July 9, 2013

Emperor Hadrian insufficiently imperialist for Invade / Invite World economist

Emperor Hadrian, ruled 117-138 A.D.
From The Atlantic:
The Great Wall of Texas: How the U.S. Is Repeating One of History's Great Blunders 
Today's immigration debate has an eerie precedent in the mistakes that brought down great empires from Rome to Britain. 
GLENN HUBBARD AND TIM KANE 
Before their empire fell, the Romans built walls.  
They began by erecting barriers along the border following the death of the Emperor Trajan in 117 A.D., notably Hadrian's Wall, which belted Britain. 
Okay, so Hadrian's Wall was finished around 128 A.D., and the Romans held England until the legions were recalled in 410 A.D. 410 - 128 = a mere 282 years. (In fact, local troops apparently continued to find Hadrian's Wall useful enough to man for a few generations after 410.) By my calculations, 282 years from now would be 2295 A.D.
... Despite the cautionary tale of Rome, building walls, both literal and figurative, has remained a habit of great powers in decline -- the fateful course taken not only by Ming China, but also Soviet Russia, and even Great Britain. 
Sadly, many Americans are all too eager to repeat history.  
Witness the immigration bill slowly making its way through Congress, and the feverish reactions it has inspired.
... The real dilemma for American growth is not ignorance about good economics, but the quagmire of bad politics. Simple-minded protectionism in terms of trade or migration is being exploited by populists in both major parties. What our leaders need to understand is that the only existential threat facing America is not embodied by barbarians at the gates, but by American isolationism. To continue the miraculous American growth story, we need to continue the traditions of constant innovation, diversity, and openness to the world. 
The last thing we need is a wall. 

Let's take a look at Hubbard's notion that building Hadrian's Wall in about 122 A.D. demonstrated that Rome was "in decline." The history of the Roman Republic was largely one of massive land-based piracy. Every year the legions would march out to inflict horrific violence on somebody, take slaves and tax their land. Eventually, after Augustus became the first emperor in 28 B.C., especially after his legions were destroyed in the forests of Germany, the emperors tended to feel that Rome had conquered most of what was worth conquering. For example, Hadrian, an energetic and competent ruler, appears to have felt that owning England was nice, but Scotland wasn't worth the trouble. (The next emperor built the Antonine Wall 100 miles north to protect his conquest of the Scottish Lowlands, but later emperors abandoned even southern Scotland as unprofitable.)

So, indeed Rome was "in decline" in the second century A.D. under the "five good emperors" in the sense that Rome wasn't out waging war in, say, the Scottish Highlands or Russia or Chad or the Empty Quarter of Arabia.

Edward Gibbon began his account of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the famous judgment that for humanity, the second century A.D. was as good as it had ever got:
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws.

But Glenn Hubbard, the chairman of Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, knows better than Gibbon: the Roman emperors of the second century weren't invading the world and inviting the world enough. The Emperor Hadrian was insufficiently imperialist to satisfy modern economists' lust for centralized power and dominion.

By the way, here's Columbia B-School dean Hubbard being interviewed in Inside Job about his numerous financial conflicts of interest:

88 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Glenn Hubbard's policies, but I thought he handled the obnoxious interviewer's impertinent questions exactly right. These ambush interviewing tactics are despicable.

countenance said...

Progressive logic: Building border walls means your empire is in decline, so don't build border walls so it can decline even faster.

Speaking of invade the world invite the world:

http://mobile.wnd.com/2013/07/immigration-bill-quietly-opens-u-s-to-afghans/

Chief Seattle said...

A woman saw me reading Gibbon once and said proudly, "You know, they never conquered Scotland". Whether that was due to the bravery of the Scottish or the bleakness of the landscape is open for debate.

Hunsdon said...

Sadly, many Israelis are all too eager to repeat history.

Anonymous said...

This Atlantic article, especially the historical parallel the author uses, is so nonsensical, so incoherent, and so full of gibberish that I can't even say it is even "wrong".

There really is nothing here to challenge. It is so utterly meaningless that to attempt to refute it with logic is a pointless endeavor. It's like a rational person trying to argue with a schizophrenic.

Five Daarstens said...

The BBC podcast "In Our Time" did a good episode on Hadrian's Wall.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio4/posts/editors_note_in_thursdays_prog

Iberian said...

Roma was finished when, "our soldiers belong to the same race of our slaves" (Germanics). The path to tragedy start with Augustus, when he liberated Italians from the military service; In I century most soldiers are second generations of Italians from all Mediterranium; in II century are mostly Latinized Iberians (like the Good Emperors); in the III century, mostly Balcanics; in IV, Germanics...

anony-mouse said...

Decline and Fall was published in 1776 (as was Wealth of Nation, as was the Declaration of Independence). Yet Gibbon preferred the 2nd century to his (far superior) own. An Englishman was far better off in the 1700's compared to Romans in the 200's in so many ways.

I'm puzzled at his (and others) goodolddaysism.

Steve Sailer said...

It's reasonable for a historian to leave out consideration of his own era for various reasons: it's outside his professional competence, he's likely to be biased, he's likely to offend those who have different views of the present whereas he's likely to get a respectful hearing when talking about the past, and he might turn out to be wrong about his own age. For example, 13 years after 1776 started the upheavals of the French Revolution that went on for a quarter of a century. And then they stopped.

slumber_j said...

As Iberian indicates, Trajan and Hadrian were related to each other and originally from Italica in Spain--modern Seville, basically, although I guess there's some question as to whether or not Hadrian was born there. Anyway, proto-conquistadores, so to speak... Not sure what this says about their interest in walling off the Celts.

Nerva was from Narnia--now the charming town of Narni, in Umbria. A good place to stop for lunch if you're driving out of Rome in that direction. C.S. Lewis is thought to have borrowed its name for something or other in some book of his.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

"Latinized Iberians"

Maybe like americanized/assimilated non-WASP Euros from first wave of immigration here?

Sounds like the 2d Century in Rome was like the 1950's in U.S. a little bit.

Mercer said...

He neglects to mention the walls of Constantinople which lasted for a 1000 years. If the Byzantines followed his strategy Christianity would have been wiped out before 1000 AD.

Inane Rambler said...

I think I did a barely good, but still workable refutation of a few of their key points, if they existed at all.

Victor said...

Speaking of the practices of declining empires, The Roman Empire enlisted large numbers of foreigners to fill the ranks of its armies during the 3rd and 4th centuries. The United States currently grants citizenship to any resident alien who enlists in the U.S. Army.

Anonymous said...

Even ceding the validity of the no-fencers' economic argument, I'd still rather have a nation with a somewhat lower GDP than one overrun with tens of millions more poor dumb Mexicans. It doesn't sound nice, but it's the truth and I know I'm not alone in quietly feeling that way.

Anonymous said...

You can always see who holds the power in society by looking at the policies they push.

The more powerful the interest group, the less they have to make sense - or even tell the truth.

The "liberal" MSM is so pro-open borders they can -without any fear -say any gibberish or put out any boob bait and no one will contradict them.

Anonymous said...

"Sadly, many Israelis are all too eager to repeat history."

And they're even deporting those ille.. I mean undocumented workers!.

Yet the ADL or the other organizations don't lobby the Israeli government to let them stay.

It's funny, we constantly hear three things in the immigration debate:

1) Immigrants do work either better than Americans(which is funny since most immigration is low-skilled, even if that is now slowly, slowly changing) or do jobs that Americans won't do at all(which is actually: do jobs at wages that Americans won't accept, for good reasons).

2) It's no use to oppose mass immigration because, er, globalism! Anyone who does so is a simpleton who wants "easy answers to difficult problems".
When you point out that successful countries like South Korea or Singapore are extremely careful with whom they admit, you usually either get rage or silence(hoping for the debate to end).

3) And at any rate, these border things thingies don't work! It's expensive and unneccesary! Except that they do work, very well in fact.

Conclusion: whenever the pro-mass immigration people oppose something or want to play it down, that's more often than not a sign that something works.

Anonymous said...

And why don't we just annex Mexico already? Apparently Mexicans are just the most freakin' awesome thing ever, just the only ingredient they're missing is the U.S. legal and welfare system. Do that and we'll all be so filthy rich and diverse and vibrant and full of dreams that we'll clobber the rest of the world in GDP and maybe even conquer the whole galaxy!!!

Jeff W. said...

I believe I understand why the Romans never conquered Scotland.

North of the wall: cattle herders.

South of the wall: agriculturalists.

The cattle herders basically had nothing of value except their herds. If they could keep their herd two miles away from the Romans, it was as good as keeping it 50 miles away. The Roman soldiers had to stay with their armies. Small groups of Romans could be ambushed and slaughtered. If the Romans got too close to a herd, the herders could also scatter it as a way of keeping Roman hands off their beef.

Agriculturists are much easier to conquer: just burn their fields and barns, or threaten to do it.

Anyone who thinks that its easy to conquer cattle herders using Roman military techniques is someone who has never tried it.

Anonymous said...

I've read a lot on the Roman Empire and other empires(even if the fall of the Roman Empire is a question that seems to have caught the obsession of Americans in general that other Empires have not).

The casual literature on this subject, puzzling to me, reveals an interest in why the Roman Empire(RE) fell to a far greater extent than, say, the British Empire(BE).

This is odd, of course, because the BE is closer in history, it shares (or at least used to share) the same culture/people/language.

Why is this? I'm guessing for the same reasons Gibbons obsessed over the RE instead of the more recent Spanish Empire(SE) which, in it's seafaring greatness and lust for territory far, far away through the oceans, was probably a better match to study for him than to study the RE. (In short: makes little sense).

Anonymous said...

All the books on the Roman Empire come to the same conclusion: internal collapse.

It's simply a lack of discipline. You are on the top for so long that you take in less qualified people because you've grown accustomed to being number 1. You think you can do the same thing with everyone, no matter what their background, as long as you give them good socioeconomic incentives you think the cultural aspect will solve itself.

At the same time, there are differences between Rome and the U.S:

A) For one, nuclear weapons. Standing armies have little relevance in this modern world. America may face internal struggle between various groups but I don't see a realistic scenario in this case unless we see Peak Oil or something similar which is now delayed(yet again).


B) America has a geostrategic position far better than the Roman Empire. In brief, nobody can really invade America. Unless you count Mexican immigration as an invasion ;)

But seriously, the main rival(China) is an Ocean apart. And China has more hostility, generally, towards India than to America. The Chinese people are also far more pro-American than, say, the Russian people ever were. And people matters in relationships between nations, more so in the long run.

3) Even if we run with the Mexican immigration narrative we're looking at a nation which has now reached fertility rates that are balancing on exactly self-sustainment but not expansion. Secondly, we're talking about 20% of the nation over the long term if we assume some kind of amnesty(likley) down the road and diminished immigration plus natural population growth.

4) As pointed out many times, the influence of the Hispanic population is negible, and at any rate, they intermarry at a rate of 40% for both genders and 50% consider themselves white.
When half considers themselves white, we're not seeing strong seperatist urges en masse.

America's decline will be softer, gentler. It will be seen in areas of technology where China will face a weaker opponent. America's influence, and especially its coffers, will diminish to countries like Egypt. But will most Americans care? Most likely not.

24AheadDotCom said...

When someone makes an econ arg for "reform", ask them how much the avg middle class household will take in. Then, do the "Ben Franklin close". Get a piece of paper (literally or pretend) and draw a vertical line down the middle. On one side, put that supposed gain. Then, on the other, put all the losses pro-"reform" hacks won't mention: reduced political power, more crime, more traffic, more power inside the U.S. for the MX govt, more corruption (because "reform" will reward past corruption), and on and on.

There's very little reason why if people did things my way this problem should persist. The problem, of course, is getting people to do things my way.

Anonymous said...

"Even ceding the validity of the no-fencers' economic argument, I'd still rather have a nation with a somewhat lower GDP than one overrun with tens of millions more poor dumb Mexicans. It doesn't sound nice, but it's the truth and I know I'm not alone in quietly feeling that way."

Actually it sounds very nice.
That you think not is a testament to the influence the media has already exterted on you, and many others.

And at any rate, Nigeria has a population of 200 million but a GDP of about 451 billion dollars.

The Netherlands has a population of 16 million but a GDP of about 700 billion dollars.

Conclusion: quality matters far more than quantity when it comes to GDP.

Still, the white American population is now declining naturally, the only thing that sustains it is European immigration.

If the American ruling class had any sense, which it doesn't, it would institute massive pro-natal policies and try to bring the fertility rate up to at least 2.5 and to 3.0 over the long term. It can be done. As always in demographic matters, look at Israel.

Even secular, non-religious Israelis have over 2.6 children per woman. It's done via top quality IVF programs and many other deliberate policies.

Generally speaking, people underestimate the sheer idiocy of those who rule the country.

landlos said...

re: www.wnd.com/2013/07/immigration-bill-quietly-opens-u-s-to-afghans/

On the subject of those Afghans, I don't know how many of them there are, but many were interpreters who will be meat once the US is gone. It's only right that we do something to keep them out of harm's way.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:This Atlantic article, especially the historical parallel the author uses, is so nonsensical, so incoherent, and so full of gibberish that I can't even say it is even "wrong".

There really is nothing here to challenge. It is so utterly meaningless that to attempt to refute it with logic is a pointless endeavor. It's like a rational person trying to argue with a schizophrenic
.................................................................................

At this point, mocking The Atlantic is like machine-gunning retarded, pre-stunned fish in a barrel. It would almost seem cruel if the magazine's new guiding principle wasn't unstinting idiocy in the service of unrelenting evil.

-The Judean People's Front



Whitehall said...

I read somewhere a cogent explanation of the military function of the Roman walls.

Certainly, a wall could not stop small groups of invaders or raiders. What it did do well was make it slow and difficult for them to take their plunder home, on the other side.

Today, we have Western Union....

Anonymous said...

Here's where your resident scholar got the information for his brainwave:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/09/roman-walls/curry-text

N.B. Apparently being a Roman soldier on Hadrian's Wall was less hazardous than being a US Border Patrol Agent on the US-Mexican Border.

But Steve, come on now, there was no "England" or "Scotland" in Roman times -- those nations emerged later.

Steve Sailer said...

"But Steve, come on now, there was no "England" or "Scotland" in Roman times -- those nations emerged later."

Sure, but ancient names are confusing and hazy. People today know why England is a nicer place to own than Scotland.

Anonymous said...

anony-mouse said...
Decline and Fall was published in 1776 (as was Wealth of Nation, as was the Declaration of Independence). Yet Gibbon preferred the 2nd century to his (far superior) own. An Englishman was far better off in the 1700's compared to Romans in the 200's in so many ways.

There is a school of thought that asserts Gibbon was really writing Decline and Fall as a coded attack on his own society. So maybe it's less a preference for the past than a critique of the (then) present.

By the same margin, Tacitus's Germania is less a celebration of the Germans and more a condemnation of imperial Rome.

However, I'm a specialist in 19th century history, so take these comments with a grain of salt...

Prof. Woland said...

Mexico would be completely cut out of the cocaine business if it were not for the fact that they share a 2000 mile border with the US. The Columbians who control the manufacture of coke have no reason to ship it overland except that their old plane and boat trade routes through the Caribbean have been choked off due to heightened surveillance (it does work). The Mexican drug cartels along with their protectors, the Mexican Government, would have a civil war on their hands if the US ever shut down the illegal flow across the border. Even shutting down a section would create havoc because the cartels are essentially fighting a turf war for access to the border. If one cartel was blockaded then they would either have to invade one of their rivals territory or go out of business. If all of them were blockaded then the corrupt Mexicans would be poorer indeed. Just that alone is good enough reason to build a really effective wall.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Since I was an undergraduate in the 1970's I have been reading that America is echoing the downfall of the Roman Empire, with fresh examples every year to illustrate that. (That and how we're exactly like Nazi Germany.) Never a comparison to the Ottomans, nor Austri-Hungary, nor the Qing Dynasty, Carthage, Teotihuacan, nothing.

These are people who have heard the rumors of history. They know that Rome fell. They feel like America should be falling, because it would prove that they were smart to see it first. But the only thing they know that fell was Rome.

Therefore, America must be like Rome.

If someone would just make a comparison to the Second Republic or the Mississippian Mound Builders or something, I swear I would give them a pass for the originality alone.

Thomas O. Meehan said...

While the Romans were building walls they were also diluting their genetic uniformity via slavery. Contrary to movie depictions it was very common for Roman families to train their slaves in trades and skills and then manumit them. The manumitted slaves were still bound to their former masters by the custom of clientage. This meant that as time passed, more and more of the Roman populace were the descendants of slaves. And the slaves were from everywhere the Romans traded or conquered, North Africa, Arabia, Asia Minor etc.

Horace Staccato said...

God, I hate these lying imbeciles; these deluded cowards; these sanctimonious twits who use their intelligence for the sole purpose of rationalizing and normalizing lies, fantasies, crimes and disasters.

These mentally-ill tyrants are the deadliest enemies we've ever had.

Zoink said...

"Whether that was due to the bravery of the Scottish or the bleakness of the landscape is open for debate."

No, there is no real debate here. Rome could have quite easily conquered Scotland and Germany if it had seen any reason to do so. England was conquered with ease, and a fair part of modern Germany/Belgium/Netherlands was conquered and made part of the province of Germania Inferior. Neither Britannia nor Germania Inferior produced much revenue, so going further was clearly a waste of resources.

During the same time, Roman armies made repeated punitive raids into Germany, taking slaves and hostages back with them. But there was simply nothing worth conquering there, just sparsely populated forests. By contrast, prior to around 50BC, it was the Germans and Gauls who repeatedly invaded Roman and Greek territory.

The only people who had a fair record of beating the Romans prior to Rome's decline were the ancient Iranians. Even then, Rome beat them in the majority of battles and held onto modern Iraq for centuries despite being a thousand miles away from the home base. But Iran was the one part of the world that the Romans made several attempts to conquer but failed. Similarly, the Roman raided and defeated the tribes in modern Saudi Arabia many times, but saw no purpose adding it to their empire.

Anonymous said...

"Small groups of Romans could be ambushed and slaughtered."

Herders (or those with cattle rustling experience) have one other weapon that can sometimes work really well against Roman type infantry, if the terrain allows, though it can be dangerous and very hard to control. They can stampede a herd into the enemies camp or formation.

I believe that was how the Anglo-Normans finally conquered the Irish, for instance. The Anglo-Normans were excellent herding cattle from horseback, I think the Hundred Years War has been described as continuous cattle-rustling raids.

Zoink said...

Hadrian is also interesting as an example of an ancient exclusive homosexual. He spent nearly his entire life waging war or building Rome's frontier defenses away from his wife, had no natural children, legitimate or otherwise, and deified his favorite lover when he drowned, whom he randomly met in a remote Greek colony and fell instantly in love with.

He ordered sculpture after sculpture of Antonius be made, and there are probably more surviving sculptures of him than any other person who lived in the Classical Era. Wikipedia has a gallery of 17 examples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinous

Hadrian's homosexuality might have been one of the most fortuitous in world history. Rather than seek to place an incompetent son on the throne, he adopted another educated Grecophile general, Antoninus Pius, as his son and successor, but only on the condition that Antoninus in turn adopt as his successor a third educated grecophile general, Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperorer. Thus, of the "five good emperors" that Gibbon described as reigning over the happiest era of human history, Hadrian was one, and choose the next two.

This happy era ended with Marcus Aurelius broke the tradition of adopting a worthy heir, and named his wicked and incompetent natural son Commodus as the next Emperor, an act that led to 12 years of tyranny and economic decline, then a bloody civil war.

NLA said...

The Chinese people are also far more pro-American than, say, the Russian people ever were.

The white liberals teaching in China are working on that.

FF said...

"many interpreters will be meat once the US is gone"

The New Zealand SAS and reconstruction team went to Bamiyan province in order to help the Afghans help themselves.

https://www.redcross.org.nz/what-we-do/in-new-zealand/afghan-interpreters-arrive-in-nz/

And now in order to help those who helped us help them help themselves, we are helping them to leave.
( Uzbek and Hazara presumably...didn’t notice any Pashtuns get off the plane)

We have helped 94 of the most westernised and educated of the Afghans from the province of Bamiyan to leave, as we can’t now help them to stay as it is too dangerous.
It doesn't look as though we were much help.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that Hubbard knows absolutely nothing at all about Roman history or indeed the ancient world in general.

Basically, the Romans were over-extended in the island of Brittania. In hose days of poor communications, Scotland was an awful long way from Rome, and basically Rome had very little interest in trying to run their remit over an area which to them was literally the ends of the earth an area which had few riches to offer to boot and was inhabited by particularly barbarous and savage people (no offence to any Scots reading this).
Hadrian was the great consolidator of the empire.When Rome over-reached itself and bit off more tha it could chew, disaster resulted as in the defeat in the Teutoberg Forest by Arminius. As I said earlier communications were poor at that time and the hinterland of central Europe was dark gloomy and full of wild people. Expanasion for expansion's sake was rash and rather senseless policy, so Hadrain and others decreed that the natural river boundaries ie the Rhine and Danube should delineate the frontiers of Rome, and Rome should concentrate on the land around the mediterranean basin - lands that were lawful, civilized, developed and of economic interest - land that could be effectively controlled with the communications and transport of that era.

Anonymous said...

Wait - tenured economics professors who cannot be fired under any circumstances are telling the rest of us that we are "protectionist" if we don't compete with everyone in the world for our jobs?

Sounds like the norm for economics professors. It's always "Do as we say and not as we do" with these people.

Anonymous said...

Here's another way that Hubbard got it absolutely and completely wrong.

The barbarians, whom Rome built walls to *keep out* absolutely and completely hated Rome and the Romans, were fiercely proud of their independence and their own nationality, and would do absolutely anything - including fighting to the last man standing - to preserve their indpendence, their self-determination and their ethnicity.
Hence they hated and resented Rome and tried to attack it whenever they could. Therefore the walls were built to protect Romans from the attack of aliens.
The situation with the Mexican border is absolutely and completely different. The Mexicans don't want to physically attack and drive out Americans, on he contrary they want to come in and take over, in essence they are not fighting bravely to preserve their national integrity, they are figghting to *lose* their national integrity and take over the national integrity of their dominators! - a situation that was totally unknown amongst the brave, fighting warriors of the ancient world who preferred death to defeat - see the statue of the 'Dying Gaul' for example.

Steve Sailer said...

To account for the constant over-emphasis on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, one factor is Gibbon's prose style, which is both hypnotic and hilarious. English prose was still in its awkward youth, but Gibbon is much more readable to us today than most 18th Century works in English (compare to the Federalist Papers, say, 15 years later). Or even compare it to Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" from the same year, which is superb, but tough sledding.

Auntie Analogue said...


Well, Messrs Hubbard & Kane, this is not about perpetuating empire, it's about preserving our nation.

That's is the kind, that's the character of necessary vital distinction to be made that I expect our Best And Brightest to be able to make, yet instead these geniuses not only disappoint, but also dismay.

Zoink said...

I agree that Gibbon is good writer, and I'd go even further and say he's better than all of his contemporaries, going back and forward 100 years.

One reason for this is he tried really hard. He spent 20 years writing The Decline and Fall, and he made a fair amount of money doing it from subscribers. Most other writers had either a political agenda, were trying to show off, or were trying to flatter someone.

A good comparison is Edmund Burke's overrated Reflections on the Revolution in France, written about 15 years later. It is full of ridiculously obscure words and frequently quotes long passages in the original French, Latin, and Greek. There are all sorts of flowery hyperbole about how great the French and English monarchs are, and his sentences drag on and on, full of rhetorical flourishes but lacking much actual content.

Gibbon, by contrast, explicitly states he cares about both entertaining and informing his reader. He justifies or apologizes for his digressions, and at times warns his reader that the next chapter will be a bit tedious, but explains why the content is still important. You end up grateful to him for wading through various ancient sources, conveying some of the choicest anecdotes, and offering his informed opinions about their reliability.

A couple other 18th century writers who are in the same league at least are Benjamin Franklin and David Hume. As superb as they both are, when I read Franklin I sometimes feel he's playing a "plain-spoken bumpkin genius" schtick. Hume was just as considerate to his readers as Gibbon, and likewise lacked any desire to show off his erudition or any sort of base agenda. He lacked, however, Gibbon's pure skill as a writer. Hume was also so very smart that while his sentences convey his ideas as clearly as anyone could make them, they are often simply very complex ideas.

Hume's History of England was nearly as good a read at first as the Decline and Fall, however at a certain point the pace slowed down and became far more detailed than I care to read.

Anonymous said...

A woman saw me reading Gibbon once and said proudly, "You know, they never conquered Scotland". Whether that was due to the bravery of the Scottish or the bleakness of the landscape is open for debate.

The British or the Russians (Tsarist and Communist) could never conquer Afghanistan. Whether this was due to the bravery of the Afghans or the bleakness of the landscape is open for debate.

Anonymous said...

http://www.metacritic.com/critic/stanley-kauffmann?page=15

Hilarious putdowns

Anonymous said...

There was a scotch-irish lobby in the time of Julius Caesar.

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3886-caesar-caius-julius

Iberian said...

To Thomas O.Meehan,
It´s true that slaves came from everywhere, but above all, they came from north and central europe;except Jews, no significant number of midle-easterners are taken like slaves after the end of Republic. Anatolia, midle-east and north-africa are the developed part of the Empire (Ephesus,Antioquia,Palmira, Alexandria, Ctsifont,Bizantio,Tarsus, etc..)and the Persian Empire was the big enemy. You see, most people in midle-east or north-africa was already citizen or have a free status, so the Romans take their slaves in central europe for the same reason that the Portuguese take their slaves in subsharan africa; they are wild but primitive... Plus, admixture betwen diferent types of mediterranics, Italians, Lebanese, Turks, Armenians, Berbers, etç.. produce, well, mediterranics...The Negroid element was almost non existent (except Egypt)at the time. But you are right, a lot of admixture hapenned; genetics show that the "Nordic" element his much bigger now than in initial Roman times...

Anonymous said...

Chief Seattle said...

A woman saw me reading Gibbon once and said proudly, "You know, they never conquered Scotland". Whether that was due to the bravery of the Scottish or the bleakness of the landscape is open for debate.


Julius Caeser is said to have looked across ay Hibernia and one of his generals said "One legion to conquer?" "No" replied Caeser "100."
Possibly apocryphal but it highlights the point that the Romans only conquered places that provided a return for the Empire.

DJF said...

""'FF said - We have helped 94 of the most westernised and educated of the Afghans from the province of Bamiyan to leave, as we can’t now help them to stay as it is too dangerous.""'

This why it was always doomed to failure, if the most Westernized and educated are on the first plane out then who is going to fight to keep the nation that we built in our very expensive “Nation Building“ . It also brings up the question that if these most western of Afghans don’t consider Afghanistan worth fighting for then why were US and other troops there.

Of course the whole thing was doomed to failure since we built a security force in Afghanistan which requires more money to run then their entire economy is capable of supplying. And once US troops leave I am betting that US money will first be stolen and then cut off.

Anonymous said...

"But Steve, come on now, there was no "England" or "Scotland" in Roman times -- those nations emerged later."

Sure, but ancient names are confusing and hazy. People today know why England is a nicer place to own than Scotland.


Except that that makes reading Graves "I, Claudius" (not the 70s BBC adaptation) 'confusing and hazy'--he keeps calling the Gauls "the French" and using post-Conquest English place-names.

Anonymous said...

The ongoing schemes of Hubbard and his billionaire sponsors are identified very clearly here by your old friend, Barry Ritholtz.

Anonymous said...

"Hadrian is also interesting as an example of an ancient exclusive homosexual. He spent nearly his entire life waging war or building Rome's frontier defenses away from his wife, had no natural children, legitimate or otherwise, and deified his favorite lover when he drowned, whom he randomly met in a remote Greek colony and fell instantly in love with."

Didn't Gibbon also claim that of all the Roman Emperors in the classical age, the only ones who weren't gay were Claudius and Marcus Aurelius?

Matthew said...

"You are on the top for so long that you take in less qualified people because you've grown accustomed to being number 1. You think you can do the same thing with everyone..."

In other words, it's the system, not the people who comprise it. The people themselves are just interchangeable widgets.

A pretty inhumane philosophy that.

Hunsdon said...

Jeff W. said: Anyone who thinks that its easy to conquer cattle herders using Roman military techniques is someone who has never tried it.

Hunsdon said: Nomadic pastoralists have given empires fits throughout history. My own tendency is to focus on the pastoralists from Central Asia, but when you boil it all down, a cowboy is a cowboy.

Anonymous said...

"Edward Snowden: U.S., Israel ‘Co-Wrote’ Cyber Super Weapon Stuxnet"

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/07/edward-snowden-u-s-israel-co-wrote-cyber-super-weapon-stuxnet/

Anonymous said...

RACE MIXTURE IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE
Tenney Frank
American Historical Review
July 1916, vol. 21, no. 4: 689–708
toqonline.com

...We know, for instance, in Caesar's day of forty-five patricians, only one of whom is represented by posterity when Hadrian came to power. The Aemilii, Fabii, Claudii, Manlii, Valerii, and all the rest, with the exception of the Cornelii, have disappeared. Augustus and Claudius raised twenty-five families to the patriciate, and all but six of them disappear before Nerva's reign. Of the families of nearly four hundred senators recorded in 65 A.D. under Nero, all trace of a half is lost by Nerva's day, a generation later. And the records are so full that these statistics may be assumed to represent with a fair degree of accuracy the disappearance of the male stock of the families in question. Of course members of the aristocracy were the chief sufferers from the tyranny of the century, but this havoc was not all wrought by delatores and assassins. The voluntary choice of childlessness accounts largely for the unparalleled condition...

Maguro said...

Yeah, Hadrian should've invited the vibrant Scots and Picts to come down to Brittania and become landscapers. Can't think of anything that might've gone wrong with that plan. Open borders mania has become impossible to parody.

eah said...

OT

Even after all this time, and with the trial approaching its end, CNN is still calling Zimmerman a "white Hispanic".

From the comments:

How ironic. CNN pretending to try to tone down the racial aspects they created in this case while still calling him a "White Hispanic". If race riots do follow an acquittal, the media should be to blame for all of this BS

David said...

>It's like a rational person trying to argue with a schizophrenic.<

No, it's just that the logical fallacy being committed is so simple that giving it more than two seconds of thought isn't worthwhile.

>The more powerful the interest group, the less they have to make sense - or even tell the truth.<

^ This is correct.

Anonymous said...

One memorable line from Gibbon is about the eunuchs - "The pernicious vermin that infested the court of Constantinople." For some reason that neat little line is my most memorable bit of Gibbon.

Whilst on the subject, Gibbon himself suffered from hypertrophy of what he himself described as the 'umentionables'. The condition was so bad that Gibbon needed to use a tennis racquet for 'support' whenever he attempted to move from a sedentary position.

Silver said...

God, I hate these lying imbeciles; these deluded cowards; these sanctimonious twits who use their intelligence for the sole purpose of rationalizing and normalizing lies, fantasies, crimes and disasters.

These mentally-ill tyrants are the deadliest enemies we've ever had.


Anyone who doesn't have this reaction just doesn't get it.

His argument is idiotic even on its own terms: Rome built a wall in Scotland therefore Rome was "isolated." Okay, genius.



pat said...

The author doesn't seem to understand the history of military walls very well.

The most famous walls ever were undoubtedly the Great Wall of China. Usually the First Emperor Chin Zuandi (Qin Shi Huang) is credited with building the Great Wall of China. But in fact he really consolidated existing walls of the preceding states that he had conquered. That means that most of the walls existed before China reached its political and cultural peak. Walls in China were ancient.

Most of those walls were packed earth and have eroded with time. The walls we see today are largely walls built in the Ming Dynasty. But the Ming Dynasty was also not a period of decline. The Ming were native Han Chinese. Their dynasty is usually viewed by the modern Chinese as a kind of Golden Age. Ming - I'm told - means brilliant.

The Romans on the other side of the world at about the same time were also building earth packed and wooden walls against their barbarians. These were called the Limes. Like the original Great Wall of China these walls have eroded. The Limes were built when Rome was at its peak.

The only major Roman walls that have survived are the stone walls of Hadrian which were built hundreds of years after most of the Limes. According to Gibbon and most modern historians the decline of Roman didn't occur until later with Commodus. Some attribute this to Aurelius' appointment of his son which broke the Roman succession pattern. Others attribute the decline to effects of the Antonine Plague. In any case, Hadrian built his wall at the peak of Roman civilization not in a period of decline.

Albertosaurus

Baloo said...

Nobody relates the 2d Century to the 21st like Steve does. This is quoted, linked, and riffed on here:
http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2013/07/spqr-and-all-that.html

Anonymous said...

Department of Giving the Game Away:

"What our leaders need to understand is that the only existential threat facing America is not embodied by barbarians at the gates, but by American isolationism."

"Existential"?

For Hubbard, the continued existence of America has nothing to do with the question of which people populate the country. Rather, America endures if and only if Hubbard's preferred policy regime endures. Got it.

Free movement of labor and capital across international borders: indispensable to America

Americans: dispensable to America

Really, you hicks and your stupid nation-state need to stop standing in the way of America! What part of "This country is defined by being a borderless, autistic-libertarian non-country" don't you understand?

Julius Horribilis said...

A relatively well known theory is that Hadrian's Wall was in part a project to occupy his frontier troops and dissuade mutiny, desertion or other undesirable behaviour.

The argument that the US Army would be far more profitably employed building and manning a fence on the southern border is different only in emphasis, not in its fundamental logic.

Difference Maker said...

Thomas O. Meehan said...

While the Romans were building walls they were also diluting their genetic uniformity via slavery. Contrary to movie depictions it was very common for Roman families to train their slaves in trades and skills and then manumit them. The manumitted slaves were still bound to their former masters by the custom of clientage. This meant that as time passed, more and more of the Roman populace were the descendants of slaves. And the slaves were from everywhere the Romans traded or conquered, North Africa, Arabia, Asia Minor etc.



As well as exporting their own men as soldiers in the colonies. The 25 year enlistment, no marriage, service spent largely overseas in a hostile land - Eventually more border peoples descended from Roman soldiers than the Romans themselves did

Modern Abraham said...

If I can put my war nerd hat on for a minute- the point of walls was not to keep every last barbarian out, and illustrates Steve's frequent point about how difficult it is for most people to think statistically or in the aggregate. Archers do not need to be trained to be as good as Robin Hood or William Tell; as long as they can shoot at the necessary distance and with reasonable accuracy, they are effective for military (i.e. aggregate) purposes. The point is not to hit a specific target, but to blanket an area with your fire.

So for the issue of walls, the point was to slow-down the invaders until a mobile force could intercept them. Even a low wall like Hadrian's is going to slow down a militarily significant band (i.e aggregate) of invaders- 100's to 1000's of men. It will slow down mounted men even more, which is where they probably benefited the Chinese most. Plus the wall then locks in the invaders, who would find it almost impossible to find the location where they created the original breach, thus letting a strike force intercept and destroy them before they get away with all their loot. Again, it's way unappreciated how difficult it was to find your location in pre-modern times. The only way to reliably retrace your steps would be to go back down the road you came, but the Romans were not stupid and would have built their largest forts and had their largest troop concentrations where the wall intersected a road leading back to the interior.

Anonymous said...

"The last thing we need is a wall."

Historically illiterate and the opposite of the truth. Rome collapsed because it didn't maintain and preserve it's core population. Instead the Roman elite replaced them with slaves.

What is happening now is a more or less exact re-run of the destruction of Rome via the debauchment of the currency and the debauchment of the populace all for the short-term greed of the elite.

Anonymous said...

"Speaking of the practices of declining empires, The Roman Empire enlisted large numbers of foreigners to fill the ranks of its armies during the 3rd and 4th centuries. The United States currently grants citizenship to any resident alien who enlists in the U.S. Army." - And they gave blanket amnesty to every invader living within the empire, and they allowed the top 1% to wipe out the smallholder(the source of rome's taxes and native born soldiers) with latifundias staffed by cheap foreign labor,etc,etc,etc.

History can be so difficult parsing out what was successful vs what was a failure, can't it?

Anonymous said...

"Yet Gibbon preferred the 2nd century to his (far superior) own...I'm puzzled at his (and others) goodolddaysism."

IIRC it was because Gibbon didn't like Christianity much.

Zoink said...

"Didn't Gibbon also claim that of all the Roman Emperors in the classical age, the only ones who weren't gay were Claudius and Marcus Aurelius?"

I think he was referring to how common pederasty was for otherwise heterosexual upper-classs Romen men. Hadrian seems to be the only long-reigning Emperor whose exclusive sexual desires were that of the modern gay, which is for other adult men.

Emperor Elagabalus also liked adult men, but would be called in these days transgender as he dressed in women's clothes, wore makeup, called himself the wife of his lover, used the feminine gender, etc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elagabalus

Anonymous said...

"have been reading that America is echoing the downfall of the Roman Empire...Never a comparison to the Ottomans, nor Austri-Hungary, nor the Qing Dynasty, Carthage, Teotihuacan, nothing."

Logically there's only two real options:

1) An empire is strong and healthy but is overthrown anyway by a stronger force.

2) An empire is initially strong and surrounded by forces too weak to overthrow it but weakens internally over time until those external forces are stronger.

Carthage is an example of the first. Carthage was strong but Rome was stronger. Aztecs the same. Austria-Hugary the same.

Rome is an example of the second. The Ottomans might be an equally good example if less well-known. As the decline and fall of America is so obviously an example of the second it makes sense to compare it to Rome.

Anonymous said...

So let me see if I got this right. The Roman empire fell because they didn't conquer Scotland?

OKAY.......

Anonymous said...

Ref: being shepherded away from historical examples which might actually teach us something useful, I was engaged recently in a YouTube debate on the merits and demerits of mass immigration into the west. Up pops a Scots-Irishman (I'm tempted to name him, but won't) asking me whether I approve of historical European migration into the Americas and Australia. Well do I, huh? We should learn from the fates of the Native Americans and Aboriginals, I reply, and not allow any more indigenous peoples to lose their homelands to creeping demographic displacement. That's not the lesson you should be learning! (you uppity goy) came the response, you should instead learn that the USA is a multiculti paradise and that this is also the appointed fate of your country (England). It was too late though, he was already in checkmate and all of YouTube knew it.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of those Afghans, I don't know how many of them there are, but many were interpreters who will be meat once the US is gone. It's only right that we do something to keep them out of harm's way.

Agreed. But we all know that it will engineered to set up an endless stream of chain migration.

Anonymous said...

A relatively well known theory is that Hadrian's Wall was in part a project to occupy his frontier troops and dissuade mutiny, desertion or other undesirable behaviour.

Good point. Most armies spend most of their time not doing anything. Thus its wise to keep them busy. Roads, bridges, forts etc make work for idle hands.

When the Romans first arrived in Britain they built a fort at Dover. Then at some point they demolished it and replaced it with something apparently similar - in the same place.

Of course there could have been all sorts of reasons now lost in the mists of time but just keeping the lads busy may have been one of them.

Anonymous said...

His argument is idiotic even on its own terms: Rome built a wall in Scotland therefore Rome was "isolated." Okay, genius.

In England there is a joke saying: "English Channel fogbound: Continent isolated" Or words to that effect.

The point is it only makes sense if we [the English] are the ones saying it, because we can flatter ourselves it might be true in some sense (in reality ts only ever said as a joke). If the French started saying it would be absurd rather than funny.

Same with Hadrian's Wall. Only the Scots are allowed to say "Rome isolated" by the wall. At best it could only ever be a joke seen from the Roman side.

DJF said...

"""Difference Maker said - As well as exporting their own men as soldiers in the colonies. The 25 year enlistment, no marriage, service spent largely overseas in a hostile land - Eventually more border peoples descended from Roman soldiers than the Romans themselves did"''

If you go to any US military commissary and look at the wives and children you will notice that this is still going on.

The Rock said...

I remember reading When the Romans invaded What is England, the General burnt all his Ships so his army could not retreat.

If you were to see a youtube videos of Freight Trains plowing through loaded Trucks like a pack of cards. You can imagine what can happen when the "Unknown and Unknowable" plows through the Universe.

scottlocklin said...

I wonder if any of these alleged savants have heard of "hindsight bias."
As someone else pointed out, Romans built roads and walls to keep the troops busy. I was also poking around some ancient Greek walls in Ukraine a few years ago. Come to think of it, the Reconquista took place behind and in front of various walls as well.

David Davenport said...

Trajan and Hadrian were related to each other and originally from Italica in Spain--modern Seville, basically, although I guess there's some question as to whether or not Hadrian was born there. Anyway, proto-conquistadores, so to speak... Not sure what this says about their interest in walling off the Celts.

Pre-Moorish invasion Iberians were Cels and were ethnically quite similar to older stock Romans.

Rome could have quite easily conquered Scotland and Germany if it had seen any reason to do so.

Defeat in the Teutoberg Forest by Arminius?

Arminius -> H'arminius, -> Harminius, assuming vernacular Latin speakers of the time dropped "H's" -> -ius = Latin nominative singluar suffix -> Harmimnius -> Harmin -> Herman -> Herr Mann,the ur-German.

Herders (or those with cattle rustling experience) have one other weapon that can sometimes work really well against Roman type infantry, if the terrain allows, though it can be dangerous and very hard to control. They can stampede a herd into the enemies camp or formation.

Maybe in Hollywood cowboy movies. Can you cite any actual examples in European antiquity?

In other words, it's the system, not the people who comprise it. The people themselves are just interchangeable widgets.

You've got it wrong. The premise is that different varieties of peepul are different and are therefore not interchangeable parts.

///////////////

My understanding is that there were Roman settlements north of Hadrian's wall after the wall was built.

In its own time, that wall was intended to be an aid to the defense of Britannia, a.k.a. England, rather than an absolute 100 per cent barrier to raids from Scots and Picts. "Picts" ... a group lost to history.

Anonymous said...

"They can stampede a herd into the enemies camp or formation.

Maybe in Hollywood cowboy movies. Can you cite any actual examples in European antiquity?"



There was this exercise left for the inquisitive reader:

"I believe that was how the Anglo-Normans finally conquered the Irish, for instance."


In some circles the conquest of Ireland by the Normans is a major event, famous even, as it led to near 1000 years of an often troubled relationship. How it started is not an obscure story, here's a wikipedia summary of the critical initial battle that changed the political situation:

"Raymond (or Redmond) FitzGerald (died 1185/1198), nicknamed Le Gros, was a Cambro-Norman commander during the Norman invasion of Ireland. ...

He was sent by Strongbow to Ireland in 1170, ...

Although vastly outnumbered in this battle, ... 3000 Irish against Le Gros's forces of about 100 including 10 Knights) he won a resounding victory which he achieved by rounding up a nearby herd of cattle which his men had foraged and driving them headlong into the oncoming enemy ranks. The result was that about 1000 of the combined Galic and Hiberno-Norse force were either killed or captured."



Here's how a web page called Desmond's Concise History of Ireland, Jerry Desmond, puts it:

"Strongbow himself now set sail for Ireland. His advance guard, ten knights and seventy archers, was led by le Gros...

Le Gros landed north of Waterford and quickly built earthen ramparts which remain even today. Almost immediately, an opposition army -- several thousand Vikings and Gaelic-Irish from Waterford and the surrounding areas -- attacked le Gros and his contingent of eighty Norman and Fleming soldiers.

Incredibly, le Gros and his vastly outnumbered troops prevailed. Behind the ramparts, le Gros had concealed a herd of cattle, which he suddenly stampeded into the oncoming troops, trampling the front rank of the attackers. In all the confusion, le Gros and his force routed the remaining natives, seventy of whom were captured alive. As a message to Waterford, the prisoners' limbs were broken, their heads severed, and their bodies thrown over the cliffs."


(Due to this victory Strongbow (Richard de Clare) married the daughter of a local king which brought in Henry II who feared creation of a competing Norman kingdom in Ireland.)


~
~

Anonymous said...

"They can stampede a herd into the enemies camp or formation.

Maybe in Hollywood cowboy movies. Can you cite any actual examples in European antiquity?"



Here's a story from the battle of Ager Falernus, Second Punic war, 217 BC:


"The day before Hannibal put his plan in motion... 2,000 oxen from the captured herds were selected, along with 2,000 camp followers to drive the cattle and 2,000 spearmen to guard the whole gang, cattle and all. Dry wood and fagots were tied on the horns of the oxen. ... this group was to move towards the pass being guarded by 4,000 Romans. ...

The night action

... The picked force with the oxen marched to the saddle, and when they approached the slopes, the wood and faggot tied to the horns were lit by the camp followers. The terrified oxen began to flee and stampede up the slopes of the saddle, creating an illusion of thousands of torches moving up the mountainside. ...

The Roman force stationed at the pass... deserted their posts ... to attack what they thought was the main Carthaginian army trying to outflank their position... and escape... The Roman force... was bewildered when they confronted the lights on the saddle. The cattle ran amok, breaking their lines, the Carthaginian spearmen ambushed them, and a wild melee ensued. ... The Iberians, being experts in mountain warfare, engaged the now scattered Roman soldiers and killed over 1,000 of their number, and managed to rescue the Carthaginian camp followers, the spearmen guard and some of the cattle...

... Hannibal, after escaping from the trap ... marched east... ravaging the Roman estates at will. Fabius cautiously followed him still keeping to the Fabian strategy."

Silver said...

"The point is it only makes sense if we [the English] are the ones saying it, because we can flatter ourselves it might be true in some sense (in reality ts only ever said as a joke). If the French started saying it would be absurd rather than funny."

That reminds me of a joke my friend's father once told when Scotland came up. "Scotland? The only good thing to come out of Scotland is the road to England!"

I met a Scot once who had a very thick accent so I felt compelled to comment. We got on talking a bit about Scotland and so on, and, nice guy that I am, I tried my friend's father's joke in reverse. It didn't work, he saw right through it.

Lesson learned in the moment: don't try too hard to be accommodating. Lesson learned in hindsight: I was young, okay!

Anonymous said...

Probably the last time a military cattle stampede played a major role in world history was when Morocco destroyed the Songhai empire and moved into black Africa. ("Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history.) The core of the Songhai empire was much of the Niger river basin.

At the battle of Tondibi in 1591 the vastly outnumbered Moroccans had gunpowder weapons, including 8 English cannons, and the Songhai's big weapon was the cattle herd. The Songhai (probably >20K) were wiped out:

"The Songhai battle tactics were poorly done with the plan of sending a stampede of 1,000 cattle to break down the Moroccan lines and to cover their infantry who lacked the technology of gunpowder weapons. Unfortunately, the cattle charge was repelled from the noise of gunfire and the sound of cannons which caused the cattle to stampede back towards Songhai lines."


Don't bring a cow to a cannon fight.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece, Mr. Sailer.

Anonymous said...

The English-Scottish border is one of the oldest continuously maintained border regions in history that is not based on a significant natural barrier, such as a major river or mountain range.

Maybe that set of walls worked as intended.