter 2, verse 40 – 43 & Jeremiah 18:6, and what Gibbons refused to acknowledge was that one light dimmed and flickered, while another piercing light was lit in the dwindling darkness. In our time & space, as the darkness of decadence, decline & decay deepens – the glorious light of the soon-coming-Kingdom of Messiah will manifest in the realm of reality, like a thunderbolt.
The decline and fall of the Roman Empire is now the classic paradigmatic praxis in western historiography, regarding the vagaries that fuelled the inevitable collapse of Roman civilization, based on a line of historical exegesis dating back from before Edward Gibbon’s (1766) account in his voluminous work on “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” – embellished by a loss of civic virtue, as opined by Sir Arnold J. Toynbee’s explanation of the decay of republican institutions from their very inception.
What is truly fascinating about Toynbee is the eclectic work in “A Study of History”, six-volumes (London 1934 & 1939) which takes an in-depth look at  individual civilizations and concluded that western civilization is ripe for a complete collapse (if not demise), showing how current this social theorist, historian & moral philosopher still remains. From the collapse of ancient Rome, to the fall of the Mayan Empire, to the (DIS) united states of amnesia & paranoia of planet earth has evidenced from the dusty soil of archaeological wreckage, suggests that  or more factors have almost invariably been involved in the decay, decline & demise of civilizations (i.e.) “uncontrollable population migration due to wars, famines & pandemics; new emerging man-made planDEMIC diseases; subversion within nation-states leading to increased unjust & unholy civil wars & the breakdown of social cohesion; disruption in supply trade logistics & supply chain collapse & the diminution of global trade leading to moral panic, food shortages, increasing price gouging & a decreased quality of 21st century life chances.”
In another of Toynbee’s controversial literary masterpieces (some of which is open to philosophical scrutiny and debate), the book entitled – “Civilization on Trial”: a commentary is made regarding the epistemological hubris of this Oxford luminary who taught Greek & Latin Classics (Literae Humaniores) – “Toynbee did not expect (perhaps hardly wished) the British Empire to endure, nor the supremacy of Europe, nor the ascendancy of the West – possibly not even man’s rule on the globe. There is a marked strand of pessimism in him, even of defeatism; and he was to witness historical developments which seem to justify every one of his doubts: if now he tries to re-assure himself and others, at least concerning the future of the human race as such, his attempts seem rather strained, are emotionally less accentuated than his forebodings of doom, and on the whole fail to carry conviction. His “morphology of the species of society called civilizations” concerns itself with the “recurring pattern in the process of their breakdowns, declines, and falls” much rather than with their rise – for which there is, however, also a valid objective reason: “breakdown means loss of control” and a consequent lapse into automatism, and “automatic processes are apt to be uniform and regular” – therefore more amenable to systematization. And here is his diagnosis: the cause of death of civilizations has invariably been “either war or class or some combination of the two”; and “the regular pattern of social disintegration is a schism of the disintegrating society into a recalcitrant proletariat and a less and less efficient dominant minority.”
While civilizations rise and fall, neither Toynbee or Gibbons could never have envisaged a highly, digitized, transhumanist, AI-Technocratic world that has so wonderfully sowed the seeds of its own destruction to such a degree, that it makes the prophecy of Daniel chapter 2, the feet of iron (Rome) reaching down to the very toes of the very great image Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, (as it was iron comingled with clay) and according to the prophet was smashed to pieces by a “STONE” cut out without hands that grew and became a great mountain in the earth. Take from that what you may, but ‘of a truth’ – the righteous ‘Kingdom of God’ will be the “Last One Standing” when all else is swept away forever, according to Zephaniah 1:2-3.
We close with Carle Zimmerman, the most important American sociologist of The Great Depression years and a disciple of the Chicago School and Harvard professor, who believed that at the micro level of society, it’s all about the role of the family and in his book – “Family & Civilization”, he outlines his argument. He believed that “familism” (or the supporting of families by civilizations) is the stabilizing force of societies. He was not a religionist but his views bear much weight almost 100 years later. Zimmerman did not see himself either as a cultural determinist but believed that we have it within our power to avoid the terminal fate of both ancient Greece and Rome. He asserts: “The only thing that seems certain is that we are again in one of those periods of family decay in which civilization is suffering internally from the lack of a basic belief in the forces which make it work. The problem has existed before. The basic nature of this illness has been diagnosed before. After some centuries, the necessary remedy has been applied. What will be done now is a matter of conjecture. We may do a better job than was done before; we may do a worse one.”
Zimmerman further opines: “There is little left now within the family or the moral code to hold this family together. Mankind has consumed not only the crop, but the seed for the next planting as well. Whatever may be our Pollyanna inclination, this fact cannot be avoided. Under any assumptions, the implications will be far reaching for the future not only of the family but of our civilization as well. The question is no longer a moral one; it is social. It is no longer familistic; it is cultural. The very continuation of our culture seems to be inextricably associated with this nihilism in family behaviour.”
The current order of things, one can argue rightly or wrongly will not go out with a whimper but with an almighty crash and crescendo that will reverberate with cosmic ripples reaching to high heaven. In one of the ‘Hadiths’ of Muhammad, he remarked that “in the last days, the sun will rise in the west” and if that be the case, to delay the inevitable “tranquil apotheosis” will only exacerbate death by another 1000 cuts! This is not philosophical iconography. It certainly is not Turkey or California raging with wild fires. This goes beyond the gamut of a raging inferno. This is the opening & closing of the “7 SEALS”, the 7 TRUMPETS, the 7 THUNDERS & the 7 LAST VIALS of the wrath of Almighty God! Who will stand? This is the real question.